2014 ACC Preview: Secondary Unit Rankings

Posted Aug 13, 2014

Preview 2014 - Atlantic Coast Secondary Unit Rankings



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1. Florida State
It speaks volumes about the Seminole staff and recruiting efforts that this team can lose Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks, yet still have the ACC’s top secondary. In fact, Tallahassee might be home to the best defensive backfield in the country. Florida State is flush with next-level pass defenders, like P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby and Nick Waisome at corner, and Jalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews and Tyler Hunter at safety. The ‘Noles have the stacked roster to repeat last year’s performance, when they ranked among the nation’s pass defense leaders in just about every statistical category.
Unit Ranking: 10

2. Virginia Tech
Even after losing CB Kyle Fuller to the first round of the NFL Draft, the Hokies will still have one of the ACC’s stingiest pass defenses. Anything less would be out of character for this program. Sure, Fuller will be missed but second-year budding stars Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller, Kyle’s younger brother, are ready to take the lead at cornerback. It’s just a matter of time before both are in the NFL as well. Tech also returns senior starting safeties, FS Detrick Bonner and ‘Rover’ Kyshoen Jarrett. The only concern in Blacksburg will be developing depth prior to the opener.
Unit Ranking: 9

3. Virginia
Hands down, the defensive backfield will be Virginia’s deepest and most talented unit in 2014. In fact, it could be argued that the Cavaliers’ two best players, S Anthony Harris and CB Demetrious Nicholson, are members of the secondary. Both players are priming for NFL careers once this season is completed. Furthermore, FS Brandon Phelps and corners Maurice Canady, Tim Harris and DreQuan Hoskey started multiple games as well last year. And not to be forgotten, five-star S Quin Blanding is hardly thinking redshirt season in his first year in Charlottesville.
Unit Ranking: 8.5

4. Clemson
When the safeties stumbled in 2013, corners Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson were there to pick up the slack. This season, the safeties will need to do some of the heavy lifting now that Breeland and Robinson are gone. The Tigers are long and experienced at safety, with Robert Smith, Jayron Kearse and Travis Blanks setting the tone. They’ll need to broaden their each until the corners get acclimated to their roles. On one side, seniors Martin Jenkins and Garry Peters are battling for a job. On the other, redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander is ready to become one of the game’s breakout pass defenders.
Unit Ranking: 8

5. Miami
Even after losing safeties Kacy Rodgers and AJ Highsmith to graduation, the Canes are better equipped to handle ACC quarterbacks than they were in 2013. Deon Bush and Rayshawn Jenkins are no strangers to the lineup, and sophomore Jamal Carter and converted RB Dallas Crawford were laying the wood in the spring. The strength of the unit, though, will be at cornerback, where Tracy Howard flashes lockdown potential. The one thing the defensive backfield cannot control is the pass rush, which could really help to transform the pass defense by applying more consistent pressure.
Unit Ranking: 8

6. Louisville
The Cardinal secondary is a tale of two polar opposite competencies entering 2014. On the one hand, there are the cornerbacks, returning starters Charles Gaines and Terell Floyd. Gaines was All-AAC First Team a year ago, with a great future. However, Louisville is facing the near-impossible chore of replacing two terrific safeties, perennial all-stars Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith. Making matters worse, projected starter Jermaine Reve injured his knee in the spring. The defensive backfield sorely needs JUCO transfer James Sample to push the holdovers, like Chucky Williams and the yet-to-bloom Gerod Holliman, this summer.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

7. Duke
The Blue Devils possess some really good tools as they begin the quest to improve in pass defense. Duke housed two First Team All-ACC defensive backs in 2013, yet was No. 11 in the league in pass efficiency D. One of those standouts, S Jeremy Cash is back, but the other, CB Ross Cockrell, will be difficult to replace. The program is excited by the future of this position, because it used so many rookies a season ago. Playmaking corners Breon Borders and DeVon Edwards, in particular, are now a year older and ready to defend the pass with a higher degree of consistency.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

8. Wake Forest
If only the rest of the roster looked like the defensive backfield, Jim Grobe might still be coaching in Winston-Salem. Unlike the balance of the team, Wake Forest is very talented in the secondary, returning three quality starters from a group that performed well in the face of adversity in 2013. CB Kevin Johnson and rookie SS Ryan Janvion earned honorable mention All-ACC, and CB Merrill Noel is a certified ball-hawk. The Deacons just need to decide who’ll fill the opening at free safety. If this unit struggles in 2014, it’ll likely be because it’s getting no help from the seven.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

9. North Carolina
The Heels are rebuilding, yet hopeful, in the defensive backfield this season. Two starters have graduated, and the team’s best DB, Tim Scott, is vacating his old corner spot to succeed Tre Boston at free safety. Safety is set, since Dominique Green is back as well. But Carolina is going to be green in the secondary in 2014, with up-and-coming Brian Walker and Desmond Lawrence about to make it three sophomores starting on the last line of defense. While the future is very bright in Chapel Hill, the upcoming season will feature bumpy moments against quality quarterbacks.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

10. Georgia Tech
Renewed confidence in the secondary personnel has coordinator Ted Roof contemplating the use of more nickel packages this season. The Yellow Jackets have been buoyed by the return to health of FS Jamal Golden and SS Isaiah Johnson, who missed all of last season to an ACL tear. CB D.J. White and NB Demond Smith have starting experience as well, lending hope that Georgia Tech can improve upon last year’s poor results. The team was No. 12 in ACC pass efficiency D, while allowing quarterbacks to complete more than 62% of their passes.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

11. NC State
The Pack returns a lot of familiar faces in the secondary, seven prior letterwinners. The hope around Raleigh is that the veterans can collaborate on an improved effort from the pass defense. Just one starter, Dontae Johnson, has graduated, and he’ll be supplanted by Jarvis Byrd, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility. After employing a bunch of underclassmen in 2013, the staff is holding out hope that corners Juston Burris and Jack Tocho and safeties Hakim Jones and Tim Buckley are ready to take the next step in their maturation process.
Unit Ranking: 7

12. Syracuse
The rebuilding of the Orange defensive backfield will be done so around junior SS Durell Eskridge, a rising star in Upstate New York. Unfortunately, he’s leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of a unit that lost a lot of senior leadership and know-how to graduation. At cornerback, senior Brandon Reddish started the second half of last season, and is expected to be joined in the lineup by Julian Whigham this fall. At free safety, veteran Darius Kelly is trying to hold off the challenge of rookie Chauncey Scissum, who has the size to compete.
Unit Ranking: 7

13. Pittsburgh
The Panthers have a returning starter—and a question mark—at both cornerback and safety heading into the new season. Ray Vinopal and Lafayette Pitts are expected to retain starting roles at free safety and corner, respectively, for a unit that was soft and painfully short on big plays in 2013. The teammates joining them in the lineup have yet to be determined. Wisconsin transfer Reggie Mitchell is a solid addition at safety, where second-year Terrish Webb is getting better. The battle at the other cornerback spot is between Titus Howard and Trenton Coles, who have limited experience between them.
Unit Ranking: 6.5

14. Boston College
The Eagle secondary is a scrappy and seasoned bunch, but it’s one that’ll be vulnerable against decent passing teams as well. Just about everyone is back, but it’s not exactly comforting news for a team that ranked 108th nationally in pass efficiency defense. S Sean Sylvia is the emotional leader of a group that also returns experienced upperclassmen Manuel Asprilla, Dominique Williams and Bryce Jones. Again, if these veterans don’t improve in 2014 at sticking to receivers, they’re liable to get benched in favor of the younger kids on the roster.
Unit Ranking: 6.5