The spotlight will be shining on Clemson QB Tajh Boyd in 2013
Bjoern Werner, DeAndre Hopkins, Giovani Bernard, EJ Manuel, Jonathan Cooper, Andre Ellington and Xavier Rhodes are just a few of the big-name stars who the ACC waved goodbye to this offseason.
All in all, the conference had 31 players selected in the 2013 NFL draft, including six first-round picks. Besides the SEC, no other conference in college football had that many players selected.
The ACC lost some truly tremendous talent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the conference will lack star power in 2013.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is the league’s premier player and will receive the most publicity this offseason. However, there are plenty of other players who are worth getting excited about as well.
Here’s a look at the ACC’s top 50 players for the 2013 season.
Last season, Tajh Boyd was the centerpiece of a Clemson offense that was one of college football's most explosive and productive units. The Tigers ranked sixth nationally in scoring offense, ninth in total offense and 13th in passing offense, averaging 41 points and 512 yards per game.
In his second year as a starter, Boyd developed into a dynamic and dangerous dual-threat signal-caller and a true offensive leader. He completed 67 percent of his passes for over 3,800 yards, added 514 yards on the ground and accounted for 46 total touchdowns as he led Clemson to another double-digit win campaign.
The 6'1'', 225-pound senior is a hybrid of former NFL quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair.
Not only is Boyd one of the top contenders for the 2013 Heisman Trophy, he's also one of the best prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class.
Miami has a rich recent tradition of producing standout running backs such as Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Lamar Miller. Now, the latest rusher who has Canes fans brimming with excitement is Duke Johnson.
Last year, Johnson arrived in Coral Gables, Fla., as a heralded Scout.com 5-star recruit from nearby Miami Norland High school, and he quickly proved to be worthy of the hype and high expectations.
The explosive and versatile playmaker found numerous ways to embarrass would-be tacklers in 2012. Johnson rushed for 947 yards on just 139 carries (6.8 yards per carry), caught 27 passes, averaged 33 yards on kickoff returns and accounted for 14 total touchdowns.
The 5'9'', 194-pound sophomore has all the skills to become the next great star back for the U.
When looking for labels to describe Sammy Watkins' sophomore season, words like disappointment and letdown quickly come to mind.
After putting together a fantastic freshman campaign, Watkins entered this past season as one of the most talked-about players in college football. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to replicate his early success.
Though Watkins only caught 57 passes and scored just four touchdowns last year, there's reason to believe that he could be in store for a big bounce-back performance in 2013.
With DeAndre Hopkins gone, Watkins will now re-assume his role as QB Tajh Boyd's go-to target.
If he plays up to his potential and returns to his freshman form this fall, the explosive 6'1'', 200-pound junior has a great chance to ultimately become a top-15 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Last season, Florida State led the nation in pass defense allowing an average of just 161 yards through the air per game. Even though the team lost cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Seminoles secondary should still remain one of the best units in the country.
The key player in the defensive backfield will once again be Lamarcus Joyner, who will be making the switch from safety to cornerback.
At 5'8'', 195 pounds, Joyner obviously isn't the biggest defensive back in college football, but he makes up for his lack of size with his athleticism, natural instincts and range.
If the standout senior can prove himself in more man-to-man coverage situations during his final season, he should solidify his status as one of the top cornerback prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class.
Coming off a two-win season in 2011, there certainly wasn't a lot for Maryland fans to get excited about last offseason.
Thankfully, Stefon Diggs, a highly touted Rivals.com 5-star recruit from nearby Olney, Md., gave those fans a reason to celebrate when he spurned offers from more prominent power programs and announced he wanted to be a Terp.
Once Diggs arrived in College Park, it didn't take long for him to make the type of impact that fans were hoping for. He turned out to be one of the most productive freshmen of the 2012 season, ranking second in the ACC with an average of 172 all-purpose yards per game.
Diggs is a dynamic weapon, one who'll be even more productive in his second season if he can get more consistent play from the quarterback position.
North Carolina has had a defensive player selected in the first round of each of the past three NFL drafts.
