2015 NFL draft primer: Clemson's Vic Beasley leads ACC class
All eyes nationally will be fixated on defending national champion Florida State and defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston to see if either (or both) can run it back in 2015. On paper, there is not another school in the ACC that matches up with Florida State from a talent standpoint.
That is not to say that the rest of the conference is barren. From last season's ACC Atlantic runner-up Clemson on down through N.C. State and Virginia, a pair of teams that went winless within conference play, there are draft-worthy prospects to watch.
Boston College: Andy Gallik, C
If you watched any tape of new Giants RB Andre Williams from last season, Gallik at least inadvertently was part of the viewing. A full-time starter at center for each of the past two seasons, Gallik (6-foot-3, 304 pounds) was the anchor on the Boston College line that paved the way for 2,177-yard season. Gallik does not move and strike exceptionally well, but in smaller boxes he wins battles. His consistent longevity alone will put him in the 2015 draft mix.
Where is the ceiling for Beasley, after he eschewed the 2014 draft in favor of one more year at Clemson? Well, in our first 2015 mock draft (yes, we had one already), Beasley occupied the No. 2 spot overall. That's a prediction made under the assumption that Beasley rounds out his game some this year -- he had 23 tackles for loss and 13.0 sacks last season but was only so-so against the run. Given that the 6-3, 235-pounder is likely ticketed for a 3-4 OLB role or a 4-3 spot similar to one played by Von Miller, he'll need to show better in all facets. But there may not be a better pass-rusher available come next draft.
Florida State: Cameron Erving, OT
Erving, at 6-6 and 308 pounds, runs more than 20 lbs. lighter than 2014 No. 2 pick Greg Robinson. There might be some comparisons made, though, if for no other reason than Erving, like Robinson, is a brilliantly talented work in progress. As of the 2011 season, Erving was a backup defensive tackle for the Seminoles; he moved to the O-line for 2012 and since has been entrenched as a starter at left tackle.
A bonus over Robinson's draft scouting report: Erving plays in a more diverse offense, as opposed to the very run-heavy scheme in which Robinson starred. And Erving moves well enough on the edge to keep Winston protected, while also being able to get out into space for the run game. He's still learning and still has ample room to improve. The end result could lock him into a top-10 spot.
Louisville: Devante Parker, WR
Expect Parker (6-3, 209) to be in the Round 1 discussion for the majority of this season, assuming he does not tank in a post-Teddy Bridgewater world. Even with a drop from the 55 catches, 885 yards and 12 TDs from 2013, Parker has more than enough natural gifts to entice NFL general managers. FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman recently placed Parker at No. 15 on his annual "Freaks" list -- a ranking of the most eye-popping athletes in college football.
"[Parker] was timed at 4.39 in the 40 and broad jumped 10-feet, 10-inches to go with his tremendous range (80-inch wingspan)," Feldman wrote. "Parker's pro agility time was 4.10 and he has benched 225 pounds 17 times, which is also excellent for a receiver."
N.C. State: Rob Crisp, OT
Can Crisp ever stay healthy? The 6-7, 300-pounder was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA after a concussion sidelined him for all but two games in 2013. Crisp also missed several 2012 games after suffering a back injury, so he'll carry multiple health-related red flags to the NFL draft process, assuming he can get through the coming year relatively unscathed. Crisp is an NFL-caliber tackle, at least as a potential swing lineman given his experience on both the left and right sides. We'll see how 2014 treats him.
Syracuse: Prince Tyson-Gulley, RB
Another fifth-year player, Tyson-Gulley has had all sorts of problems avoiding injury. It was an ankle issue that limited him to 89 carries and 456 rushing yards last season, though the Orange's former No. 1 RB, Jerome Smith, opted to enter the 2014 draft (Smith went undrafted and later signed with Atlanta.) So, there is an opportunity for Tyson-Gulley, a versatile 5-foot-9, 195-pound athlete.
Syracuse has moved him around, even giving him some snaps as a slot receiver. He'll need to build on that three-down ability to crack the 2015 draft board.
