ACC: 2012 NFL draft

One of the NFL draft's biggest surprises came right before the curtains closed at Radio City.

The New York Giants took Virginia Tech running back David Wilson with the 32nd and final pick Thursday night, giving the ACC three players taken in the draft's first round.

To the surprise of no one, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly was the first conference player off the board, going No. 9 to the Carolina Panthers. North Carolina end Quinton Coples followed seven picks later, going to the New York Jets at No. 16.

The reigning ACC player of the year, Wilson figures to be the Giants' replacement for Brandon Jacobs, who departed in the offseason. New York finished last in the league on the ground in 2011.

"That, but also we’re looking at the fact that Brandon [Jacobs] is no longer here and we do have to try to balance that out," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We believe that you do have to have multiple runners or at least two that can effectively take the field at any time and this young man we thought was one of those that can be a big play threat."

Wilson, who who set a school record with 1,709 rushing yards in 2011, became the Hokies' ninth first-round pick and the seventh during coach Frank Beamer's tenure. Beamer has had 83 of his former players drafted.

Kuechly became BC's 19th first-round pick, and after winning the Nagurski Trophy, Butkus Award, Lombardi Award and Lott Impact Trophy, he is thought of as one of the surest things of this draft class.

Coples became the Tar Heels' 20th first-round pick and their second defensive end in two years to be taken on Day 1. Jets coach Rex Ryan served as an honorary tackle to block against Coples last month at UNC's pro day.

"They knew I could get to the quarterback and help this team get to the Super Bowl," Coples told ESPN Radio. "It's good to be a Jet. I'm just going to go out there and be the best pass-rusher I can be."

The ACC figured to have at least three players taken on Thursday, but Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill was expected to be among them. Instead, the receiver will likely be an early pick Friday. He is one of Todd McShay's top five players still on the board.

ACC pre-draft notes

April, 26, 2012
You all know what tonight is. And if you don't, you're probably lost. As a primer, the ACC was kind enough to share some notes regarding its recent history in the NFL draft. And we, in turn, are kind enough to share some with you.
  • Among the first 60 selections last year, 15 came from ACC schools, five more than the next-closest conference, the SEC. (Boom.)
  • The ACC has led or tied for the lead in NFL linebackers in each of the past three seasons.
  • The conference has 63 players graded by the NFL for this year's draft, third-most. (SEC 75, Pac-12 65).
  • Since 2006, the ACC has the second-most first round picks of any conference and the second-most total picks, behind only the SEC in both categories. (46-37 in first-rounders, 237-214 in total picks.)
  • Miami has had a player selected in 37 consecutive drafts, since 1974. Florida State and Virginia each have an active streak of 28 drafts.
  • FSU has also had a player taken in the first three rounds in each of the past 24 seasons, since the 1988 draft. The Seminoles have had 30 first-round selections during that span.
  • Miami's 108 players drafted since 1993 trail only Ohio State's for the nation's lead. (The Buckeyes have 114.) FSU has 107.
  • In 2006, the ACC set records for both first-round (12) and total selections (51).
Scouts Inc.'s Kevin Weidl says Luke Kuechly is one of the best pure football players in this year's draft class, and buzz is building that the former Boston College linebacker could possibly be selected among the top 10 picks in next week's NFL draft.
The interest in Kuechly begins as early as No. 7 overall, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are perhaps looking to upgrade with the kind of safe, proven prospect that general manager Gene Smith is known to covet. The Carolina Panthers are also a possibility at No. 9, with LBs Thomas Davis and Jon Beason coming off injuries and depth being a concern.

And don't count out the Buffalo Bills, who pick 10th overall. The Bills finished 28th in the NFL in rushing defense last season (139 ypg), and Kuechly would be a welcome addition in the middle as Buffalo transitions to a 4-3 defense.

Looking a little further down the line, there doesn't seem to be a scenario in which Kuechly would get past the 15th overall pick. The Kansas City Chiefs will have strong interest at No. 11, the Seattle Seahawks could fill a need at linebacker at No. 12 and the Philadelphia Eagles would be thrilled in the unlikely event Kuechly somehow falls to them at No. 15.

The fact Kuechly is being talked about among the top 10 or 15 picks is quite a testament to the inside linebacker. The Texans' Brian Cushing (USC, No. 15 in 2009) and the Patriots' Jerod Mayo (Tennessee, 10th in 2008) come to mind when thinking of high linebacker selections who saw significant time inside.

Kuechly welcomes every challenge

April, 12, 2012
In an article Thursday that will probably resonate with many ACC fans, Jeffri Chadiha catches up with Luke Kuechly and his family as the former Boston College linebacker readies for the upcoming NFL draft.

Mock drafts have seen Kuechly go as high as 11th following a three-year career that saw him rack up ACC records in career tackles (532) and single-season tackles (191), in addition to notching Nagurski and Butkus honors during a remarkable junior campaign this past fall.

Anecdotes like this one help explain his performance:
Luke was just as driven to win when he started playing football in the fourth grade. One day Tom [Luke's father] stood on the sideline and watched Luke sidle up to his coach for a conversation. After a few moments, the coach pointed off in the distance and Luke sprinted away for a lap around a phone pole. Upon his return, Luke again engaged the coach in a conversation, which only led to another lap around the phone pole.

After Luke returned for his third attempt at a talk with the coach, the man threw up his arms in exasperation and sent the boy into the game. When Tom asked the coach afterward why he had made Luke run twice, the coach said, "He wouldn't leave me alone." Tom grinned at that. "I'm glad I'm not the only one," he told the coach before walking off with his boy.

Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench breaks down Kuechly on Thursday, further describing what has made NFL teams fall in love with the inside linebacker through the evaluation process.
Kuechly's instincts are impressive. He consistently reads his keys, tracks the ball well and beats blockers to the point of attack as a run defender, while he reads quarterbacks and shows above-average awareness in underneath coverage.

There's also a lot to like about his range and tackling. At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, he's fast enough (4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash) to make plays from sideline to sideline. He's not perfect, though. Kuechly could do a better job of taking on offensive linemen and doesn't have the fluid hips to match up with quicker backs in man coverage.

Kuechly ends up in Kansas City in Todd McShay's latest mock draft, which makes sense from both a value and need standpoint. The Chiefs could take Memphis DT Dontari Poe (grade: 94) to fill their need at nose tackle, but Poe is too much of a reach there. Kuechly is the safer pick and Kansas City has a pressing need at inside linebacker, where the Chiefs have struggled to find a quality starter alongside Derrick Johnson in their 3-4 scheme.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 12, 2012
Slightly less fanfare for hoops signing day ...