Countdown to College Football Kickoff: Top NFL prospects at Wake Forest

Oct 27, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons defensive lineman Carlos Basham Jr. (18) tackles Louisville Cardinals running back Hassan Hall (19) during the second quarter at Cardinal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

College football is scheduled to return Saturday, August 29. Each day until then, will be evaluating the rosters of the best teams in college football, including all 64 within the Power Five conferences.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Head Coach: Dave Clawson (seventh season)

2019 Record: 8-5

2020 NFL Draft Picks: Justin Strnad, ILB, Denver Broncos – Fifth Round, No. 178 overall

Justin Herron, OL, New England Patriots – Sixth Round, No. 195 overall

Overview: While often portrayed nationally as one of the ACC’s “second-tier” programs, the Demon Deacons have quietly qualified for bowl games after each of the past four consecutive seasons, with last year’s loss to Michigan State in the Pinstripe Bowl the first defeat head coach Dave Clawson and his team have experienced in postseason.

Enjoying this type of success in 2020 will be much more difficult, of course, with star quarterback Jamie Newman opting to spend his final year of athletic eligibility at Georgia, transferring as a grad-student.

Though he had plenty of support for a senior-laden skill-position group last year, Newman’s impact on the Deacon’s success was undeniable. He completed 60.9% of his passes for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and also led the team with six rushing touchdowns with his 574 yards on the ground finishing a close third to leading tailbacks Cade Carney (620 yards, five TDs) and exciting true sophomore Kenneth Walker III (579, four) just ahead of him.

Newman – among the top-rated senior quarterback prospects for the 2021 NFL draft – is obviously a huge loss, though the Deacons are fortunate that former starter Sam Hartman returns.

His reinsertion into the starting lineup is aided by the returns of the flashy Walker and playmaking junior wideout Sage Surrat but otherwise, Wake Forest is facing a significant transition at running back, wide receiver and tight end with the most productive players at all three positions exhausting their eligibility last year.

Surratt – whose older brother Chazz was profiled as North Carolina’s top NFL prospect last week - is expected to emerge as Wake Forest’s best talent on the offensive side of the ball this season.

There is no question who Wake Forest’s top prospect on defense – and overall – is, however, with reigning First Team All-ACC pass rusher Carlos Basham, Jr. hoping to build off of his breakout 11 sack season of a year ago.

Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Carlos Basham, Jr., DE, 6-4, 275, 4.75, rSR

Basham returns for his senior campaign with his sights set on joining Calvin Pace (Arizona Cardinals, 2003) as the only Demon Deacon defensive lineman of the modern era to earn a first round selection in the NFL draft.

He was a dominant force for the Deacons last season, leading the club in both tackles for loss (18) and sacks (11) with each number ranking second in the ACC behind only Miami’s breakout star Gregory Rousseau (profiled here). 

While Basham’s production has certainly captured the attention of NFL scouts since, he did not sign with Wake Forest amid great fanfare, generating “only” three-stars, according to recruiting specialists and redshirting his first season on campus.

He had emerged as a starter by the end of the next season, however, recording 24 tackles, including two for loss (and a safety) in his first year of playing time and took a big jump in 2018, finishing fourth on the team with 64 overall tackles while tying for the team-lead with 11 of them behind the line of scrimmage.

Last year saw Basham’s sack numbers nearly triple from the 4.5 he recorded as a redshirt sophomore (second on the team) and the increasing hits on quarterbacks paid off in other ways, as well, as Basham became more of a turnover producer, forcing the first three fumbles of his career while matching his previous career-high of three tipped passes.

Strengths: Technically-sound, high effort edge rusher who understands the game. While lacking the classic initial burst scouts prefer off the edge, Basham sets up pass blockers nicely, coordinating powerful swipes and over-arm swims with his arms with good lateral agility and core flexibility to dip, dive and duck his way into the backfield.

He is not truly explosive off the snap but changes speeds like an NFL veteran, using hesitation moves and dekes to force tackles to over-set.

He locates the ball quickly and works to stay around it, spinning his way off of contact and showing terrific effort to the flanks and downfield in pursuit. Basham’s motor also shows with his closing speed, as he possesses a late burst and knockdown power when has any kind of runway. He is a quality tackler who brings his hips and wraps his arms for the efficient takedown.

Compact, powerful frame with good overall weight distribution. Doesn’t overpower opponents but possesses enough length and strength to set the edge, as well as the lateral agility and balance to string plays out wide. Improved awareness of passing lanes and the ball in the quarterback’s hand, breaking up three passes and forcing three fumbles in 2019, alone. Typically lines up as an outside hand-in-the-dirt defensive end but has experience inside at defensive tackle with some snaps as a stand-up linebacker. Highly durable player with no known injury issues. Enters his senior campaign with 36 game appearances…

Weaknesses: Below-average initial get-off for an edge rusher, considered one of the critical requirements by some for the position. Overcompensates for his lack of twitch by pinning his ears back to affect the passer, watching delayed handoffs, screens and other misdirection plays roll right on by him – just as opposing coaches designed. Terrific effort in pursuit but lacks the elite speed to catch up to most skill-position players. Could stand to improve his grip and rip strength, getting locked up and out of the play too often. Slid inside, on occasion, but is too easily moved when there, showing just an average anchor for a defender of his size.

NFL Player Comparison: Emmanuel Ogbah, Miami Dolphins – Like Basham, Ogbah was a highly productive edge rusher in college, earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors at Oklahoma State and the 32 overall pick in the 2016 draft by Cleveland. Both players are more efficient with their movements than truly explosive, however, which could cause some polarizing grades in the scouting community and less production than hoped at the next level.

Current NFL Draft Projection: Second-Third Round

The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Wake Forest:

1. Carlos Basham, Jr., DE, 6-4, 275, 4.5, rSR

2. Sage Surratt, WR, 6-2, 215, 4.50, rJR

3. Zach Tom, C, 6-3, 290, 5.05, rJR

4. Ryan Smenda, Jr., ILB, 6-1, 235, 4.80, JR

5. Nasir Greer, S, 6-0, 200, 4.55, JR

6. Nick Sciba, K, 5-09, 190, 5.0, JR

7. Ja’cquez Williams, OLB, 6-2, 220, 4.75, rSR

8. JaCorey Johns, OLB, 6-3, 245, 4.80, rSoph

9. Sam Hartman, QB, 6-1, 205, 4.90, JR

10. Brandon Chapman, TE, 6-5, 255, 4.85, rSR

*All 40-yard dash times are estimates