Of the ACC’s dozen players to tally 100-plus tackles last season, seven return for 2016, including three of the top four tacklers. Who are the most likely players to reach the 100-tackle mark this fall? Let’s take a look.
1. Quin Blanding, Virginia. The former five-star safety has lived up to the hype and then some so far, tallying 100-plus tackles in each of his first two seasons in Charlottesville. The track record makes him the closest player to a sure thing in this category, as Blanding comes off 123 (2014) and 115 (2015) tackle seasons.
2. Micah Kiser, Virginia. The redshirt junior-to-be actually finished ahead of Blanding last season, as Kiser’s 117 tackles were good for second in the ACC despite no bowl game. (Acknowledged by his league-leading 9.8 stops per game.) If he adjusts to a new staff, Kiser should find himself back near the top of the list again in 2016.
3. Donnie Miles, North Carolina. One of the unsung heroes of Gene Chizik’s defensive revival in Chapel Hill in 2015, Miles thrived in his first year as a full-time safety, completing the transition from the hybrid Ram position and tallying a league-best 128 takedowns. If UNC is to build off last year’s Coastal-winning season, Miles will have similar production on a unit that loses Shakeel Rashad — the league’s second-leading tackler in 2015.
4. Jordan Whitehead, Pitt. If Pat Narduzzi is saying he’s never coached someone like you, you know you’re special. And Whitehead was just that as a freshman, recording 109 tackles and even getting his feet a little wet on offense. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Whitehead atop this list by season’s end.
5. Derwin James, Florida State. Like Whitehead, James is unique. He dazzled as a freshman, tallying 91 stops and starring as a jack of all trades. Safety? Defensive end? There’s no telling where James will line up, and stats probably won’t quantify just how big of an impact he makes on the field.
6. Keith Kelsey, Louisville. The Cardinals got a huge boost when their captain and leading tackler decided to return for his senior year. Kelsey had 107 takedowns in 2015 and figures to lead one of the ACC’s better units this fall.
7. Chuck Clark, Virginia Tech. The next-in-line at DBU, Clark tallied 107 tackles in a breakout 2016 campaign, and he figures to do more of the same under coordinator Bud Foster and in a secondary that returns most of its key pieces from a year ago.
8. DeVon Edwards, Duke. Edwards proved he was more than just a game-changing specialist last season, as he amassed 101 stops for the Blue Devils while playing both safety and corner. With Jeremy Cash gone, look for more from Edwards this season.
9. Ben Boulware, Clemson. It was hard to miss Boulware last season, as his 82 tackles don’t quite tell the full story of his impact. Given all of the turnover on the Tigers’ defense in 2016, Boulware will be counted on even more and should see his statistical production rise as Clemson’s leader on that side of the ball.
10. Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville. Like his teammate Kelsey, Harvey-Clemons gave the Cards a huge boost with his decision to return for 2016. His 88 tackles were third on the team last season, and he should only get better with another year under coordinator Todd Grantham.
11. Matt Galambos, Pitt. Galambos thrived last season for Pitt, tallying 88 tackles in Year 1 under the defensive wizard Narduzzi. Galambos will be counted on as one of the leaders of the Panthers’ D in 2016, and a 100-tackle campaign is well within his reach.
12. Zaire Franklin, Syracuse. Franklin is a sure thing on a defense that lacks proven punch among its front-seven. The multi-year starter and team captain had a team-best 81 stops last season, and he is expected to be fine this fall after an injury limited him this spring.