NFL Combine: ACC memories, storylines, hits and misses
The list of invitees to the NFL Scouting Combine is out and the workouts are to start in the coming weeks leading into the NFL Draft. Here is a look at some memories, thoughts and trends as we look at the players invited from the ACC.
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Five-stars to watch
When it comes to five-stars in the ACC, one needs to only look at Clemson as the Tigers have five former players with that ranking heading to the NFL Combine - and no other conference teams have any.
The defensive line group is especially loaded, with Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee and KJ Henry leading the way. Other Clemson five-stars: linebacker Trenton Simpson and receiver Joseph Ngata.
To put a finer point on just how loaded Clemson’s recruiting classes have been compared to the rest of the conference when it comes to combine invites, the remainder of the ACC has five total former four-stars - Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, Miami’s Will Mallory and Tyrique Stevenson, North Carolina’s Josh Downs and Florida State’s Jammie Robinson - going to Indianapolis, whereas Clemson has all five five-stars.
Will there only be one conference player in Round 1?
There are always surprises and things could change drastically come draft night, but there is a chance that only one ACC player will be taken in the first round - and that cannot be great for recruiting purposes down the road.
Clemson’s Myles Murphy going sometime early in the first round seems like the only absolute certainty when it comes to first-round ACC selections, but Tigers linebacker Trenton Simpson and defensive end Bryan Bresee have been in some mock drafts on that first-round fringe.
Other that could possibly sneak into that first-round discussion are Boston College WR Zay Flowers, North Carolina WR Josh Downs and Pitt DL Calijah Kancey.
Remembering the LB debate
Five linebackers ended up as five-stars during the 2020 rankings cycle, but really only three - Justin Flowe, Noah Sewell and Trenton Simpson - were discussed as the top player at that spot in the final release.
Flowe was a man among boys, a physical freak like maybe we haven’t seen at linebacker before, as he power-slammed players (drawing flags) and attacked ball carriers like he was a raging bull. Sewell was extra special because he moved so fluidly and covered so much ground at 6-foot-1 and 260 pounds. It was pretty incredible to see.
And then there was Simpson, who was definitely an impressive-looking player physically, but at that point not equal to Flowe or Sewell. But Simpson had the length, the ranginess and the instincts.
One analyst remarked that he felt Simpson would end up getting drafted highest among the group because of all those intangibles. At the time, it didn’t look likely because Flowe and Sewell were so much more impressive, but it could end up being that way.
Flowe has been plagued by injuries and is now at Arizona. Sewell is in the draft and could wow at the combine because NFL execs will see him move so incredibly well at his size. But Simpson has the best chance of getting taken in the first round.
Guys who outplayed their ranking
Former Miami Northwestern defensive tackle Calijah Kancey was a mid-level three-star in the 2019 class, but he was not ranked among the top 100 players in the state and was No. 47 in the position rankings, hardly someone who has a fringe first-round grade on him. The Pitt standout had 14.5 sacks the last two seasons which has definitely moved him up draft boards.
Syracuse’s Sean Tucker, out of Baltimore Calvert Hall, was rated as a three-star defensive back, but shined in the Orange backfield with 3,182 rushing yards and 27 rushing TDs the last two seasons. Tucker is not projected to be picked in the earliest rounds, but the three-star has definitely outplayed his ranking.
Maybe no one in the ACC has had a more roundabout way into the fringe first-round discussion than Georgia Tech’s Keion White, who exploded on the scene this past season with 54 tackles (14 for loss) and 7.5 sacks to lead the Yellow Jackets in the latter two categories. He was a two-star tight end who signed with Old Dominion in the 2017 class before transferring, and now he could be an early pick.
Wake Forest’s A.T. Perry is another one to watch. While he might not go super early, the former two-star receiver from Lake Worth (Fla.) Park Vista has caught 152 passes for 2,389 yards and 26 touchdowns over the last two seasons. NFL teams might not be able to pass up that kind of production.
ACC programs must do better
There are 14 teams in the ACC, but nine of them have two or fewer players heading to the combine - which is going to be a tough sell on the recruiting trail, especially with SEC teams loading up even more.
Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia, NC State and Wake Forest have two each invited, with Florida State, Boston College, Duke and Virginia Tech only having one. The Hurricanes and the Seminoles are looking to rebuild their programs, but they need to do a better job here, especially with so much in-state talent on those rosters.