The return of defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell to Clemson all but guaranteed both of those points. But those three are hardly the only defensive players or Tigers that will potentially hear their names called next April.
Here’s a list of 25 (in alphabetical order) of the top ACC prospects for 2019.
Zach Allen, DE, Boston College (Sr., 6-5, 285)
Harold Landry got all the hype going into last season, but the best Eagles defender in 2017 was Allen. The New Canaan, Connecticut, product was second on the team in tackles and had the most sacks and tackles for lost yardage. A strong-side end, Allen is stout against the run and can pressure the quarterback.
Austin Bryant, DE, Clemson (Sr., 6-5, 265)
Bryant made multiple All-America teams with his 8.5-sack, 15.5-tackles for a loss season. A sensational athlete for a man his size, Bryant will again be in the spotlight this season as Clemson plays big game after big game.
Kelly Bryant, QB, Clemson (Sr., 6-4, 220)
Okay, so there is a chance that Bryant isn’t even the starting quarterback for Clemson this coming fall. But if he does win (and retain) the job this season, he will showcase his size and mobility as well as leadership qualities in what is perceived as a weak quarterback class.
Brian Burns, DE, Florida State (Jr., 6-5, 231)
Burns burst onto the scene with 9.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2016. While his sack total went down in 2017, he was more consistent on a week-to-week basis. Still, he will need to continue to add size and strength to be an every-down player on the next level.
Lukas Denis, S, Boston College (Sr., 5-11, 185)
Denis is a versatile defensive back that has played both corner and safety during his career. But 2017 was a breakthrough season as a free safety, intercepting seven passes and earning a second team All-America selection by the Walter Camp Foundation.
Alec Eberle, C, Florida State (R-Sr., 6-4, 295)
Eberle has started 32 consecutive games for the Seminoles entering the 2018 campaign. He was on the Rimington Trophy watch list as one of the best centers in America and will undoubtedly be on that list again this fall. The second-team All-ACC performer will be the leader of the FSU offensive front.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson (R-Jr., 6-5, 260)
This Clemson star has shined bright in big games. He had a sack in the College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Alabama last season while piling up six tackles for lost yardage in the Tigers’ three postseason games in 2016. The AP first-team All-American is considered to be a lock first-round selection in 2019.
Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State (R-Jr., 6-1, 204)
There are plenty of question marks surrounding Francois (right). Are the off-the-field issues a big concern? Is the knee healthy? Is he tall enough to play quarterback in the NFL? The positives are that Francois can sling the football and by the time 2018 ends NFL scouts will have a lot of answers.
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson (Sr., 6-5, 305)
Clemson’s left tackle has seen it all. He has started since day one and was a key component on the great Tiger teams of the past three years. He may not have perfect measurables for the NFL, but Hyatt is a winner that will find a role at the next level.
Joe Jackson, DE, Miami (Jr., 6-5, 250)
Jackson is another player that made an impact as soon as he stepped on campus. He had 8.5 sacks as a true freshman and followed that up with 6.5 last year. He is still a rush-the-passer-first guy, but he is young and should become a more complete defender as a junior.
Michael Jackson, CB, Miami (Sr., 6-2, 195)
Jackson was not a big contributor until last season, when he emerged in his junior campaign to become a second-team All-ACC selection. At 6-foot-2, he has ideal size for a corner and his experience on special teams will make him even more valuable in NFL circles.
Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami (Sr., 5-10, 190)
Johnson and Michael Jackson came to Miami the same year and they teamed up to give the Hurricanes an outstanding secondary in 2017. When big plays were made by the Miami defense, Johnson was usually in the middle of the action.
Kendall Joseph, LB, Clemson (R-Sr., 6-0, 225)
With all the stars on the Clemson defense, Joseph kind of gets lost in the shuffle. But his impact is immense. In 34 games in his career, Joseph has 222 tackles and was named third-team All-ACC last fall. He is perhaps a bit undersized, but his smarts and desire make him an NFL prospect.
Derrick Kelly, OT, Florida State (R-Sr., 6-5, 317)
Florida State’s offensive line needs to improve this fall and if it does, Kelly will be part of the solution. One of his big attributes is his versatility, as he can play tackle or slide inside to guard when needed.
Tre Lamar, LB, Clemson (Jr., 6-4, 250)
In his first year as a starter, Lamar was productive with 52 tackles and four sacks. But he battled injuries and needs to stay on the field in 2018 to boost his draft status. If he does stay healthy, NFL teams will notice his size and playmaking ability.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson (Jr., 6-4, 340)
Lawrence only had 33 tackles and two sacks last year. Big deal. A massive individual that moves exceptionally well, Lawrence would have been a top-five pick if he were eligible for this year’s draft and may be the No. 1 overall selection in 2019.
Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson (Jr., 6-2, 190)
Yes, another Clemson defender. At 6-foot-2, Mullen is the perfect size for a corner and will continue to add weight to his frame. He is not a finished product, as he has only been at Clemson two years, so his coverage skills should continue to improve as well.
Michael Pinckney, LB, Miami (Jr., 6-1, 220)
Pinckney was third on the Canes in tackles last season with 68 and teams with Shaq Quarterman and Zach McCloud to give Miami a dynamic linebacking group. He will turn 20 in late May so there is still room for growth both physically and mentally.
Shaquille Quarterman, LB, Miami (Jr., 6-1, 240)
The most heralded of the three Miami linebackers, Quarterman earned second-team All-ACC honors with an 83-tackle sophomore season. A physical presence that seems to be everywhere, Quarterman is the man in the middle that leads the Canes' D.
Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami (Jr., 6-1, 192)
Injuries hampered the Miami receiver in 2017, but he showed enough as a true freshman to put him high on NFL draft boards. A freshman All-American, he was a home-run threat with 934 yards on 49 catches. If he can remain in action and can click with whoever is playing quarterback for Miami, Richards could be a first-round pick in 2019.
Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville (Sr., 6-4, 223)
A big, physical receiver, Smith stepped up as Lamar Jackson’s go-to guy in 2017. If he can put up the same type of numbers this season with Jawon Pass throwing him the ball, Smith’s draft stock will soar.
Tommy Sweeney, TE, Boston College (R-Sr., 6-5, 255)
The New Jersey native has had two productive years at BC. He was the leading receiver for the Eagles in 2017 and was third on the team in '16. Sweeney has good size and can develop into a solid blocker and reliable pass catcher in the NFL.
Levonta Taylor, CB, Florida State (Jr., 5-10, 181)
Tavarus McFadden is off to the NFL and now Taylor is the marquee cornerback for the Seminoles. He had two picks last season, both of which came against Florida. Known more for his coverage ability, he has to develop more physicality.
Ricky Walker, DT, Virginia Tech (R-Sr., 6-2, 304)
Fellow defensive tackle Tim Settle decided to forgo his senior season and enter the draft, but Walker chose to return to Blacksburg. A case could be made that Walker was more impactful than Settle, especially at the end of the year when he registered a tackle for a loss in each of his final seven games.
Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson (Sr., 6-4, 300)
One of the elite defensive linemen in the country, Wilkins should be a first-round selection next spring. He has obvious size, but also has enough agility to play end at times. But his future is inside, where he will be able to hold up against the run and pressure the quarterback.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.