ACC: James Gayle

The NFL draft concluded with 42 ACC players selected last weekend, and a slew more ended up signing free-agent deals in the days afterward.

Here’s a quick rundown of where the ACC’s undrafted free agents landed.

QB Chase Rettig, Green Bay Packers
OLB Kasim Edebali, New Orleans Saints
LB Steele Divitto, New York Jets
OT Ian White, San Diego Chargers
OT Matt Patchan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DB Albert Louis-Jean, Chicago Bears

K Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona Cardinals
G Tyler Shatley, Jacksonville Jaguars
LB Spencer Shuey, Jacksonville Jaguars
CB Darius Robinson, Buffalo Bills

RB Juwan Thompson, Denver Broncos
DE Kenny Anunike, Denver Broncos

LB Christian Jones, Chicago Bears
RB James Wilder Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
WR Kenny Shaw, Cleveland Browns
FB Chad Abram, Detroit Lions
DT Demonte McAllister, Seattle Seahawks
DT Jacobbi McDaniel, Cleveland Browns

DT Euclid Cummings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
CB Lou Young, Denver Broncos
DE Emmanuel Dieke, New York Giants

DT Roy Philon, Pittsburgh Steelers
S Hakeem Smith, Tennessee Titans
DT Brandon Dunn, Chicago Bears
WR Damian Copeland, Jacksonville Jaguars

WR Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
QB Stephen Morris, Jacksonville Jaguars
TE Asante Cleveland, San Francisco 49ers
DT Justin Renfrow, Arizona Cardinals
FB Maurice Hagens, Atlanta Falcons
S A.J. Highsmith, San Francisco 49ers
OG Jared Wheeler, Carolina Panthers
LB Jimmy Gaines, Buffalo Bills

OT James Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
QB Bryn Renner, Denver Broncos

DE Carlos Gray, Green Bay Packers
TE Asa Watson, New England Patriots
DL Deylan Buntyn, New England Patriots

P Matt Yoklic, Atlanta Falcons

CB Keon Lyn, Indianapolis Colts
CB Ri’Shard Anderson, Tennessee Titans
RB Jerome Smith, Atlanta Falcons

DE Jake Snyder, Minnesota Vikings

DT Derrick Hopkins, Baltimore Ravens
LB Tariq Edwards, Miami Dolphins
WR D.J. Coles, Oakland Raiders
G Andrew Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE James Gayle, Tennessee Titans

DT Nikita Whitlock, Cincinnati Bengals
LB Justin Jackson, Detroit Lions
LB Zach Thompson, New York Jets

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

DUKE (1)

ACC players in the Senior Bowl

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
Senior Bowl practices are underway this week, and wouldn't you know it -- scouts have their eyes on the quarterbacks.

That means Stephen Morris, Logan Thomas and Tajh Boyd are firmly in the spotlight this week among featured ACC players participating in the college all-star game, a critical first step in evaluations for the NFL draft in May. Scouts Inc. lists Thomas as the highest rated quarterback among the three and broke down what each has to accomplish this week.

For Thomas: The need to "thrive with an even playing field."

For Morris: More consistency with footwork and ball placement as a passer.

For Boyd: "Show improvement throughout the week with pro-style progressions and anticipation as a pocket passer."

Scouts Inc. also lists Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson and Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses as having the most to prove.

Here is a look at all the ACC players participating in the Senior Bowl, with the game set for Saturday. Boston College running back Andre Williams was invited but pulled out so he can continue to rehab his injured shoulder.
No. 1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

Previous ranking: No. 1

Making the case for Boyd: The fact that he is at the top of the list two years in a row shows that Boyd is indeed the face of the ACC and its best hope at a Heisman Trophy. There’s no question Boyd is a contender -- he was in the conversation last season. The question now is whether or not his team will be good enough to help him actually win it. Individually, Boyd has already proven to be good enough. In 2012, he was named the ACC’s Player of the Year and the league’s Offensive Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media.

