- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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It was a solid year for the ACC in the NFL draft. Florida State set an NFL record for the most players selected in a three-year span with 29, the league sent nine first-rounders to the next level, and 47 ACC players were drafted overall. But now that the 2015 draft is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to 2016.
Here's an early look at top 2016 NFL draft prospects from the ACC:
Jalen Ramsey (DB, Florida State): Ramsey has size, speed and ample experience. He has proved to be a versatile weapon in FSU’s secondary, and odds are he’ll be one of the top defensive backs on the board next year.
Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech): The Hokies-to-the-NFL path is a well-traveled one for the Fuller family, but Kendall might be the most talented of the bunch. With Virginia Tech’s defense primed for a terrific season, Fuller’s stock is already high and could get even higher.
Tyler Boyd (WR, Pitt): He has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and was one of the most dynamic weapons in the ACC last season. Assuming he decides to enter the draft, he’ll no doubt be a highly coveted option for teams in need of receiving help.
Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson): Alexander blossomed into a star as a redshirt freshman in 2014, and he’ll be the backbone of Clemson’s D this season. A big season could certainly vault the former five-star recruit into the first round of the draft, but he could also take a page from former teammates like Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony and maximize his college experience.
Other top underclassmen
James Conner (RB, Pitt): It will be interesting to see how Conner’s hefty workload in 2014 will affect his performance this season, but if he posts 1,000 yards again, he’ll likely be one of the top running backs available. This year's draft showed backs can still be first-rounders, but whether that's a trend or an anomaly may depend on Conner's 2015 stats.
Roberto Aguayo (K, Florida State): Kickers don’t often leave early, but Aguayo could’ve done it this year. Instead, he returns for 2015, his redshirt junior season, with an eye on improving his stock at the next level.
Mike Williams (WR, Clemson): Last season was a breakthrough campaign for Williams, who proved to be a terrific big-play threat. If he can play all season with a healthy Deshaun Watson at QB in 2015, Williams' numbers could get even better, and that’ll turn plenty of heads in the NFL.
Jayron Kearse (S, Clemson): Like Alexander, Kearse is primed for a breakthrough campaign in 2015, and he has the size and skill to be coveted by the NFL. Like Alexander, though, there are no guarantees he’ll be eager to head to the next level.
Shaq Lawson (DE, Clemson): He's been a terror in reserve duty the past two years. Now he steps into Beasley's starting role with a chance to fully establish himself as a top NFL prospect.
Jeremy Cash (S, Duke): Smart, physical and talented, Cash could’ve bolted for the NFL this year, but by returning to Duke for his senior campaign he’s apt to improve his stock a bit more and could project as one of the top safeties in the 2016 draft.
Quinshad Davis (WR, North Carolina): Davis has racked up 21 touchdowns in three seasons at UNC, and at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he’s a potentially deadly red zone threat at the NFL level, too. Last season was a minor step back for him, though, so he’ll need to be more consistent in 2015 if he wants to maximize his NFL opportunities.
Landon Turner (OL, North Carolina): After arriving as a top recruit, Turner has started 24 games in the last three seasons for North Carolina, and he’s among the ACC’s top returning offensive linemen. UNC’s offense projects to be among the league’s best this season, and Turner could easily ride that wave into a nice landing spot in the NFL next year.
Deon Bush (S, Miami): A former ESPN 150 prospect, Bush came into his own in 2014, racking up 53 tackles, two INTs and five forced fumbles. He’s a versatile athlete who simply needs to show more consistency in his senior season to ensure he’ll be one of the more coveted free safeties on teams’ draft boards.
Others to watch: James Burgess (ILB, Louisville), Jamal Golden (S, Georgia Tech), Adam Gotsis (DT, Georgia Tech), Terrance Smith (LB, FSU), Taquan Mizzell (RB, Virginia), Jacoby Brissett (QB, NC State), Dadi Nicolas (DE, Virginia Tech)
Here's an early look at top 2016 NFL draft prospects from the ACC.