There's a realistic chance that streak can be pushed to four straight years, as long as the Tar Heels' top defensive player, safety Tre Boston, plays as well as expected during his senior season.
Few other defensive backs in college football made the type of impact that Boston did last year when he totaled 86 tackles, including 49 solo stops, picked off four passes and broke up another six throws.
The 6'1'', 190-pound senior possesses the speed of a cornerback and the size and range of a safety. Boston will once again be the undisputed leader of a North Carolina secondary that is shaping up to be one of the best defensive backfields in the ACC in 2013.
Florida State's defense experienced some debilitating defections this offseason, when standout players such as Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes and Tank Carradine all moved on to the NFL. Fortunately, Jimbo Fisher has brought in plenty of talented defensive recruits over the last few years, so the unit should be able to not only survive but thrive, even after experiencing some key personnel losses.
The leader and face of the 2013 defense will be linebacker Christian Jones.
Jones has started every game during the past two years, beginning at the strong-side position and then eventually moving to the weak side. After a solid sophomore campaign, the highly athletic 6'4'', 232-pound outside 'backer looked even better in 2012, as he led the team with 95 tackles, including 56 solo stops, six tackles for loss and three sacks.
Over the last decade, there have been plenty of great linebackers who have come through Tallahassee such as Lawrence Timmons, Nigel Bradham, Ernie Sims and Buster Davis. Ultimately, Jones has the talent to be better than all of them.
In recent years, North Carolina has had plenty of supremely talented defensive ends such as Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples and Donte Paige-Moss, who failed to reach their full potential during their time in Chapel Hill.
Hopefully, the Tar Heels' latest gifted edge-rusher, Kareem Martin, can break that trend and make the most of his physical gifts in 2013.
Martin is coming off a solid junior campaign, in which he totaled four sacks, eight quarterback hurries and 15.5 tackles for loss.
With Sylvester Williams and Kevin Reddick gone, the 6'6'', 260-pound senior will now be the undisputed leader of the defensive front seven in 2013. Martin has the skills to be one of the most productive pass-rushers in the country this fall.
This offseason, new Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof has switched the defensive system from a 3-4 front to a new base 4-3 scheme. That means the team's most valuable defender, Jeremiah Attaochu, will be forced to make a move from rush linebacker to defensive end in 2013.
Attaochu has the skill set it takes to flourish in his new role.
Over the last two years, the 6'3'', 240-pound senior has been one of the most underrated defenders in the country. During that time, Attaochu totaled 16 sacks and 128 tackles, including 79 solo stops and 23.5 tackles for loss, yet he's never earned anything more than Honorable Mention All-ACC honors.
It's doubtful that Attaochu will remain underappreciated for much longer, though. If he can adapt to playing with his hand on the ground in Roof's new defense, the explosive edge-rusher will be one of the top contenders to lead the ACC in sacks in 2013.
Going into this past season, there were many analysts touting Logan Thomas as a potential first-round prospect for the 2013 NFL draft.
On the surface, there was certainly a lot to like about Thomas. The 6'6'', 260-pound former high school wide receiver possessed incredible athleticism for his size, and he also displayed prodigious potential during his first season as a starter when he totaled over 3,400 yards, accounted for 30 touchdowns and led the Hokies to 11 wins.
Unfortunately, the remarkable physical specimen failed to mature as a passer during his second season behind center. In fact, he actually regressed. Thomas completed just 51 percent of his passes, averaged just 6.9 yards per attempt and ranked second in the ACC with 16 interceptions.
Though there were times when the senior signal-caller struggled mightily last season, there's reason to believe that new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler can help turn Thomas into a true dual-threat weapon in 2013.
If Thomas can improve his accuracy, decision-making and overall passing prowess this offseason, he has a great chance to become the type of star quarterback that many envisioned he would be last year.
At 6'3'', 225 pounds, Vic Beasley obviously doesn't possess the prototypical size that you look for in a 4-3 defensive end. But he makes up for it with speed off the edge and a non-stop motor.
Beasley used that tremendous speed and quickness to his advantage on a regular basis last year, when he put together a breakout sophomore campaign, ranking fourth in the ACC with eight sacks.