Boyd’s leadership alone has been invaluable to the team, as the Tigers continue their hunt for another ACC title and run at the national championship. Boyd has established himself as one of the best in school history, as he ranks first at Clemson in passing touchdowns, first in passing efficiency and first in touchdowns he’s responsible for. Over his career, which includes a 21-6 record as the starter, Boyd has completed 62.5 percent of his passes and has thrown for 8,053 yards and 73 touchdowns against 28 interceptions. He put up remarkable numbers last season with an ACC-record 36 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He also had 514 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns and was responsible for an ACC-record 46 touchdowns. He has helped transform the perception of Clemson from pretender to contender, and he came back for his senior season to do it again.

The countdown
No. 3. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

Previous ranking: No. 11

Making the case for Johnson: He had what was arguably the greatest freshman season in school history. Still need more? Johnson, who was named the ACC’s overall and offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, was one of the ACC’s most electric kick returners, and he set the school single-season record with 892 kick return yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a freshman-record 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 2,060 all-purpose yards were the second-most in program history.

Johnson played in all 12 games last year and made five starts. He also had six games with 200-plus all-purpose yards and four 100-yard rushing games. He was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Week a league-best five-times. It’s possible Johnson could be even better this fall, as all five starters return on the offensive line, and the Canes have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Stephen Morris.

The countdown

No. 5. James Hurst, OT, North Carolina

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Hurst: Hurst is going to be the anchor of the line this fall, as he’s the senior leader and one of the nation’s top left tackles. He has started 36 career games since earning the starting job in the second week of his true freshman season. Last year, he helped pave the way for UNC to set school records in total offense, scoring and passing yards. UNC allowed just 11 total sacks last year, and led the ACC in sacks allowed per game (.92). He started 11 games last fall and graded out close to 90 percent.

He has been at his best against the most meaningful competition, as last year Hurst graded out at 90 percent with 12 knockdowns and played all 85 snaps in the win at Miami. One of the biggest questions facing UNC this fall is how the Tar Heels will replace OG Jonathan Cooper, as he was the lead blocker for Giovani Bernard last year. There is so much confidence within the program in the leadership and abilities of Hurst, that with three starters returning, it could be a smoother transition than expected.

The countdown
No. 7 Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina

Previous ranking: No. 20

Making the case for Renner: He’s one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, but his value could be proven come draft day. Renner enters his senior season on the brink of setting nearly every career passing mark at UNC. The three-year starter has thrown for more than 3,000 yards in each of the past two seasons -- the only player in school history to hit that milestone twice in his career. He set the single-season school record for total offense last year with 3,394 yards. Renner has flourished in coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense, and should be even better this fall because it is the second season with the staff and he’s more familiar with the playbook and expectations.

Renner currently holds the school record for career 300-yard passing games with eight, but even more impressive has been his efficiency. Last year he started all 12 games, completed 65.4 percent of his passes, and threw for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Renner enters the season with a career pass efficiency mark of 154.6, which ranks fifth among all FBS quarterbacks. If he keeps up that pace, he would break the current ACC career pass efficiency record of 151.2 set by Florida State’s Chris Weinke. Not bad company.

The countdown
No. 9. Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State

Previous ranking: No. 15

Making the case for Joyner: As one of the top defensive backs in the country, Joyner will be showcasing his versatility this year at corner, where he played during the spring. He spent the past two seasons as the starting strong safety, where he has started 27 straight games, and he is also one of the top kick returners in school history. In a top-10 win over Clemson, Joyner returned five kickoffs for 185 yards, including one for 90 yards. He has played in every game since he arrived at Florida State as a freshman in 2010, and is now the leader of the defense. Joyner has great range because of his speed, which allows him to cover a lot of ground in the secondary. Joyner is on the watch lists this year for the Thorpe Award, Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy, Lott Impact Trophy and Paul Hornung Award.

