Every day here at Your Best 11, we are counting down to the start of the regular season with our Top 150 players for the 2012 season.
No. 109: Merrill Noel, No. 7, Wake Forest, Cornerback
What an absolute ballplayer Noel is. Though the redshirt freshman was still adjusting to the game, he clearly showed why Wake Forest has been able to have players contribute early and often.
After sitting out a year and honing his skills in a redshirt season, Noel hit the ground running. He exhibited a great understanding of the zone concepts that Wake Forest utilizes in their back end and capitalized on that to the tune of 21 pass breakups, enough to lead the nation. Noel pushes his backpedal hard, he squats on routes and he breaks on the football in exceptional fashion.
Against the run, Noel is also a sound tackler, exactly what you want out of a corner who holds the edge in schemes like cover-2.
Noel had a perfect freshman campaign, and if things continue on this path he will be the next Wake Forest defensive back selected in the early rounds of the NFL draft, following in the footsteps of Alphonso Smith and Brandon Ghee.
This year, Noel has to shore up the part of his game that has been the most deficient: interceptions. A guy breaking up 21 balls but only grabbing two interceptions is a sign that he's a step late in his reads and not squeezing the football.
If Noel can get out of his breaks quicker and track the ball better in zone coverage he will turn those breakups into turnovers, and that will go a long way to helping the Demon Deacons defense.
Look for Noel to try to push his way on to the All-ACC team this year, a season after being named the conference's Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has all the tools, and if he improves on his interceptions numbers he can beat out players like Antone Exum, a guy with eyes on that spot left vacant by Chase Minnifield.
With a full season of live action under his belt, Merrill Noel is primed to use the sophomore campaign to spring up into the higher ranks of college football. His awareness and quick feet make him a guy most people should know by season's end.