The undersized, yet explosive, end has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of recent standouts such as Da'Quan Bowers, Andre Branch and the late Gaines Adams and become the Tigers' next star pass-rusher.
North Carolina's offensive line is certainly going to miss the presence of offensive guards Jonathan Cooper and Travis Bond, who were both selected in this year's NFL draft. Luckily, the Tar Heels have a proven veteran leader in James Hurst, who the unit can rally around in 2013.
Hurst has been a stalwart starter at left tackle since his freshman season, and each year, he's managed to get better and better.
The 6'7'', 305-pound senior is one of the best pass-blockers in the country. Last year, he was one of the main reasons why North Carolina led the ACC with just 11 sacks allowed.
Although he may not ultimately become a top-10 draft pick like his former teammate Cooper, Hurst will definitely be one of the most coveted senior offensive tackle prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class.
Florida State isn't going to have an easy time replacing the highly productive defensive end duo of Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, who combined for 24 sacks and 31 tackles for loss in 2012.
The Seminoles are going to have to survive with inexperienced edge-rushers this season, but fortunately, they'll have the benefit of having one of the deepest and most talented groups of defensive tackles in the country.
The team's top defensive tackle, Timmy Jernigan, a former Scout.com 5-star recruit from Lake City, Fla., will now be counted on to be the new leader of the defensive line in 2013.
Jernigan is a powerful, explosive and disruptive defender, who is capable of causing chaos in the trenches. If he can put it all together in 2013 and make the most of his impressive physical gifts, the 6'2'', 298-pound junior will be a true force to be reckoned with.
Virginia Tech's offense may have been a disaster in 2012, but the defense managed to carry the team and play at a high level. The Hokies ranked second in the ACC in both scoring defense and total defense, allowing an average of just 22 points and 333 yards per game.
One of the defense's top performers was once again defensive end James Gayle. Over the last two years, Gayle has totaled 12 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hurries.
The supremely strong 6'4'', 253-pound senior is truly an offensive tackle's worst nightmare.
After earning a spot on the All-ACC second team each of the past two years, Gayle will now be looking to garner first-team honors in 2013.
Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is an ACC newcomer who has the potential to quickly become one of the top impact players in the conference this season.
Over the last two years, Donald has been one of the most productive and disruptive defenders in the country. During that time, he's totaled 111 tackles, including 34.5 tackles for loss and 64 solo stops, 16.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hurries.
Though the 6'0'', 275-pound senior doesn't possess ideal size for the position, he's oftentimes simply too quick for opposing offensive linemen to handle.
Donald is a dangerous defender who will cause plenty of turmoil in the trenches in 2013.
Anytime a veteran quarterback has to learn a new offensive system during the offseason, it's a bit concerning. But luckily for Miami's Stephen Morris, he appears to be a terrific fit for new coordinator James Coley's offensive attack.
This past season, Morris had his ups and downs, playing great against weaker secondaries but poor against stronger ones. Nevertheless, he did show some intriguing flashes of physical ability and potential.
Now, it's up to Coley to make the most of the senior signal-caller's skills in 2013.
After three straight mediocre seasons, it finally looks like the Canes are ready to compete for an ACC title in 2013. In order for Miami to become a true contender, however, Morris will have to finally step up and play at a high level against the team's toughest opponents.
He's got the talent, now the mobile Miami native just has to prove he can play at the same level every week, no matter who the opposition is.
Back when he was a 4-star rated recruit by Rivals.com at Florida's St. Thomas Aquinas High School in 2011, Rashad Greene had a plethora of scholarship offers from many of the top programs in college football to choose from.
Ultimately, tough, Greene chose to stay in his home state and attend Florida State.
So far, the Seminoles have greatly benefited from that decision. Over the last two years, Greene has emerged as one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the ACC, as he's totaled 95 catches for 1,337 yards and scored 16 touchdowns.
The 6'0'', 170-pound junior could take the conference by storm in 2013 in the same manner that Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins did last season.
