Philip Rivers, LeSean McCoy headline All-ACC active alumni team
The ACC often can be overlooked -- even by its own fans -- up against the spotlight commanded by the SECs of the world. Florida State brought some of college football's focus back onto the conference by dumping Auburn for the national title last season.
The NFL always has paid attention.
Look no further than the landscape of the NFL's current rosters, many of which are loaded with ACC talent. Many of the players come from the places you'd expect: Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech. That said, there are more than a few stars who have found their ways into the league from Boston College, North Carolina and so on.
Our second in this weekly, offseason series of all-conference alumni teams takes a look at the now 14-team ACC:
A year ago, this order probably would have been reversed. A year from now, it might be again. But coming out of the 2013 season (and even though Ryan threw for 37 more yards than Rivers), Rivers again has staked a claim as one of the league's top quarterbacks. In his first season under Mike McCoy, Rivers captured the AP's Comeback Player of the Year award by pushing the Chargers to a surprising playoff berth and a wild-card round victory.
Ryan, on the other hand, tossed a career-high 17 interceptions and was dropped 44 times for sacks as his team slumped to a 4-12 finish. Still just 29 years of age, Ryan offers more than enough promise for Atlanta to stand behind him. Right now, though, he might be the third-best QB within his own division.
The other ACC alumnus who warrants a mention here: Michael Vick (Virginia Tech). Vick has a shot to unseat Geno Smith as the Jets' starting quarterback this season, which might be his last shot at restoring some of his former glory.
We're only two positions deep and yet this much is obvious: There is substantial ACC talent in the NFL. Picking Gore and McCoy out from the pack was not much of a challenge, even if Spiller has 2,800 total yards combined over the past two seasons. Deciding on the promising Bernard over Lamar Miller (Miami) was a bit tougher. As an all-around back, Bernard simply was more productive last season. Both players' roles could be on the upswing in the coming year.
Wide receivers: Andre Johnson (Miami), Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech)
Second team: Larry Fitzgerald (Pittsburgh), Demaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech)
Honorable mention: Anquan Boldin (Florida State), Reggie Wayne (Miami)
Dude. The SEC and possibly the Big 12 may have something to say about it, but it's hard to imagine any conference claiming more talent at receiver than the ACC. In fact, there were so many worthy receivers that they warranted an Honorable Mention expansion to this particular all-conference team.
Is there room for debate regarding the first- and second-team placements? Perhaps. Megatron would be hard to bump down a notch. The gap is smaller between Andre Johnson and the second team of Fitzgerald/Thomas, even though Johnson's 109 catches left him 17 above Thomas and 25 ahead of Calvin Johnson, too (though the latter did miss two games).
Boldin turned in 85 receptions of his own last season, the latest in a long line of consistent and productive seasons from the veteran WR. Wayne, meanwhile, has a 1,000-catch career under his belt and is expected back at full strength in 2014 after missing nine games to a knee injury in '13. More talent looms behind them, including Hakeem Nicks (North Carolina) and DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson). Heck, even Eddie Royal (Virginia Tech) found the end zone eight times last season.
In this clip from the SI.com Audibles podcast, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar name their dream team to be featured on HBO's Hard Knocks.
The U. There are 12 former Miami Hurricanes dotting this All-ACC roster, and a handful more could have been brought along for the ride. Tight end was pretty cut and dry, though those in the Steel City may argue for Heath Miller (Virginia) over Olsen. The numbers -- and Miller's recent injury history -- don't back such a change.
Special mention here for 10-year vet Ben Watson (Duke). There are no Blue Devils on any of the first- or second-teams, but Watson was the closest.
We turn our attention to the O-line ... and to Charlottesville, where Virginia has cranked out some high-end tackles. Albert and Ferguson lead the way here, with a strong second-team of Brown and Castonzo behind them. Another Wahoo was excluded: Eugene Monroe, who was a bright spot on a horrendous Baltimore front during the 2013 season.
The toughest tackle omission, outside of Monroe? Boston College's Gosder Cherilus.