The countdown
No. 11. Christian Jones, LB, Florida State

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Jones: At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Jones has above average speed and quickness, and he’s one of the best athletes on Florida State’s roster. He is the Noles’ leading returning tackler and started all 14 games at weakside linebacker last year. This offseason, he moved to middle linebacker under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. He’s a candidate for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker, and he is also on the watch lists for the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy. Jones finished last season with 95 tackles, which ranked seventh in the ACC. He accounted for FSU’s only defensive touchdown of the season in a road win at South Florida. Jones continues to improve, as he had more tackles last fall (95) than he had in 27 career games in 2009-2010 (74). This should be the highlight season for the senior.

The countdown
No. 12 James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Gayle: Last year, Gayle made the All-ACC second team after a solid season, but his production dipped slightly from 2011. Gayle ended up with five sacks and 11 tackles for loss, but Virginia Tech believes he is prepared to take the next step as a game-changing defensive end in 2013. Gayle had a terrific spring -- he won defensive MVP honors -- and he slimmed down, earning Super Iron Hokie honors as well. The hope is a more streamlined Gayle means a quicker Gayle off the line getting to the quarterback. Gayle has said he wants to get double-digits sacks this season, something he has not done yet in his Virginia Tech career. Given his renewed focus and sleeker physique, he has put himself in position to get there.

The countdown

Virginia Tech season preview

August, 7, 2013
Today we look at Virginia Tech as the Hokies try to get back to the top of the Coastal Division in 2013.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Coach: Frank Beamer (258-127-4 overall, 216-104-2 at Virginia Tech)

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photos/Chris BernacchiThe Hokies need QB Logan Thomas to cut down on mistakes in order for Virginia Tech to win more than seven games this season.
2012 record: 7-6

Key losses: WR Marcus Davis, OT Vinston Painter, RB Michael Holmes, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Alonzo Tweedy

Key returnees: QB Logan Thomas, CB Kyle Fuller, DE James Gayle, LB Jack Tyler

Newcomer to watch: OLB Kendall Fuller. Virginia Tech plans on playing the true freshman in a nickelback role this year, believing he can make an immediate impact. Fuller comes in as the most heralded player in the 2013 signing class. Two others to watch: cornerback Brandon Facyson and left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Alabama, Aug. 31; at Georgia Tech, Sept. 26; at Miami, Nov. 9

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Running back remains a question mark for the Hokies, especially in the wake of Michael Holmes' dismissal from the university after an arrest this spring. Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman are listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart, so this remains a competition to follow throughout fall practice. One of the biggest reasons Virginia Tech struggled last year was its inability to run the football effectively, ranking No. 79 in the nation in rushing offense. Simply put, the Hokies could not adequately replace David Wilson, and that ended up putting too much on Logan Thomas' shoulders. For this offense to function the way it needs to, somebody must step up in the backfield.

Forecast: The Hokies had a down year in 2012, and Beamer responded in the offseason, shuffling his offensive staff to try to fix the problems that plagued the team last year. Scot Loeffler takes over as offensive coordinator, and his main task is to get Thomas back to the way he played in 2011, not the way he played in 2012. Loeffler has a good track record working with quarterbacks, a huge plus now as Virginia Tech works to get back to the top of the Coastal Division.

Aside from having Thomas work on his accuracy (51 percent last year, compared to 59.8 percent in 2011) and cutting down on the mistakes (16 interceptions last year), Virginia Tech needs to work as a cohesive unit this year, something missing during 2012. There were problems at just about every position on the field. Headed into this preseason, Virginia Tech is still looking for the right combination on the offensive line, a go-to receiver to step up and, as mentioned above, a consistent ground game.

There are not nearly as many questions on defense, a group expected to be among the best in the ACC this year. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has plenty of talent to work with, particularly up front. Nine starters return, including All-ACC preseason pick Jack Tyler, defensive end James Gayle and cornerback Kyle Fuller -- the headliners among this group. The one area that might have some growing pains early on is in the secondary with Antone Exum (knee) out early in the season. Virginia Tech will have to rely on some inexperienced players, but at least there are no concerns at the opposite cornerback spot with Fuller returning.

Although there are questions about the offense, Virginia Tech should contend in the Coastal again. The Hokies were picked to finish second in the division, but it's totally wide-open at this point.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 17, 2013
Almost time for these guys to start camp ...
The Maxwell Football Club today announced its watch lists for the 77th annual Maxwell Award and the 19th annual Bednarik Award.