You have to give Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer and long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster a lot of credit for their ability to develop standout defensive backs year after year. Over the last decade, the Hokies have had a whopping 13 defensive backs selected in the NFL draft.
Now, Beamer and Foster have yet another defensive back, corner Antone Exum, who has a future playing in the pros.
Exum open a lot of scouts' eyes last year when he picked off five passes, broke up another 16 throws and led a secondary that allowed just 6.1 yards per pass.
Unfortunately, the 6'1'', 224-pound former senior suffered a torn ACL back in January. However, if Exum's recovery and rehabilitation go well, he should be able to return to the field this fall.
Florida State experienced a remarkable rushing resurgence last season. After ranking just 104th in the nation in rushing offense in 2011, the Seminoles were much more efficient and productive on the ground in 2012, ranking 24th in the country with an average of 205 rushing yards per game.
One of the reasons for the dramatic improvement was the emergence of former blue-chip recruit James Wilder Jr.
Though he had to split carries with fellow backs Chris Thompson and Devonta Freeman, Wilder managed to produce at a high level anytime he got the ball in his hands. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry, caught 19 passes and scored 13 touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 226-pound junior is truly one of the most physically gifted specimens in college football, possessing a rare blend of size, power, and speed that you just don't see very often.
Wilder has experienced his fair share of trouble away from the field during his time in Tallahassee, but when he's been in between the white lines, he's displayed immense natural talent.
Over the last decade, Miami has produced plenty of standout linebackers such as Jon Beason, Jon Vilma, D.J. Williams, Sean Spence, Darryl Sharpton and Colin McCarthy.
Now, Denzel Perryman is the latest Canes 'backer who looks like he's ready to make some serious noise on the national scene.
During his first two years in Coral Gables, Perryman has displayed the same type of instincts, toughness and athleticism as his heralded predecessors. He's totaled 133 total tackles, including 92 solo stops and 12.5 tackles for loss.
The 6'0'', 236-pound junior will be the emotional leader of a Miami defense that should be one of the most improved units in the country in 2013.
There were only four freshman receivers in the country who finished last season with more catches than North Carolina's Quinshad Davis.
Davis looked extremely impressive in his first season in a Tar Heel uniform, as he hauled in 61 catches for 776 yards and five touchdowns.
The 6'4'', 205-pound sophomore is a big, physically imposing target, who can create plenty of problems for smaller cornerbacks on the outside.
Quarterback Bryn Renner and Davis will likely be one of the most productive passing partnerships in the country in 2013.
Virginia's offensive line may have lost left tackle Oday Aboushi, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft by the New York Jets. However, the Cavaliers are bringing back another tackle, Morgan Moses, who has the potential to be an even more coveted pro prospect than his former teammate.
Though Moses had an inconsistent performance last season, it's clear that the strong and surprisingly agile 6'6'', 325-pound senior has the physical gifts needed to play on Sundays.
While the talented tackle may not ultimately end up being a top-10 draft pick like former Cavaliers such as Eugene Monroe and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Moses could certainly make a big surge up draft boards with a strong senior season.
When Anthony Chickillo first arrived at Miami after a stellar career at Tampa's Alonso High School, he was regarded as one of the top defensive end prospects of the 2011 recruiting class.
Though Chickillo has not yet reached his full potential and completely lived up to expectations just yet, he has occasionally shown the type of flashes of great ability that made him such a coveted recruit.
During his first two years in Coral Gables, the 6'4'', 269-pound junior has totaled nine sacks and 83 tackles, including 13 tackles for loss.
Chickillo has the talent to develop into one of the ACC's premier pass-rushers, and he has the potential to be one of the conference's biggest breakout stars in 2013.
Since Duke threw the ball so often last season, ranking eighth in the country with 551 total pass attempts, there were plenty of opportunities for the team's most lethal offensive weapon, wide receiver Jamison Crowder, to make big plays in the passing game.
Crowder made the most of his chances to shine, as he hauled in 76 passes for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012.
