NFL Draft 2014 Primer: Scouting the ACC
Though the NFL draft is still months away, the college football season looms just around the corner. So, with that in mind, Audibles is taking a look at one intriguing draft prospect from each FBS team. Read the previous posts here.
There are two teams that figure to dominate most of the draft discussion out of this conference in the coming year: Clemson and Florida State.
The Tigers feature QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins, two of the top five picks in Audibles' first 2014 mock draft, which went live in late April. Boyd will have a hard time unseating Teddy Bridgewater as the top QB in the 2014 draft class, but he could be right there behind him. And Watkins arguably is a better prospect than former teammate DeAndre Hopkins, the 27th-overall pick this year.
Florida State has an impressive offensive talent of its own in RB James Wilder Jr. He could be the first RB off the board next May, should he opt to turn pro early. The Seminoles' defense is the real star here, though, with DT Timmy Jernigan and OLB Christian Jones having the look of first-rounders.
There is a lot of talent in this conference, as you might expect given its bloated 14-team format. Here's a glance at some of the top prospects, heading into the 2013 season:
Boston College: Alex Amidon, WR.
Amidon is not particularly big (listed at a generous 6-foot-0, 182 pounds) and he's not all that fast. He showed he can produce in spite of those shortcomings, though, with a 1,200-yard year last season. Amidon posted his impressive 2012 season because he showed a tenacious knack for winning battles with defensive backs. Boston College also moved him around the field, and he did work both outside and across the middle.
He probably will have to do more of the latter in the NFL, because it is hard to project him out as a top two WR on a depth chart. But Amidon should get a shot if he plays in 2013 like he did last year.
Clemson: Brandon Thomas, OT.
You'll hear a ton about Boyd and Watkins over the coming months, so say hello to another of Clemson's offensive talents. Thomas (6-3, 315) is headed into his third season as a starter for the Tigers, and he'll again lock down the left tackle job. He might be even better as a guard at the next level, where he can utilize his blocking ability while minimizing his smallish height (for a tackle) and his so-so quickness.
Duke: Ross Cockrell, CB.
Cockrell was a first-team All-ACC member last season, above the likes of second-teamer David Amerson, a Redskins draft pick in April. He earned a spot there thanks to five interceptions and 71 tackles, and he will be tested week in and week out this season as the Blue Devils' top corner.
The 6-0, 190-pound Cockrell will have to show well on film throughout the year -- odds are, he won't test particularly well at the combine or blow teams away in individual workouts. That's a testament to the whole being better than the sum of its parts here. Cockrell is an NFL talent, even if he doesn't leap off the page.
Florida State: Bryan Stork, C.
There's an awful lot to love here, and Stork may wind up the first center off the board next May. Stork (6-4, 300) played right guard as a freshman, left guard as a sophomore, trained as a tackle prior to his junior year, then finally slid to center where he'll start for a second straight year.
That he is not really all that out of place anywhere will turn Stork into a coveted draft prospect. He is quick and delivers a punch, even if he probably could stand to get stronger. Stork may be the best offensive lineman in this conference.
Georgia Tech: Jeremiah Attaochu, DE.
The 6-3, 242-pound Attaochu collected 11.5 sacks as a sophomore and 12.0 last season. Those takedowns came as a 3-4 outside linebacker; Attaochu will play defensive end in Georgia Tech's new 4-3 this season. It's hard to envision that being too much of a problem, given how aggressively Attaochu gets off the ball. He's a pure speed rusher right now, though his technique should benefit from playing along the D-line for a full year.
Attaochu more than holds his own when asked to chip in elsewhere, too, like in run defense or pass coverage. He first reminded me of Bruce Irvin, though Attaochu's probably more comfortable dropping and Irvin had a more complete arsenal as a rusher. Still, the way Seattle has used Irvin is a good starting point for Attaochu's NFL potential.
Maryland: Dexter McDougle, CB.
The young Terps do not have too many guys that will be of NFL interest for the 2014 draft; 2015 and beyond may be better there. McDougle, a 5-10, 195-pound cornerback might get into the mix. He and Jeremiah Johnson actually give Maryland a legit 1-2 punch at CB, though teams picked apart the rest of the defense last season. That's why, for example, McDougle had to make 71 tackles as a cornerback -- the front seven simply did not do its job.
