The Atlantic Coast Conference
An NFL Breeding Ground
May 6th, 2014
It’s no secret that the ACC as a conference hasn’t measured up to its peers when it comes to performance on the gridiron over the last several years. Florida State’s title run this past year gave the ACC its first appearance in the BCS National Championship game since the Noles also made it back in 2000. Furthermore, in the BCS era, the ACC ranks second worst to only the Big 10 in overall bowl winning percentage for major conferences at 47% and hold a pitiful BCS bowl record of 5-13.
But where the ACC does impressively stack up well against its competition is preparing its players for future success. It is widely accepted that the ACC is second best to only the SEC at producing successful, NFL players right now. This proves itself if you look at the numbers with the ACC having 96 players drafted from 2011-2013 relative to 90, 87, and 78 from the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big-12 respectively. The mock draft consensus as of right now projects 6-7 ACC players (not including those from 2014 newcomer, Louisville) to go off the board in the first round of the upcoming draft. This includes projected top 5 pick and explosive wide receiver Sammy Watkins from Clemson.
So to further strengthen this trend, I decided to feature five of the most successful draftees to come from the ACC in the last five years. In no particular order:
1. Luke Kuechly, LB – Carolina Panthers
Kuechly might be the best example of all the successful talent the ACC has produced over recent years in terms of overachievement. Drafted with the 9th overall pick in 2012 out of Boston College, Kuechly was expected to be an impactful player at the next level but has already far exceeded those expectations. Entering just his third year in the league, Kuechly has already entered the conversation of best linebacker in football after a breakout 2013 season in which he ranked near the top of the league in tackles and set an NFL record for most tackles in a game. Perhaps the most impressive part of his success is not just what it says about him but also Boston College. For a school that doesn’t regularly snag top recruiting classes or win double-digit football games, they have now produced two elite level NFL players in Kuechly and Matt Ryan.
2. CJ Spiller, RB – Clemson
Another top-10 pick, Spiller has warranted that selection with his play. Also drafted by the Bills with the 9th overall pick back in 2010, Spiller came out of college as an extremely explosive back and has carried that into the NFL with his great agility and speed. Over his four-year career, Spiller has compiled an impressive 5.1 YPC average (he ranked first in YPC average among RBs in 2012 at 6.0) and has shown the ability to break off big runs. Unfortunately, for reasons I’m not sure I quite understand, he has found himself in a bit of a timeshare throughout his career with Fred Jackson, averaging less than 150 carries per season, even though his skills and numbers clearly are possessed by those of a number 1 back. If Spiller can ever find a place where the gig is his and his only, we may truly be able to see him shine at a Pro-Bowl level.
3. Kam Chancellor, S – Virginia Tech
Maybe I should correct myself from earlier. While Luke Kuechly has definitely out-produced his draft spot, Chancellor is by far the biggest overachiever of this group. As a fifth round draft pick in 2010, Chancellor is now an integral part of the Seattle Seahawks “legion of boom” defense that helped win them a Super Bowl this past season. In four years as a starter, Chancellor has seven forced fumbles and seven interceptions and along with Earl Thomas is part of the best safety tandem in football. So why did Chancellor have to wait until the 5th round to be drafted? And more importantly, how has he been able to outperform his draft spot? Without question, Chancellor was well-coached and well-developed at Virginia Tech, a school that has tradition of producing top defensive talent. So while Chancellor may have been scouted as a “poor coverage man” with a slow 40 time, things have obviously panned out for him.
4. Torrey Smith, WR- Maryland
A second round pick in 2011, Smith has become the number 1 wide out with a Super Bowl already under his belt with the Baltimore Ravens. A recruit with loads of talent coming out of high school, Maryland was able to sign him after other schools were concerned that he had lost his speed coming back from an injury. Smith regained his speed all right, and you can see that if you watch him on Sunday’s. He’s a burner and deep threat with the ability to take the top off of the defense at any moment. Another player who began starting his first year in the league, Smith set a career high in receptions with 65 and eclipsed 1000 yards for the first time last year. He has 19 touchdowns over 3 seasons.
5. Calvin Johnson, WR – Georgia Tech
This one doesn’t exactly fit the timeline of within the last five years – Johnson has spent seven years in the NFL – but rules can and should be broken for the best receiver in the game and a future hall-of-famer. Johnson came to Georgia Tech back in 2004 as a prized recruit and left after three Heisman-caliber seasons, as the number two overall draft pick. Since being drafted by the Lions, Johnson has compiled gaudy statistics and a remarkable list of achievements including setting the single-season receiving record in 2012. His impressive physical combination of speed (4.35 40-yard dash) and size (6’5”) along with his ability to improve with each passing year has given us the greatest receiving threat the NFL currently has to offer. The only question left to ask is whether he will be the greatest ever.
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