It was another successful draft for the ACC as the conference flexed its collective muscles again on the big stage. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how good the ACC has become at producing top-end NFL talent. The league took another step in that direction this year, once again finishing second to the SEC with 42 players chosen. This is the second highest mark ever for the conference (51 players drafted in 2006) and each and every team was represented in New York with at least one player drafted. National champion, Florida State, led the way with seven selections followed by Clemson and North Carolina who each had five players chosen. The conference also boasted an impressive five first round picks including four of the first 14 selections. Here is a full breakdown of the draft by team, a brief summary on each of these first-rounders, and well as some sleepers to keep an eye on. Note that ACC newcomer, Louisville, is not included in this recap.
Sammy Watkins, WR – Clemson (Bills, 4th overall)
The Bills traded up to the No. 4 spot to snag the much coveted, Watkins. The speed threat out of Clemson was the first WR taken in a draft full of talent at the position. Already a dynamic playmaker in college, if Watkins can improve his route running and technique at the next level, there’s no telling what he could become.
Eric Ebron, TE – North Carolina (Lions, 10th overall)
Ebron is another exciting player to watch that makes his money catching passes. It’s not often you see a tight end drafted this early, but Ebron is special. Ebron has wide receiver skills as his speed and athleticism are rare for the position. Lining him up on the other side of Calvin Johnson could make for one scary offense.
Aaron Donald, DT – Pitt (Rams, 13th overall)
Donald surprised a lot of people when he rose up draft boards to this spot but his college production certainly warrants it. Although slightly undersized for his position, Donald was a beast at Pitt. He had a whopping 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in his senior season, outrageous numbers for a defensive tackle. He joins an already strong front line in St. Louis, setting him up for future success.
Kyle Fuller, CB – Virginia Tech (Bears, 14th overall)
Fuller is the latest in a long line of stars to come from Bud Foster's Virginia Tech defense and finds himself in Chicago, another place with great defensive culture. Fuller showed great instincts and ability in college and should make for a solid complement to Charles Tillman.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR – FSU (Panthers, 28th overall)
Another pass-catcher with great physical tools, Benjamin is in the Calvin Johnson mold at 6’5,” 240 pounds. He developed a great connection with Jameis Winston last season, helping to propel his draft stock and will look to do the same with another Heisman trophy winner, Cam Newton, in Carolina.
Jeremiah Attaochu, DE – Georgia Tech (Chargers, 2nd Round 50th overall)
Attaochu leaves Georgia Tech with the all-time sacks record for the school at 31.5 At defensive end, Attaochu’s skill set is very much geared toward being an edge rusher. In light of that, I wouldn’t expect him to be an every down player at the next level. But he knows what he is and he’s really good at it. He could drive quarterbacks crazy at the next level.
Ross Cockrell, CB – Duke (Bills, 4th round 109th overall)
Cockrell was the only player selected out of Duke and was by far the most impactful player on the Blue Devils’ defense. He may not be the most athletic guy but he possesses great ball skills as seen by his 12 career INTs and 53 career pass breakups. This kind of analysis is exactly how Richard Sherman was described during his time at Stanford, a fifth round pick in 2011.
Tom Savage, QB – Pitt (Texans, 4th round 135th overall)
This one isn’t so much about being a sleeper as it is about his unexpected rise on draft boards. Just a one-year starter at Pitt, after spending time at Rutgers and Arizona, Savage has had a unique path to get to this point. While he didn’t wow anyone with his college production, Savage is the prototypical NFL QB with good size and great arm strength. He may have come out of nowhere, but he’s now in position to be the Texans Week 1 starter in the coming season.
Michael Campanaro – Wake Forest (Ravens, 7th Round 218th overall)
Campanaro made his mark at Wake, breaking numerous school records to become the best receiver in Wake Forest history, and yet he’s just a seventh round pick. Sure he’s small and doesn’t have great top-end speed, but there’s no reason he can’t be a productive NFL player. Campanaro is the prototypical slot receiver that has become extremely successful in the NFL over the last few years. He’s got great quickness and most importantly, the guy can catch passes. Think Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman. In a short passing league on a pass first team, Campanaro is an ideal sleeper candidate.
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