The explosive 5'9'', 179-pound junior proved to be a perfect complement to Conner Vernon, as he gave the Blue Devils offense a truly dangerous deep threat. Crowder tied for fifth in the ACC with 14 catches of over 20 yards and tied for fourth in the league with nine catches of over 30 yards.
With Vernon gone, the speedy pass-catcher will now have an even more important role in 2013.
After a rather quiet freshman season in which he caught just 10 passes, Eric Ebron really took his game to the next level in 2012. Ebron was one of the most productive tight ends in the country, totaling 40 catches for 625 yards and four touchdowns.
The speedy 6'4'', 245-pound junior gained the trust of quarterback Bryn Renner last year when he proved that he could consistently get open and create big plays in the passing game. He had 12 catches of over 20 yards and six catches of over 30 yards.
Ebron is one of the most athletically gifted tight ends in the country, and he presents some incredibly tough matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Pitt may have lost starting quarterback Tino Sunseri as well as leading rusher Ray Graham, but Panthers fans can at least take comfort in the fact that the offense welcomes back leading receiver Devin Street.
Over the last two years, Street has been one of college football's most consistent and productive pass-catchers, totaling 126 receptions for over 1,700 yards during that time.
The long and athletic 6'4", 190-pound senior is such a tough matchup for opposing corners, since he presents such a wide catch radius.
If Street can get consistent play from his new quarterback in 2013, he should finish his career off with a big statement season during his one and only year spent in the ACC.
Devonta Freeman is the other half of Florida State's powerful rushing tandem.
While James Wilder may have a distinct size advantage over the 5'9'', 209-pound junior, Freeman is just as strong and just as dangerous of a runner as his fellow backfield mate.
Last year, the former Scout.com 4-star recruit from Miami only carried the ball 111 times, but when he did get the ball in his hands, he showed some serious skills, averaging nearly six yards per carry.
Though Freeman will once again have to defer carries to Wilder in 2013, he'll still play a crucial role in the Seminoles' offensive success this season.
There simply aren't many other running back duos in college football that can compare to the one in Tallahassee.
Last spring, when news broke that Georgia Tech's 2011 leading tackler Julian Burnett's career was likely over due to a neck injury, it raised some serious concerns about the team's linebacker corps. Luckily, the Yellow Jackets benefited from a breakout freshman campaign from Jabari Hunt-Days, who quickly developed into one of the top young linebackers in the conference.
Hunt-Days totaled 87 tackles, including 47 solo stops, during his first season, and he proved to be a capable successor to Burnett.
The athletic 6'3'', 252-pound inside linebacker should thrive in Ted Roof's new 4-3 defense in 2013.
Syracuse most likely isn't going to be in contention for an ACC championship during its first year in the conference. Still, the Orange do have a few notable players who should put together strong debut seasons in 2013.
The team's must-watch defender is linebacker Dyshawn Davis.
Davis may only be just a junior, but he's already got plenty of experience, having started 25 games during his first two seasons. During that time, he's made plenty of impact plays and key stops, as he's totaled 71 solo tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
The tough and instinctive 6'3'', 213-pound outside 'backer should immediately compete for All-ACC honors this fall.
Cornerback Antone Exum was the real star of Virginia Tech's secondary in 2012. However, Kyshoen Jarrett also played an important role in the Hokies' defensive success as well.
Jarrett proved to be a perfect fit for the hybrid rover position, which was vacated by Exum when he moved to corner. He finished second on the team with 83 tackles and tied for fifth in the ACC with 58 solo stops.
The 5'11'', 194-pound junior is an instinctive, intelligent defender, who always seems to find a way to be around the ball.
It didn't take long for quarterback Bryn Renner to adapt to the offensive system installed by new head coach Larry Fedora and coordinator Blake Anderson. In his first season running the offense, Renner was one of the most productive and efficient passers in the country.
He completed 65 percent of his passes for over 3,300 yards, threw 28 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions and finished the year with a 150 passer rating, which ranked third in the ACC.
With explosive receiving threats like wide receiver Quinshad Davis and tight end Eric Ebron both returning, Renner will have the weapons he needs to once again lead another highly productive passing attack in 2013.
