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Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Ultimate 300: ACC's top recruits

By Jared Shanker


An interesting look at recruiting classes over the better part of the past decade, the Ultimate 300 took years of data and on-field performance and compiled it to complete the list of the 300 best recruits since 2006. It is no surprise that Alabama had the most former recruits in the rankings, but it is an ACC school that finished No. 2.

How a prospect fared in college impacted where he was slotted, although NFL production was not considered. Below are the top five recruits in the Ultimate ESPN 300 to sign within the ACC.

1. DE Da'Quan Bowers -- Clemson
Ultimate ESPN 300: 12
The top-ranked recruit in the 2008 cycle, Bowers lived up the billing the moment he stepped on Clemson’s campus as an early enrollee in January of that year. He led all Tigers defensive linemen in tackles as a freshman, and his final season at Clemson produced a national-best 15.5 sacks and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the country’s best defensive player. He also finished second on the team in tackles in 2010, an impressive feat for a defensive lineman. Projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft for several months, Bowers slid to the second round because of medical red flags.

Sammy Watkins
Defenses were powerless in trying to stop Sammy Watkins, the No. 14 recruit in ESPN's Ultimate 300, during his three seasons at Clemson.
2. WR Sammy Watkins -- Clemson
Ultimate ESPN 300: 14
Much like Bowers, the electric Watkins was an instant star for the Tigers. Lightning in a bottle, Watkins scored on his first college touch, announcing to the world that the 39th-ranked prospect in 2011 was going to produce like he was ranked No. 1. ESPN.com named Watkins All-ACC his freshman season after compiling 82 receptions, 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. He saved the best for last, however, stating his case in the Orange Bowl that he was college football’s most explosive player. He torched Ohio State with a school-record 16 receptions for 227 yards, also tops in Clemson history. As a junior, he totaled 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 scores. Despite playing only three seasons and missing significant time as a sophomore, Watkins holds nearly every major Clemson receiving record and could go in the top 10 of the 2014 NFL draft.

3. QB Jameis Winston -- Florida State
Ultimate ESPN 300: 17
This list coming out in 2014 instead of 2015 (or, for wishful thinking FSU fans, 2016) does a disservice to the quarterback with a personality as big as his game. In his first season as a starter -- first season just seeing the field, too -- Winston, the No. 1 high school quarterback in the 2012 class, took the Seminoles to an undefeated season and a national championship. Team goals accomplished, Winston also hauled in several individual accolades, none bigger than the Heisman Trophy. Required to play at least one more season, Florida State will almost certainly be the No. 1 team in the preseason polls thanks to Winston. Early NFL projections have Winston as the eventual top overall pick in 2015.

4. RB C.J. Spiller -- Clemson
Ultimate ESPN 300: 20
Clemson sure had a knack for landing the nation’s fastest players and finding every which way to utilize their playmaking abilities. Following a four-year career at Clemson, the Tigers retired Spiller's No. 28 jersey. The eventual first-round pick was instant offense for Clemson his entire career but none more so than as a senior. He was the only player in the country in 2009 to score a touchdown five different ways -- passing, rushing, receiving and on kickoff and punt returns -- and the only player to score every single game. He is one of the best ever returners in NCAA history, as his seven career scores on kickoff returns ranks No. 1 in FBS history.

5. RB LeSean McCoy -- Pittsburgh
Ultimate ESPN 300: 21
"Shady" McCoy’s inclusion on this list is interesting on a couple of fronts. During his senior season of high school, he suffered an ankle injury that had many people believing his career was over. He eventually made it back to the field but never played a down for Miami, the school he signed with as a senior. He attended a prep school and landed at Pittsburgh in 2007. An immediate star for the Panthers, he rushed for 2,816 yards and 35 touchdowns in only 24 career games. He was a second-round pick in 2009 and won the NFL’s rushing title in 2013 with 1,607 yards -- 268 yards better than runner-up Matt Forte.