A little bit of a mix-and-match approach at the guard position, where I'm banking on 2013 No. 7 overall pick Cooper to come back strong from the broken leg that cost him all of his rookie season; and on Franklin to handle a move inside from tackle, which is what the Broncos have planned. The second-team is starter material, but Snee's also trying to get healthy again following an injury-plagued 2013.
If this hypothetical All-ACC team plans to run a zone-blocking scheme, then Myers belongs at the top -- he is as good as it gets manning the middle in that system. A more pro-style approach would give a boost to Wood's candidacy.
Defensive ends: Calais Campbell (Miami), Robert Quinn (North Carolina)
Second team: Chandler Jones (Syracuse), Mario Williams (N.C. State)
Honorable mention: Michael Johnson (Georgia Tech), Chris Long (Virginia)
Like the wide receiver position, an oversupply of edge rushers led to the use of the "Honorable Mention" tag here. Seriously, just look at that collection of talent.
Williams probably could have been kicked out to the OLB group to come, but he made the 2013 All-Pro squad as a defensive end and figures to run mostly in that role under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Campbell, meanwhile, is the lone 3-4 end among the sextet listed. Aside from Houston's J.J. Watt, he's also the best at what he does in the NFL.
The debate really centers around those second-team spots -- specifically, does Jones deserve the honor over Johnson and Long? He did produce the most sacks of that group (13 compared to 10 from Long and five from Johnson), plus is an integral part of the Patriots defense. Johnson may have had the best all-around 2013 season.
Unless you want to make a strong case for nose tackles B.J. Raji (Boston College) and Letroy Guion (Florida State), these are the four former ACC DTs that belong up top. Williams still has a sky-is-the-limit future. He's not on the Dockett/Wilfork level yet.
Mentioned this above with Mario Williams, but the approach was to place these rush guys in the positions they're slotted for 2014. So, Dumervil, Freeney and now even Peppers get bunched into the OLB spot. That may do a disservice to at least Peppers.
Worilds is on the first team over both Freeney and Peppers because of how well he played there last season. Freeney is coming back from injury, while Peppers has to learn a new position with the Packers.
There were not really enough ILB candidates to justify splitting the linebackers up for last week's All-AAC team. Not a problem this time around. Kuechly and the resurgent Smith pace a solid crop of players. And quite frankly, Tulloch, off a 112-tackle season, probably could have bumped Smith from the first team.
Astute ACC observers will notice the absences of DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Flowers (both Virginia Tech products) and Xavier Rhodes (Florida State). Perhaps another Honorable Mention list was deserved here, because narrowing down the conference's cornerbacks to four led to some hand-wringing.
Cromartie and Revis are back together on the first-team -- Revis because he's Revis, Cromartie because his 2013 decline after a standout 2012 may have been due to a lingering hip injury. Behind them, it's then Shields and Gay. The former can be inconsistent but has developed into a reliable No. 1 cornerback for the Packers; the latter surpassed Ike Taylor as Pittsburgh's go-to coverage guy in 2013.
Plenty satisfied with Chancellor, Rolle and Clemons. Less so with Burnett, who had some brutal moments in 2013 after a hamstring injury slowed him early.
Rookie Calvin Pryor (Louisville) might have the strongest case to take his spot, even before he plays a down in the NFL. The other safety options -- including Brandon Meriweather (Miami), Adrian Wilson (N.C. State) and Ed Reed (Miami) -- would have contended more a few years back. A sleeper that nearly crept past Burnett: ex-Patriot Steve Gregory (Syracuse).
The 2013 season did not stand out as Janikowski's finest work, as he hit just 70 percent of his field-goal attempts, his lowest mark in eight years. Hauschka, in contrast, nailed 33-of-35 FGs, including 14-of-15 from 40 yards and beyond.
Lee's overall body of work, which includes three Pro Bowls and three All-Pro bids, earns him a first-team nod. But was Bosher better in 2013? Most of the numbers say yes. Bosher had a better NET punt average than Lee (42.3 to 41.6) and pinned more balls inside the 20 (29 to Lee's 26). Either way, two worthy honorees.