If you created a prototypical pass-catching tight end from scratch, it would likely bear a strong resemblance to Virginia's Jake McGee. The 6'5'', 235-pound junior is a big, athletic tight end, who possesses sure hands, great leaping ability and the instincts to find soft spots in coverage.
Last year, McGee hauled in 28 passes, averaged over 13 yards per catch and and caught five touchdowns, even though he had to deal with highly inconsistent play at the quarterback position.
He's the type of player who'll remind Cavaliers fans of former Virginia standout Heath Miller.
Duke had one of the worst secondaries in the country last season. It was a unit which ranked 104th nationally in passing defense after giving up an average of 267 yards through the air per game.
There was, however, at least one bright spot in the defensive backfield: cornerback Ross Cockrell.
The former Freshman All-American flourished in his third year as a starter, totaling 71 tackles, picking off five passes and breaking up another 13 throws.
Not only is the Academic All-ACC selection one of the smartest players in college football, he's also one of the top cover corners in the country.
There are a lot of negative adjectives you could use to describe Boston College's dreadful 2012 offense, which averaged just 19 points and 349 yards per game. However, there are only good things to say about the team's best offensive performer: wide receiver Alex Amidon.
Though the Eagles offense as a whole was lackluster, that didn't prevent Amidon from becoming one of the most productive receivers in the ACC. After catching just 20 passes in 2011, the 5'11'', 186-pound senior stepped up in a big way this past season, hauling in 78 passes for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns.
The former lightly recruited Rival.com 2-star prospect from Connecticut may not possess the same caliber of natural physical ability and skills as some of the other top receivers in the conference, but Amidon proved last year that he has what it takes to be a true go-to No. 1 target in the passing game.
No other new first-year starting quarterback in the country is entering as good of a situation as Florida State's Jameis Winston.
Not only does Florida State have one of the best offensive lines in the country for 2013, the Seminoles are also loaded with dynamic offensive weapons such as running backs James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman, receivers Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, and tight end Nick O'Leary.
It will be up to Winston to make the most of all that surrounding talent, and it will be up to him to guide the Seminoles back into contention for another ACC championship.
Though he's yet to prove himself in actual game action, the former heralded Rivals.com 5-star recruit from Hueytown, Ala., certainly seems to possess tremendous natural ability and unlimited potential.
There's already plenty of buzz and hype surrounding the young freshman signal-caller. ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who worked with Winston at the Elite 11 Camp back in 2011, has already dubbed him a "future No. 1 overall pick."
Just like his predecessor, EJ Manuel, who went from being a blue-chip recruit to ultimately being a first-round NFL draft pick, it will likely take Winston a few years to reach his full potential. Still, if you've seen any of the highly athletic dual-threat signal-caller's high school highlights, then you surely understand why there are many Seminoles fans who are excited to see what he can do in 2013.
Tre Boston may be the leader of North Carolina's secondary, but the best cover man that the Tar Heels have is actually cornerback Tim Scott. Last year, Scott was able to build on a strong freshman campaign and put together a highly successful sophomore season.
The 5'11'', 190-pound corner never backed down from a challenge, as he went toe-to-toe with some of the best receivers the ACC had to offer and ultimately proved to be a worthy adversary. He picked off four passes, broke up another eight throws and totaled 36 solo stops.
Though Boston and defensive end Kareem Martin will be the Tar Heel defenders who receive the most attention during the offseason, Scott will also play a pivotal role in the team's defensive success in 2013.
Going into the 2012 season, the Virginia Tech linebacker that everyone was talking about and focusing on was Bruce Taylor. Ultimately, though, it was fellow linebacker Jack Tyler who ended up becoming the leader of the Hokies defense last fall.
After averaging just three tackles per game as a sophomore in 2011, Tyler emerged as one of the most productive defenders in the country in 2012. He tied for third in the ACC with 119 total tackles, including 55 solo stops and 13 tackles for loss.
The 6'1'', 225-pound senior may not be a flashy player, but he's the type of steady, solid leader who offers tremendous value to the Hokies defense.
