ACC: 2012 ACC player countdown

Top 25 player countdown: No. 1

August, 31, 2012
No. 1. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

2011 stats: He played in 13 games and started 10 as a true freshman and finished with 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also had 231 yards on 32 carries and 33 kickoff returns for 826 yards and one touchdown. He had 2,288 all-purpose yards.

Previous ranking: No. 3

Making the case for Watkins: The fact that he’s suspended for the first two games doesn’t mean he’s not still the most talented player in the conference. It means coach Dabo Swinney has sent the team a message that no one player -- not even a potential Heisman candidate -- is bigger than the team. Watkins will be missed against Auburn, but he will be back in time for the Sept. 22 trip to Florida State, and he will have the previous week’s game against Furman to shake any rust off. Watkins has said he doesn’t even know what a “sophomore slump” is, and he’s hoping to improve upon last year’s breakout debut. What’s most amazing about last year’s record-setting season for Watkins was that he’s capable of even more, and that’s why he’s at the top of this list.


Top 25 player countdown: No. 2

August, 30, 2012
No. 2. David Amerson, CB, NC State

2011 stats: Amerson started all 13 games last year, played 866 snaps, and finished with 59 tackles, five pass breakups, and 13 interceptions.

Previous ranking: No. 2

Making the case for Amerson: In 2010, Amerson was a little-known true freshman boundary corner who finished the season with one pass breakup in 640 plays. Last year, Amerson made a quantum leap. He set the ACC and school single-season record for interceptions with 13, a mark that led the nation by five and tied for second in FBS history. He had a pair of picks in four different games, and all were wins for NC State. It’s nave to think Amerson is going to put up similar numbers this year, but it’s even more nave for offenses to continue to throw his way.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 3

August, 29, 2012
No. 3. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech

2011 stats: Thomas started all 14 games and completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 3,013 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also had 153 carries for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Previous ranking: No. 11

Making the case for Thomas: Thomas wasn’t on this list a year ago because he was a first-year starter who came to Blacksburg thinking he was going to be a tight end, and not even coach Frank Beamer knew what to expect of Thomas in 2011. Turns out quarterback is a pretty good fit for Thomas. His first season was a memorable one, as he set a school season record with 3,482 yards of total offense. He progressed with the season and was named the team’s most valuable offensive player of spring practices. At 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, he’s difficult to bring down and has drawn physical comparisons to Cam Newton. Don’t be surprised to see him play like a Heisman contender this fall.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 4

August, 28, 2012
No. 4. Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State

2011 stats: He started all 13 games in 2011 and led all FSU defensive linemen with 41 tackles (29 solo), and led the team with 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

Previous ranking: No. 25

Making the case for Jenkins: He finished spring practices playing the best the coaching staff has seen him play -- earning Jenkins the most outstanding spring defensive player award and the Hinesman, given to the spring’s top overall player. He’s a natural pass rusher who is quick with good instincts. He’s one of the top defensive ends in the nation and is on the watch lists for the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards. He was used in a variety of roles last year, from the traditional down position to a stand-up player with rushing and coverage responsibilities. He played some of his best football down the stretch, as he had 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks over the final three regular season games.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 5

August, 27, 2012
No. 5. Mike Glennon, QB, NC State

2011 stats: Glennon threw for 31 touchdowns, the second-highest mark in school history behind Philip Rivers. He started all 13 games, completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 3,054 yards and 12 interceptions.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Glennon: In his first season as a starter, Glennon quickly emerged from the shadow of Russell Wilson and was one of the ACC’s most productive passers. His improvement each game was measurable, and over the final three games of the season, he threw 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Glennon is a talented drop-back passer with great size, arm strength and accuracy. He went to the Manning Passing Academy this summer, and should take another step forward this fall.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 6

August, 24, 2012
No. 6. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

2011 stats: He threw for 3,828 yards, 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions over 14 starts. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes and had a 141.2 pass efficiency rating. He had 218 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He had 4,046 total yards and was responsible for a school-record 38 touchdowns.

Previous ranking: No. 6

Making the case for Boyd: He had an outstanding record-setting season in his first year as a starter and played his way into the Heisman conversation after Clemson’s 8-0 start. He led the team to the ACC championship with his strong arm and leadership qualities. His career 43 touchdowns are the most among active ACC players, and he finished last year first in school history in passing efficiency. He has a 10-4 career record as a starter, and was named the MVP of last year’s ACC championship game.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 7

August, 23, 2012
No. 7. (tie) Jonathan Cooper, OL, North Carolina; Oday Aboushi, OL, Virginia

2011 stats: Cooper graded out at 86 percent last year, second-best on the team, and led the team with 47 regular-season knockdown blocks. Aboushi started all 13 games last year and was twice named the ACC's Offensive Lineman of the Week.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Cooper and Aboushi: You can’t leave either guy off this list, as they should be the two best offensive linemen in the ACC. While this list is not based on NFL talent, it’s impossible to ignore the possibility that both could be first-round picks. Cooper has the most starting experience of any Tar Heel with 35 career starts. Aboushi is on the watch lists for the Outland and Lombardi trophies. Both players have talented running backs to block for once again and should be anchors for their respective lines.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 8

August, 22, 2012
No. 8. Joe Vellano, DL, Maryland

2011 stats: He started all 12 games and led the FBS in tackles by a lineman with 7.8 per game. He finished with 94 total tackles, including 7.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also had two caused fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four pass breakups.

