We're only a few days away from a somewhat full-scale college football Saturday. Well, a loaded slate of ACC games that is. The conference kicks off a unique schedule this weekend. Some teams will begin their 10-game ACC schedule. Miami, Pittsburgh, and Louisville are playing their one non-conference outing.
So that means I will gladly harness my excitement for Power 5 college football returning and provide for you a 2021 draft preview of the top prospects from all the ACC teams this season. Yes, that includes you, Notre Dame. Enjoy.
QB Trevor Lawrence
Lawrence typifies what every draft evaluator hopes to witness during every quarterback film session. His size, precise yet aggressive passing style, and phenomenal athletic gifts hearken back to the days of John Elway and Andrew Luck at Stanford. His maturity on and off the field is reminiscent of Peyton Manning at Tennessee. It indicates Lawrence is pro-ready between the ears, someone fully capable of shouldering the avalanche of responsibilities that come with being a No. 1 overall selection at the quarterback position. Sure, last year didn't start spectacularly for Lawrence, who began the season at 19 years old, and it ended on a sour note at the hands of the seismic force that was LSU. But although some of it felt different than his stunning, national title-winning true freshman campaign, in Year 2 at Clemson, he completed passes at a higher rate with a better yards-per-attempt average and 36 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Lawrence isn't infallible. He's not flawless. But he's the next pledge in the Elway-Manning-Luck fraternity of quarterback prospects who come exceptionally close to those lofty descriptors.
RB Travis Etienne
On the field, Etienne is dangerous and bound to go off like fireworks in the hands of your eccentric uncle who's five beers deep at your family's Fourth of July party. The Clemson star has been an explosive workhorse since his freshman season. To date, he's averaged 7.8 yards per attempt on 518 carries with the Tigers. Somehow, Dabo Swinney convinced Etienne to return for his senior season, and he's the overwhelming favorite to be the first running back off the board in the 2021 draft. He might've been the first one selected in the 2020 draft, to be quite honest. A true, North-South runner with afterburners that ignite the moment he touches the football, impressive contact balance, quality quickness, and soft hands, Etienne is a modern-day feature back in the NFL.
More to watch
Left tackle Jackson Carman could move a car, man. Wow that was cheesy. And it's pronounced CAR-min, not CAR-man. Anyway, my point was that Carman is a demolishing blocker on the outside. He's a specimen at 6-5 and 345 pounds with a seemingly never-ending wingspan. He needs to get more under control in pass protection and play with more balance on those plays, but the talent and sheer mass alone will get him picked early. Xavier Thomas, a top edge-rusher recruit of a few years ago, looked like the next Clemson star up front as a freshman yet was relegated mostly to a block-eating roll in the Tigers' three-man fronts last season.
DT Marvin Wilson
Wilson has a fascinating frame for the interior of the defensive line at 6-5 and 305 pounds, and he can dispatch blockers with poppy, active hands en route to the backfield. His first-step gets him the leverage advantage often, but Wilson doesn't have elite closing speed to project as a freaky pass-rushing defensive tackle at the next level. However, with how large and strong he is, with his acceleration off the snap and keen awareness of how to take on and shed blocks, he's a good bet to have a long, successful NFL career.
WR Tamorrion Terry
At 6-4 and 210 pounds with what looks like high 4.3 speed, safeties eyes widen when Terry aligns on their side of the field. His 20.3 yards-per-catch average over the past two seasons is the highest in all of college football, and according to Pro Football Focus, Terry is one of three receivers who's complied at least 10 receptions of 40+ yards in 2018 and 2019 combined. The others? Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb. With Terry, we're talking first-round deep-strike capabilities. Is he a prolific route runner? Not exactly, but with how tall and excruciatingly fast he is, Terry just needs to stay on the vertical route tree and rake as a long-ball specialist.
S/LB Hamsah Nasirildeen
Safeties/linebackers of Nasirildeen's size -- are so hot right now in NFL circles. The Florida State standout is 6-4 and 220 pounds with oiled-up hips and plenty of speed and twitch to cover a lot of ground at the second and third levels of the defense. He had 91 tackles in 2018 and 102 last year. I'd like to see more coverage production from him though. Nasirildeen has three picks and five pass breakups over the past two seasons.
More to watch
Durden is unique in that he's 6-5 and 315 pounds but runs around like he's an undersized three technique looking to shoot gaps. There's serious momentum behind all of his pass-rushing moves too. Will he win with sustained speed in the NFL? Probably not. But his initial acceleration is impressive for a human being his size and I like his high-energy style.
WR Dazz Newsome
At this very moment, Newsome is a second-round prospect on my board. He wow'd in every element of playing the receiver position on film. I let my grading system do the talking for me, but I don't know how he's not higher on my board. He felt like a first-round talent on film. Extreme juice after the catch, jagged route-running abilities, and contested-catch skills like he views himself as Ben Wallace is his prime.
WR Dyami Brown
Brown is the outside deep threat in UNC's suddenly explosive offense. At 6-1 and around 190 pounds, he's far from gargantuan, although don't tell him that because Brown rebounds like an All-Star power forward, when he's not blowing by cornerbacks on the vertical route tree. In 2019, he caught 51 passes, averaged 20.3 yards on those catches and scored 12 touchdowns.
