ACC: Paul Davis

Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we’re taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Position to improve: Defensive line

Why it was a problem: The Yellow Jackets knew entering the season that getting a strong pass rush wouldn’t be easy after losing the bulk of their experience in the front seven. Indeed, Georgia Tech finished 108th nationally in sacks per game, 118th in tackles for loss per game, and no Power 5 team in the nation had fewer opponent plays per game that resulted in a loss or no gain. The big-picture result of that lack of backfield penetration was a defense that yielded 6.3 yards per play in 2014 -- 111th nationally and second-to-last in the ACC.

How it can be fixed: Experience was perhaps the biggest problem for Georgia Tech in 2014. After losing four of its top five pass-rushers from 2013, Tech simply had to give young players an opportunity and hope they could learn on the job. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof largely played a bit less aggressively as a result, which cut down on negative plays created, but also helped to keep too many big plays from happening downfield. That dynamic should begin to shift in 2015 now that KeShun Freeman, Paul Davis and others have more experience under their belts, and Tech figures to get back Jabari Hunt-Days, who missed the season because of academic issues. A solid 2015 recruiting class that includes four defensive linemen should add to the mix as well.

Early 2015 outlook: This isn’t going to be a massive overhaul. The hope for the Yellow Jackets is largely that Hunt-Days can be a force in his return to the field, and the players who saw action last season will be better in 2015. Roof certainly knows how to coach up a defense, and he did a solid job with the limited resources he had in 2014. His playbook should be able to be opened up a bit moving forward. It helps, too, that Tech promises to once again have a potent offensive attack in 2015 that will chew up clock and keep the defense off the field. The Yellow Jackets don’t have to be incredibly deep up front on defense, but they do have to be more productive when they’re on the field. In many respects, there is nowhere to go but up for that unit.

All-ACC team's toughest omissions

December, 12, 2014
12/12/14
10:30
AM ET
ESPN released its All-ACC team today, and though we certainly won’t expect much sympathy, it’s worth mentioning that putting those lists together is no easy task. This year, in particular, there were so many strong performances around the ACC that narrowing down the top guards, linebackers, defensive ends -- even the quarterback -- was an arduous task destined to leave some deserving players off the final list.

But since we don’t want to ignore those near-misses entirely, here is a quick look at some of the toughest decisions we had to make for this year’s All-ACC team.

Quarterback: The bottom line is that there is no better player in the conference than Jameis Winston when he’s on, but unlike last season, he had his share of struggles, too. Meanwhile, Marquise Williams emerged as a tremendous dual threat for UNC, helping to overcome a lot of the Tar Heels’ defensive struggles with some huge performances on offense, and Justin Thomas injected new life into Paul Johnson’s old option offense at Georgia Tech. Both Thomas and Williams were deserving candidates for first team — and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson would have been, too, if he had stayed healthy all season. Overall, it was a stellar year for quarterback play in the ACC.

Offensive guard: The problem with debating the merits of offensive linemen is that there aren’t many stats to use to break a tie, and when it came to our top three choices at guard -- Laken Tomlinson, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson -- there was ample debate. In the end, we went with the first two, but Jackson’s contributions -- particularly with the revolving door at center for FSU this season -- shouldn’t go unnoticed. He might have been the Seminoles’ best offensive lineman.

Tight end: In the end, numbers set Clive Walford apart here. He led all ACC tight ends in yards, touchdowns, first downs, yards-per-catch and receptions per game while working with a true freshman quarterback. Still, it’s hard to ignore Nick O'Leary’s fine season (plus bonus points for taking on a bus and winning). Bucky Hodges, Gerald Christian, David Grinnage and Cam Serigne all had fine seasons as well.

Defensive end: OK, we cheated here. Vic Beasley was the obvious choice, but for the opposite side of the line, the debate between Dadi Nicolas and Mario Edwards Jr. was intense, with viable arguments made for both players. Edwards was a crucial cog on FSU’s defense, one of the most dynamic mixes of size and speed in college football. Nicolas was a force throughout the season and stepped up when interior lineman Luther Maddy went down with an injury. In the end, we followed the playoff selection committee’s precedent and avoided the tough question altogether by making our defense a 3-4 unit instead. Sorry, Dadi and Mario -- but now you know how Baylor and TCU feel.

Linebacker: There probably isn’t a more stacked position in the ACC than linebacker. Denzel Perryman and Stephone Anthony were exceptional. David Helton led the ACC in tackles. Lorenzo Mauldin was the most dynamic pass-rusher on Louisville’s stout defense. They all made the cut, but it meant a host of deserving options were left out, including BC’s Josh Keyes, Virginia’s Max Valles and Henry Coley, Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch and Georgia Tech’s Paul Davis.
The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference -- the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

See our previous projections here.

Next up: Georgia Tech

Class recap: The Jackets signed a small class of 14 players that has already seen its ranks dwindle. Kevin Robbins Jr. and Justin Akins have announced their decisions to transfer, while No.3 quarterback Ty Griffin also reportedly wants to transfer as well. Two of the top prospects in the class were offensive linemen -- Shamire Devine and Chris Griffin. They are expected to see much bigger roles this upcoming season.

Second-year star: K Harrison Butker.

Recruiting stock: ESPN Recruiting had Butker ranked as the No. 3 kicker in the nation out of Decatur, Ga. He chose the Jackets over Auburn.

2013 in review: Butker came in last fall and won the starting job, leading the team with 83 points. He made 53 of 54 extra point attempts, tying for the second-most single-season PATs in school history. His only miss came on a bad snap against Miami. Butker also hit 10 of 14 field goal attempts, including nine of his final 11. Half of the field goals he made were 40 yards or longer.

2014 potential: Coach Paul Johnson truly believes Butker can be one of the best kickers in the nation. During the spring game, er monsoon, Butker made a 54-yard field goal. Something to note headed into the fall: Georgia Tech will have a new special teams coach after Dave Walkosky abruptly resigned last week.

Also watch for: The 6-foot-6, 294-pound Griffin ran with the first team in the spring at tackle and has a great chance to win the starting job. Devine, the biggest Jacket at 6-7, 340 pounds, enters the fall second on the depth chart, but coaches love his potential. Linebacker Paul Davis, who played as a true freshman last year, is also competing for a starting job.

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