Previous ranking: No. 19

Making the case for Vellano: He made the case for himself last year when he almost single-handedly stopped Georgia Tech’s running game with 20 tackles (14 solo). His ability to make game-changing plays from the tackle position is remarkable. He’s a quick, hard-nosed player who is following in his father’s footsteps. Paul Vellano was an All-American defensive tackle for Maryland (1972-73), and Joe Vellano is good enough to continue that legacy, but this year he will be moving to end in the 3-4 scheme. Vellano is a team captain, the anchor of the line, and suddenly he’s also the face of Maryland’s program.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 9

August, 21, 2012
No. 9. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State

2011 stats: He threw for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He ranked No. 18 nationally and third in the ACC in pass efficiency (151.24). He was fourth in the ACC in total offense (234.8 yards) and ended the season having thrown 121 passes without an interception. He also finished second on the team with four rushing touchdowns.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Manuel: Manuel enters this season as the most accurate quarterback in school history with a 66.1 completion percentage. With an injury-free season and a healthy offensive line in front of him, Manuel should make significant strides this fall. His ability to run combined with his accuracy makes him a headache for defenses. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he’s got great presence in the pocket, and with an outstanding season by his team, Manuel could play his way into the Heisman conversation.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 10

August, 20, 2012
No. 10. Kyle Fuller, DB, Virginia Tech

2011 stats: Fuller led the team in tackles for loss with 14.5 and was fourth on the team in tackles with 65. He also had 4.5 sacks, seven pass breakups, two interceptions, five quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Previous ranking: No. 16

Making the case for Fuller: You could make the case he was the Hokies’ top defensive player last year, and he could be again this season. He is a solid, smart tackler who can play man coverage and is versatile enough to line up just about anywhere Bud Foster asks him to. Last year he started all 14 games, and split time at two different positions. He started at nickel back/whip linebacker for seven games and at corner for the other seven. He played over 850 snaps on defense and 112 on special teams. His contributions were invaluable, and he’s also a leader on and off the field.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 11

August, 17, 2012
No. 11. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State

2011 stats: He started all 13 games and had a career-high 37 tackles (25 solo). He led the team with eight quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries -- including a 25-yard touchdown return against ACC champ Clemson. He ranked second on the team with eight pass breakups and nine passes defended. He made his first career interception against Boston College, and ranked second on the team with 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Werner: Look at his stats. Eight pass breakups? He did that from the left defensive end position. Werner is a game-changer. He’s strong and has deceptive speed, which allows him to stop the run and disrupt the passing game. He has a great awareness for the ball. Last year he was a rising star. This year, he is a star.


Top 25 player countdown: No. 12

August, 16, 2012
No. 12. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

2011 stats: As part of a three-man starting rotation last season with Mike Harris and former Nole Greg Reid, Rhodes had 43 tackles (36 solo), with 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception and four pass breakups.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Rhodes: At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Rhodes is a big, physical cover corner who should flourish in his fourth season in the program. Rhodes is the best corner on the Noles’ roster, and he has the speed and ability to change direction on a dime. He’s also got good hands and ball skills. He had five tackles last season against ACC champ Clemson, and four in the win against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. He’s on the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Thorpe awards.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 13

August, 15, 2012
No. 13. James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech

2011 stats: He started all 13 games he played in and had 38 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks -- which tied him for sixth in the ACC. He also had 20 quarterback hurries.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Gayle: This past spring, Gayle earned Super Iron Hokie honors when he recorded a 39-inch vertical jump, 400-pound bench press and 4.44 40-yard dash. Yikes. Gayle has the combination of size, strength, speed and athletic ability needed to become a dominant defensive end in the conference. There are high expectations for him in Blacksburg this year. He had a good, consistent spring, he just needs to stay healthy, focused and keep it up.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 14

August, 14, 2012
No. 14. Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina

2011 stats: He ranked first in the ACC and 10th in the nation in pass efficiency with a 159.4 rating. He completed 68.3 percent of his passes (239 of 350) for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case for Renner: He’ll have one of the ACC’s best offensive lines protecting him, and he also has some background in the spread offense from his high school playing days. In his first season as a starter, Renner threw for more than 3,000 yards and a single-season, school-record 26 touchdowns -- and he did it while playing with bone spurs in his foot. Renner had surgery to remove the bone spurs immediately after the Independence Bowl. He should be capable of even more when he’s healthy.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 15

August, 13, 2012
No. 15. Conner Vernon, WR, Duke

2011 stats: Vernon caught 70 passes for 956 yards and six touchdowns. He ranked fourth in the ACC in receiving yards per game (79.7), and fifth in receptions per game (5.83).

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Vernon: Vernon’s accolades take up more than an entire page of Duke’s media guide, as he is one of the ACC’s most accomplished players, and he’s not done yet. Vernon needs just 35 more catches and 843 yards to become the ACC’s all-time leader in both categories. Last year, Vernon became the first player in ACC history to have multiple seasons with over 70 catches. Coach David Cutcliffe has repeatedly called Vernon “the most fearless wide receiver” he has ever coached. Vernon has ranked among the ACC’s top five in receptions per game in each of the past three years, and he enters 2012 with the longest active streak in the nation for consecutive games with at least one reception (35), and he is just two games short of the school record.