More to watch
Chazz Surratt played with reckless abandon in his first year as a linebacker, commendable from a player who was a -- wait for it -- quarterback just a year previous. Was his tackling reliable? No. Did he thrive in coverage? No. But Surratt's urgency and range get me excited for what could be in store for this 6-2, 225-pound lightning bolt of a player.
EDGE Quincy Roche
Roche is a technician with some fluidity to his athletic profile and after 13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss at Temple, he's now a Hurricane. At 6-3 and 240-ish pounds, some may be worried about Roche's size. I'm not. Sure, he'll get moved in the run game on occasion. That's fine. Edge rushers are most valuable when they can create pressure on the quarterback, and Roche does that as well as any player at his position in this class with an array of moves.
TE Brevin Jordan
Jordan will transition smoothly to the NFL because of his yards-after-the-catch prowess. Like most positions on an NFL field today, tight ends are trending smaller, which should help Jordan's cause because he's listed at 6-3 and 235 pounds -- H-back size. He's fast and is a nightmare to tackle in space. Look for a big year from him.
More to watch
Miami's new quarterback is small with an obscure delivery and a low-caliber arm. As a runner? Look out. At Houston in 2018, King threw for 36 touchdowns to just six picks and ran for 674 more yards with 14 touchdowns on the ground. If he looks more physically impressive as a passer this season, he'll find himself on the radar as a quarterback prospect. If not, King has a future as a running back or gadget player in the NFL.
Who else to watch
Notre Dame: Like many recent Notre Dame offensive linemen, Liam Eichenberg is a rare athlete, but it's rare to find him out-leveraged or out of position as a run or pass blocker. He's been Notre Dame's full-time starter at left tackle in each of the last two seasons.
Duke: Chris Rumph starts the college football season as my No. 1 edge rusher and No. 8 overall prospect in the 2021 class. While a carb-heavy diet is in his near future, because Rumph does need to pack on some weight to handle the sheer mass he'll face in the trenches in the NFL, he's the most developed pass-rush move martial artist I've scouted since Aaron Donald in 2014. I'm serious. He's long and athletic too. While I'm much higher on Rumph than the masses currently, with another highly productive season, he'll be widely considered a first-round prospect. He's that studly.
Louisville: The largest hurdle in front of Tutu Atwell as an NFL prospect is that, well, he's not very large. He's listed at 5-9 and 165, and those are probably generous figures from Louisville's athletic department. The teams that can see past Atwell's stature will likely view him as Day 2 prospect. He's a roadrunner in space, and it's incredible he's averaged 18 yards per catch (on 93 receptions) over his first two seasons at Louisville because he's almost primarily been utilized as an underneath, gadget player. If he makes more plays down the field in 2020 and continues his elusive ways -- spoiler: he will because he's an electric athlete -- Atwell could rise near the top of the second round thanks to growing emphasis on yards after the catch in today's NFL.
Wake Forest: Carlos Basham looks like he's been in an NFL weight room for a few seasons, at a thick 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds. But he's not a first-round prospect simply because his frame resembles The Mountain from "Game of Thrones.'' He's ridiculously explosive and bendy for his size, and "explosive" and "bendy" are almost never adjectives to describe gigantic linemen. Consistent Basham is not, but his high-caliber reps are top half of the first round caliber, because he combines his size and athletic gifts with reinforced steel pipes for hands at the point of attack. If there are fewer lulls in his game this season, he'll comfortably land inside the first round next April.
Boston College: Center Alec Lindstrom was integral to the A.J. Dillion-powered Boston College offense last year, a combo-blocking machine who powerfully paved lanes for the Eagles' locomotive back. His brother, Chris, was a Falcons' first-round selection in 2019 and I see plenty of similarities between the two on film.
Syracuse: Watching Andre Cisco's game film makes you question whether or not you were sent a highlight reel, which are no bueno as a draft evaluator. He pops in seemingly every game as a big-play-waiting-to-happen in coverage. In Cisco's first two seasons at Syracuse he has 12 interceptions -- seven as a freshman! -- with 14 pass breakups from his free safety spot. He's also reached the 60-tackle plateau both years, which indicates he unafraid to throw his weight around in run-stopping efforts.
Pittsburgh: Edge rusher Patrick Jones Jones is another prospect I'm higher on than most, as he currently resides inside the first round of my preseason Big Board for the 2021 draft. At 6-5 and 260 pounds with an array of pass-rushing moves that arrive by way of long, powerful arms, he checked many boxes for me while watching his film this summer.
Virginia: Charles Snowden's fascinating because on film he looks like he could stand in the middle of a soccer net and touch each goal post. He's that long at 6-7 and 240 pounds. There's a fair amount of bend to his game as a pure edge rusher -- rare for someone that tall -- although Snowden's primary area of expertise in 2019 was setting the edge then dispatching blocks to use his enormous tackling radius to corral ball carriers on outside runs. He has an inside crossover move but has to play with more point-of-attack strength this season.
Virginia Tech: Rayshard Ashby doesn't have the typical body type of an early-round pick. He's listed at a ridiculously fire hydrant-like 5-10 and 245 pounds. His arms don't look particularly long either. Ashby probably won't go in one of the early rounds. His instincts, quick-twitch athleticism and production will get him on the draft radar. The Hokie star has back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons already on his resume and registered 17 tackles for loss a season ago.