The Maxwell Award, named in honor of Robert W. "Tiny" Maxwell, has been given to America's college player of the year since 1937. The Bednarik Award has been presented to the college defensive player of the year since 1995.

Here are the ACC representatives:


Weak and strong: Virginia Tech

June, 18, 2013
We move on in our series looking at the weakest and strongest position on each team in the ACC with Virginia Tech.

Strongest position: Defensive line

Virginia Tech should feature one of the best -- if not the best -- defense in the ACC this season, and its defensive line is a big reason why. There is big-time talent here, so much so that Phil Steele has ranked this group No. 7 in the nation (and tops in the ACC). The headliner, of course, is defensive end James Gayle, who had a huge spring and won Defensive MVP honors. He is in line to have a terrific season. The Hokies return three starters up front, including both tackles Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy. Even though the Hokies had their share of inconsistency on D, the rushing D still ranked in the Top 30 in the country and played much better as the year went on. There are some concerns over depth at tackle, where the Hokies are going to have to rely on some freshmen to help out. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is concerned about the youth there, but he also said he saw improvement this spring.

Weakest position: Receiver

We could have gone in a number of directions here on offense, because there are weaknesses at every single position. Offensive line and running back are not exactly strong suits and are two areas of concern headed into the season as well. But the biggest concern could be at receiver, where there is really one one proven player in D.J. Coles, and he is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss every game but the opener last season. Receiver was an area of major inconsistency last year, and that contributed to the problems Logan Thomas had. This spring they had their good moments and bad, but way too many drops. If those problems continue into the season, there will not be a whole lot Thomas can do. If he doesn't have anybody consistently catching the ball, then the Hokies' offense will remain stuck in neutral. Among the others Virginia Tech will be relying on: Demitri Knowles, Kevin Asante and Josh Stanford. All are sophomores or freshmen, and Knowles is the only one who was a major contributor last season. Needless to say there is a lot of work yet to be done at this position during fall camp.

More in this series here.
It is pretty clear college football guru Phil Steele things Florida State is mighty talented, considering he has the Noles sitting at No. 3 Insider in his preseason rankings.

Here is a glimpse at how talented he thinks this team is headed into 2013: He has Florida State ranked among his Top 15 teams in the nation at: running back Insider, receiver Insider and defensive line Insider. That means Florida State is featured in three of the four position rankings Steele has unveiled on so far.

Of those three groups, he has receiver rated highest of all, which surprises me quite frankly. Florida State has talent, yes, but there is no true national headliner among them. Steele admits as much, writing, "Although there are not a lot of household names in this group, the Noles could have some by the end of the year, including Kelvin Benjamin, who is 6-foot-5, 242 pounds."

No doubt Benjamin is a freak of an athlete, but he has got to be more consistent this season to really strike some fear into the heart of the opposition. Greg Dent is suspended indefinitely following his arrest this week, but Florida State has plenty of talent to make up for his loss. This is pretty high billing for a group that has a bunch of players that still need to prove themselves. We'll see if the Noles receivers can live up to these expectations.

One more ACC team to note in the receiver rankings: Maryland at No. 15, thanks to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

As for the other rankings, Steele has Florida State ranked No. 12 at running back and No. 8 at defensive line. Interestingly enough, he has the Florida State running back group ranked ahead of Miami, which checks in at No. 13. I understand the reason for that. Florida State returns two very solid backs in Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., and they add Mario Pender.

Miami counters with ACC Freshman of the Year Duke Johnson and Eduardo Clements, along with spring surprise Dallas Crawford. The Canes get the nod in the headliner category with Johnson; but Florida State has more depth.

There is one ACC team ranked ahead of Florida State on the defensive line -- No. 7 Virginia Tech. No arguments here on that ranking. The Hokies should have a pretty solid front, with seven of their top eight linemen back from a year ago, including end James Gayle. Clemson also made into the rankings at No. 15. Vic Beasley is on course to have a huge season.