2014 ACC Preview: Linebacker Unit Rankings

Posted Aug 13, 2014

Preview 2014 - Atlantic Coast Linebacker Unit Rankings



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Unit Rankings QB | RB | WR | OL
DL | LB | DB | ST | Coaches

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1. Florida State
The Seminoles’ recruiting prowess will be especially evident this season at linebacker. Two starters have graduated, leaving behind up-and-comer Terrance Smith as the new leader of the unit. He’ll be joined by a collection of largely green defenders, with enormous ceilings and tremendous athleticism. Bank on junior Reggie Northrup receiving the most snaps of his career as a possible replacement for Christian Jones in the middle. But the most excitement is being saved for underclassmen Matthew Thomas, Ukeme Eligwe and E.J. Levenberry. Thomas was a five-star gem from the 2013 class.
Unit Ranking: 8.5

2. Louisville
The Cardinals didn’t have to go far to bolster their linebacker corps, as they make the change to a 3-4 base. All-star Lorenzo Mauldin is making the natural move from defensive end to outside linebacker, where he’ll be every bit as harsh on opposing quarterbacks. Louisville also has a budding star on the inside in James Burgess, a guided missile, with a nose for the ball. In order to fill out the starting lineup, the staff is pinning its hopes on a pair of players who lined up at end in 2013, like Mauldin. Senior Deiontrez Mount and sophomore Nick Dawson are fighting for jobs on the outside and inside, respectively.
Unit Ranking: 8

3. Clemson
Senior Stephone Anthony will be holding down the fort for one final season at linebacker. He’s an All-American candidate from the middle, with a chance to play a long time in the NFL. This season, Anthony will be flanked by a pair of new starters, since Spencer Shuey and Quandon Christian have graduated. The identity of those starters, though, hasn’t been determined. The team hopes senior Tony Steward is finally ready to fulfill his potential and win the weakside job. Strongside is a scrum involving Ben Boulware, Dorian O’Daniel, T.J. Burrell and former Oklahoma transfer Kellen Jones.
Unit Ranking: 8

4. Miami
In Denzel Perryman, the Canes harbor arguably the best linebacker in the ACC. But who else is going to make plays with Miami’s No. 52? Perryman will continue to be a beast from the middle, with a bright future on Sundays. Of the two remaining jobs, second-year Alex Figueroa is the safest best to fill one of the two openings. He showed wrecking ball tendencies as a rookie. The final spot will go to either Thurston Armbrister or Raphael Kirby, a pair of steady upperclassmen. In all likelihood, it’ll again be tough for any of Perryman’s teammates to emerge from his shadow.
Unit Ranking: 8

5. Duke
When it came to linebackers, the Blue Devils were 2-for-2 at the position last year. The program had few complaints about its two starting linebackers, seniors Kelby Brown and David Helton, both of whom racked up well over 100 tackles in 2013. Brown, in fact, was named First Team All-ACC, setting the stage for what promises to be another terrific season in Durham. Duke didn’t lose any of its backups either, boasting six returning letterwinners for a school that only requires two starters in coordinator Jim Knowles’ 4-2-5 alignment.
Unit Ranking: 8

6. Virginia Tech
The Hokies will have a new look at linebacker following the departures of ultra-productive Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards. At the conclusion of spring, Tech was pretty set on a regular trio of Chase Williams in the middle, Deon Clarke at ‘Backer’ and Ronny Vandyke at ‘Whip’. Williams is a heady, hard-working player who’ll be a good fit on the inside. Clarke has the range to support the run and the pass. Vandyke is the key to the unit. While he has the potential to be a difference-maker, he also needs to fully recover from last August’s shoulder surgery.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

7. Virginia
The Cavaliers are going to be very sound at the second level, In fact, the entire back seven will be a strength in 2014. The program returns three talented linebackers this fall, Henry Coley on the inside and Daquan Romero and Max Valles flanking him. Coley and Romero are the experienced seniors, while Valles is a 6-5, 240-pound rising star coming hard off the edge. Coordinator Jon Tenuta wants whenever possible. The trio of Coley, Romero and Valles, plus their backups, affords the coach a chance to enhance the skill set of his D-line.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