Wake Forest: Kevin Johnson, CB
Not just one of the ACC's top prospects, Johnson could challenge players like Iko Ekpre-Olomu and Doran Grant among the best senior cornerbacks in all of football. Johnson's projectable NFL ability begins with speed -- anything over the mid-4.4 range at the combine would be a letdown -- and it includes better than average ball skills. The Demon Deacons cornerback himself has mentioned a need to get stronger, something NFL teams would love to see as well before projecting Johnson out as more than a zone-coverage or slot cornerback.
Duke: Anthony Boone, QB
For the moment, the 2015 QB draft class sets up with Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and a couple others potentially topping the charts, then a substantial group of second-tier talents hoping to climb. Count Boone among the latter.
Boone (6-0, 225) may not be a dual-threat quarterback in the Johnny Manziel sense of the world, but he definitely keeps defenses on their toes with his running ability. To be a legitimate NFL prospect, Boone has to bring the passing game along -- he threw for 2,220-plus yards last season but with 13 TDs and 13 interceptions. The decision-making must improve. Even if it does not, Boone could be looking at a career arc similar to that of fellow Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, bouncing around on a couple of teams before landing in a workable spot.
Georgia Tech: Quayshawn Nealy, LB
Every year at draft time, the focus at linebacker ultimately lands one of two places: either on those prospects who can harass quarterbacks off the edge or on ultra-athletic inside talents like 2014 first-rounders Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley. Later on, say in the middle rounds, teams tend to circle back on linebackers who can step in and simply make tackles.
That's the mold for Nealy, a three-down defender with that always coveted "high motor" work ethic. Nealy can get lost in the middle of plays from time to time, which is something NFL offenses would exploit via misdirection. He has a year to improve on that aspect of his game.
It's a safe bet that Perryman will be one of those highly debated prospects -- he's an absolute force in the Miami defense, but at 6-feet-tall (and that is probably generous) does not check off the ideal height box for NFL scouts. That may be all that holds him back from a top-15 selection next spring. Perryman made 108 tackles last season, showing an uncanny knack for finding and getting to the football. He does not hold back once he arrives, either, laying all of his 242-pound frame into opposing running backs.
North Carolina: Tim Scott, S
With injuries forcing the Tar Heels to shuffle their lineup ahead of the Belk Bowl, Scott shifted from cornerback to free safety. He could be a fixture there for 2014. Regardless, NFL teams already will have taken notice of his performance in a pinch -- as well as his ability to rather seamlessly transition from cornerback to safety. Scott had 49 tackles and a pair of interceptions last season, with another four interceptions as a sophomore.
Pittsburgh: Todd Thomas, LB
Part of the challenge here will be in figuring out how Thomas (6-2, 230) projects, position-wise, to the next level. He made 59 tackles during an injury-plagued 2012 and had 72 last season, but is he athletic enough to be a WILL linebacker, which is where he plays for Pitt? Or does he have a better shot as a smallish inside 3-4 linebacker? Thomas injured his knee during a redshirt 2010 season, then hurt it again the next year.
Virginia: Anthony Harris, S
Harris (6-1, 190) led the nation in interceptions last season with eight, a huge increase over the lone pick he posted in 2012. That performance nearly pushed Harris into the 2014 draft before he opted to stay in Charlottesville. Once he finally does head to the pros, interested teams will be waiting. On top of that interception ability, Harris has averaged 83.5 tackles the past two seasons. He shows solid range on the back end, both in defending the pass and stepping up over the middle.
Virginia Tech: Luther Maddy, DT
Weighing in just shy of 300 pounds (6-1, 296), Maddy is a disruptive interior defensive lineman. Last year alone, he notched 6.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Maddy also briefly flirted with the NFL following 2014 before ultimately deciding to stick. He probably made the right call, and with a strong season could push at least into that Round 2-3 range. Maddy's technique could use some cleaning up, but he shows promise as a future NFL tackle.