Tuesday, May 13, 2014
The future: ACC's 2015 draft prospects
By Jared Shanker
We live in a culture in which we are always looking to the future. The NFL draft ended just a few days ago, so now it is time to take an early peak to the 2015 draft.
The ACC had a very respectable five first-round selections -- second to only, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, the SEC -- and the ACC routinely has among the most draft picks compared to its power conference peers.
DE Vic Beasley bypassed the NFL draft this year to return to Clemson to get his degree and improve his draft stock.
Next year’s draft weekend could be a banner day for the ACC as Florida State is poised to make a run at Miami’s record of six first-round picks, set in 2004. The Noles’ potential 2015 draft class is loaded, which is hardly a surprise considering how well coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited. Realistically the list below could have been all Florida State players and it could be easily justified.
Here are the early top five names within the conference that have a chance to be an early selection next spring. Wednesday, draft analyst Todd McShay will release his first 2015 mock draft.
*Denotes an underclassmen.
Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Beasley was one of the more intriguing names within the conference as the season ended and players began declaring for the NFL draft. He was among the country’s best defensive players last season but was not nearly as dominant in the second half of the season. However, the talented lineman still led the ACC in sacks and, over the course of a full season, there might not have been a more productive player on the defensive line in the country. Beasley received a second-round grade before deciding to return to school, so if he can build upon his junior season then he should be able to find a place among the first 32 picks.
Mario Edwards Jr.*, DE, Florida State. Formerly the No. 1 recruit in the country, Edwards quietly put together a very strong sophomore season and was dominant against Auburn at times. Edwards has the frame to play defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, and with more teams playing with only three down linemen, Edwards’ value should see a rise as draft day nears. Edwards learned from Florida State greats along the defensive line, and Edwards could be the best. A strong junior season should push Edwards into the first round and possibly into the top half.
Duke Johnson*, RB, Miami. The junior was the key to Miami’s offensive success through the first half of the season, but unfortunately his season ended early from a fractured ankle. If he performs like he did early during his sophomore season, Johnson would have to seriously consider forgoing his senior season given his injury history and the toll running backs take. Johnson could be a first-round talent, but the position is being de-emphasized in NFL drafts and for the second straight year there was not a running back taken in the first round. Depending on how Johnson plays this coming season, he might leave an NFL team with no choice but to spend a first-round selection on him.
P.J. Williams*, CB, Florida State. The MVP of the VIZIO National Championship, Williams could be the first cornerback taken in next year’s draft (but he’ll get stiff competition from teammate Ronald Darby). Standing at 6-foot and nearly 200 pounds, Williams has the ideal size for a cornerback in an increasingly pass-happy NFL. Williams was often an overlooked part of the defense during the 2013 season, but this spring showed Williams is poised to take his game to a new level and could be the best player on that side of the ball. At this juncture, he is in all likelihood a first-round pick in next year’s draft. This spot could easily belong to Darby, but Williams looked fantastic during spring drills. Darby missed the spring with injuries.
Jameis Winston*, QB, Florida State. While some are already speculating Winston’s draft stock is plummeting, at this point he is still a high first-round pick and the potential No. 1 selection overall. Much like Jadeveon Clowney was hyped as the eventual No. 1 pick for more than a year, Winston began getting the same treatment midway through the 2013 season. Also like Clowney, that means Winston will be nitpicked for the next 12 months, none more so than during the four months between the end of the season until the draft. It would not necessarily be a shock to see Winston eventually fall to the second half of the first round, but as of now he is one of the early favorites for the No. 1 pick.