8. North Carolina
With a ‘Bandit’ up front and a ‘Ram’ on the back end, the Tar Heels sport a D that typically employs just two linebackers. And they’ve got a couple of reliable ones in returning starters Travis Hughes and Jeff Schoettmer. Both players ranked among the top five on the team in tackles, with Schoettmer making 85 stops. While Schoettmer is a blue-collar run stopper from the middle, Hughes possesses NFL measurables. His pro stock, though, took a hit on June 24, when his latest off-field problem, a run-in with a campus parking attendant, resulted in a suspension.
Unit Ranking: 7.5

9. Syracuse
Marquis Spruill is gone, leaving a hole in the middle. But Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch are back to solidify the Orange D from the second level. There’s nothing too fancy or exotic about Lynch, who just makes plays for the defense. Davis, on the hand, brings more flash to the field. The staff will be looking for the third member of the starting lineup and better depth. Based on the offseason so far, sophomore Marquez Hodge could be first in line to succeed Spruill. He lettered as a rookie, and has continued to flatten the curve in 2014.
Unit Ranking: 7

10. Georgia Tech
Everyone knew last year’s starter Brandon Watts would be out of eligibility in 2014. The loss of Jabari Hunt-Days, though, came as a surprise. When Hunt-Days was pegged for academic reasons, it meant that the Yellow Jackets would return just a single starter this year, versatile Quayshawn Nealy. The only good news in this scenario is that Tech was planning on regularly using one less linebacker in favor of a defensive back this season. Still, the Jackets need to develop their corps of linebackers, beginning with junior Tyler Marcodes, the likely heir to Watts at strongside.
Unit Ranking: 7

11. Pittsburgh
The Panther linebackers may fall short of spectacular, but they’ll be plenty steady in 2014. If nothing else, Pitt will be athletic and versatile from the second level, thanks to the returns of junior Nicholas Grigsby and seniors Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez on the outside. The trio will roam the field liberally as run stoppers and pass defenders, even more so in a post-Aaron Donald world. Still, the Panthers will need someone to take over in the middle, a pivotal opening likely to be filled by precocious sophomore Matt Galambos.
Unit Ranking: 7

12. Boston College
The Eagles will need at least this summer to adapt to the losses of all-stars Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto. The program has been busy rebuilding around junior Steven Daniels, who’s determined to become the next big thing at the position on the Heights. While he’ll be just fine in 2014, the supporting cast is a little less certain at this time of the offseason. Seniors Sean Duggan and Josh Keyes will be counted on to provide leadership, while sophomore Mike Strizak gets a shot to contribute early in his BC career.
Unit Ranking: 6.5

13. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons will fight, hustle and overachieve for Dave Clawson and the new staff. But it might not be enough this year, especially when facing some of the ACC’s more diverse offenses. From the middle, junior Brandon Chubb epitomizes the Wake Forest defenders with his work ethic and blue-collar approach to the game. He’s the program’s top performer within the front seven. Chubb will be joined by former walk-on Hunter Williams and possibly young Marquel Lee or rehabbing Steve Donatell. Lee enjoyed a solid spring, while Donatell continued his recovery from a knee injury.
Unit Ranking: 6.5

14. NC State
The Wolfpack linebackers are rebuilding in the aftermath of the graduations of Robert Caldwell and D.J. Green. The unit’s new cover boy will be senior Brandon Pittman, a journeyman eyeing a strong finish to his college career. His output will be on the uptick, but NC State will still need last year’s backups to embrace expanded roles. Junior M.J. Salahuddin, an emerging talent in Raleigh, and steady veteran Rodman Noel, in particular, are being counted on to string out plays for a D that had all kinds of problems against the run.
Unit Ranking: 6.5