McDougle's tackling ability will come in handy when he starts talking to NFL franchises, as he could find a home on special teams.
Miami: Stephen Morris, QB.
The ACC is chock full of talented quarterbacks. Morris is included here because he's the most fascinating case out of that group, for me. Morris threw for 3,345 yards last season, with 21 TDs and just seven picks. He then won the skills competition at the prestigious Manning Camp this summer, beating out a bunch of future NFL QBs.
Morris has an absolute cannon for an arm, plus good instincts and an ability to clear the pocket. Can he harness his abilities to become a more consistent player? Morris failed to get to the 60-percent clip on his passes last season, and he occasionally goes full gunslinger, trying to squeeze passes into tight windows rather than moving on to another option.
Ask any draft expert about Morris and you're likely to get a unique opinion. He could be the top senior QB selected in 2014. He also could struggle and fall, especially with his former offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch, now in Jacksonville.
North Carolina: James Hurst, OT.
If all goes according to plan, Hurst (6-7, 305) will help open the college football season with a colossal Thursday night showdown against South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. Don't be surprised if Hurst does more than hold his own. He brings length and quickness to the table, two traits that NFL teams covet in their offensive tackles, and he started 36 career games on the Tar Heels' line.
N.C. State: Quintin Payton, WR.
It's the size here -- 6-4, 212 -- that helps Payton stand out a bit. He can provide an advantage on the outside over smaller cornerbacks, and a lot of his 51 catches last season came under duress. That number could rise in 2013, too, if the Wolfpack feed him the football.
Payton probably has a mid-round ceiling, mainly due to a lack of speed. He currently carries a listed 40 time of around 4.6. Given his height, it also would be nice to see him find the end zone more, after hitting paydirt just twice last season.
Pittsburgh: Aaron Donald, DT.
Donald is one of those players who does not really fit the prototypical size requirements for his position (6-0, 275), and yet consistently finds a way to wreak havoc anyway. He had a Big East-leading 18.5 tackles for loss last season, with 16 the year before. Add in an average of about eight sacks from 2011-12, and you can see why NFL teams would be intrigued.
The question will be: Where does he play? He has to stay inside in a 4-3 or possibly slide to end in a 3-4, but how many more pounds can Donald pack on his shorter frame?
Syracuse: Prince Tyson-Gulley, RB.
The Orange have a 6-0, 230-pound starting back in Jerome Smith. And yet it was Tyson-Gulley (5-10, 190) who led the team in rushing touchdowns last season. Tyson-Gulley actually crossed the goal line 11 times -- nine on the ground, plus two more on 33 catches out of the backfield.
He saved his best for last in 2012, picking apart West Virginia's defense (who didn't?) for 213 yards rushing, 56 receiving and three TDs. His future may be as a third-down back, if he proves to be fast enough for such a role.
Virginia: Morgan Moses, OT.
Another massive lineman, Moses stands 6-6 and 335. He is ticketed for the Cavaliers' left tackle spot, previously occupied by current New York Jet Oday Aboushi. A fifth-round pick in April, Aboushi brought with him to the NFL questions about how well he would hold up against faster opponents.
Moses will have to answer similar queries. He is not overly quick-footed on the outside. Rather, Moses is about what you'd expect from a guy his size -- someone who can anchor or drive forward, but who also can be turned around.
Virginia Tech: Kyle Fuller, CB.
The Hokies have a pair of potential NFL corners on their roster: Fuller and Antone Exum, who will miss at least the opener vs. Alabama with a knee injury. Fuller will have a chance to prove his worth in Exum's absence, and NFL scouts no doubt will be watching.
The 6-0, 193-pound Fuller runs about 30 pounds lighter than Exum, but he does not hesitate to get involved in run defense. While Fuller delivered a pair of interceptions and seven pass break-ups last season, he needs to be a more reliable defender this season -- receivers have been able to get deep on him on occasion.
Wake Forest: A.J. Marshall, S.
The Demon Deacons' best pro prospect is wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who has averaged 76 catches over the past two seasons and appears to be close to an NFL-ready route-runner.
Marshall (6-0, 195) has more work to do to show the NFL he can make the leap. He played cornerback for Wake Forest during his first two seasons, before sliding to safety in 2012. He's probably a better fit at safety, though his CB experience might entice a team to give him a shot in sub packages there.