Demetrious Nicholson has been the leader of Virginia's secondary since the day he entered the starting lineup as a true freshman. Since the start of the 2011 season, the former Scout.com 4-star recruit from Virginia Beach has been out on the field for a whopping 97 percent of the Cavaliers' defensive plays.
Over the last two years, the consistent cover man has certainly made his presence felt, especially last season. Even though most opposing quarterbacks shied away from throwing to his side of the field, Nicholson still managed to tie for second in the ACC with 15 pass breakups.
The 5'11'', 170-pound junior possesses outstanding ball skills and coverage ability, which is why it's doubtful that many quarterbacks will try to test the lockdown corner in 2013. Nevertheless, Nicholson will likely still find a way to make a big impact when needed.
It's usually not a great sign when a team's leading tackler is a defensive back, but considering how good Georgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson is, it's understandable that he led the Yellow Jackets in total takedowns last season.
After ranking second on the team with 78 tackles in 2011, Johnson looked even better in 2012, as he totaled 87 tackles, including 53 solo stops.
The 6'2'', 208-pound senior is a big, athletic and instinctive ball hawk, who possesses the intangibles to be a valuable veteran leader of Georgia Tech's defense in 2013.
When people talk about Clemson's offense this offseason, it's likely that they'll be mainly focusing on the unit's two big-name stars, quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. But the Tigers also have another potential offensive standout: left tackle Brandon Thomas, who deserves plenty of attention as well.
With center Dalton Freeman now in the NFL, Thomas will assume the role as the team's leader in the trenches in 2013.
The athletic 6'3'', 305-pound senior is a former Rivals.com 4-star recruit, who has certainly lived up to his high school hype. Entering his third year as a starter, Thomas is fully equipped to handle protecting his star quarterback's blind side yet again this season.
If you're looking for a player who has the potential to be one of the biggest breakout star defenders in college football in 2013, then look no further than Florida State safety Karlos Williams.
Williams, who arrived in Tallahassee two years ago as one of the top-rated prospects in the 2011 recruiting class, possesses all the physical tools to become the Seminoles' next great defensive back.
Though he has only started one game over the last two years, the 6'1'', 230-pound junior has displayed an impressive combination of speed, physicality and natural playmaking instincts when he has been out on the field.
Williams should thrive in his first year as a full-time starter. It's time for him to finally step out of Lamarcus Joyner's shadow in 2013 and show the college football world what he's really made of.
In order for quarterback Stephen Morris to reach his full potential in 2013, he's going to need help from his top receiver Phillip Dorsett.
Dorsett looks ready for the task, especially after the strong sophomore season he put together last year, when he hauled in 58 passes for 842 yards.
Whether it's as a receiver or a returner, the explosive 5'9'', 187-pound speedster is capable of creating a huge play anytime he gets the ball in his hands. He proved that last season when he tied for sixth in the ACC with 10 plays of 30 yards or more
Morris and Dorsett will be one of the most dangerous passing combinations in the country in 2013.
Syracuse lost plenty of key offensive players such as quarterback Ryan Nassib, top receiver Alec Lemon and offensive line leader Justin Pugh, who was a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft. Though the Orange now have some big holes to fill at some crucial positions this offseason, they also have two talented running backs, Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley, who they'll be able to rely on heavily in 2013.
Smith and Tyson-Gulley both averaged over five yards per carry last season, but it was Smith who was ultimately the most productive and impressive, totaling 1,176 yards on the ground.
The 6'0''', 236-pound junior is a big, strong and physical rusher, who will be looking to inflict plenty of punishment on ACC defenses during his first year in the conference in 2013.
Florida State may have lost cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft, but the Seminoles still have one of the top cornerback combos in the country, comprised of Lamarcus Joyner and Ronald Darby.
Though Joyner may be the real star of the duo, Darby is loaded with talent as well.
Last year, the former blue-chip recruit proved that he's got the skills to be a special player, as he totaled eight pass breakups and helped the Seminoles secondary rank first nationally in pass defense. It was a performance which helped him earn numerous Freshman All-American honors as well as the ACC's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Not only is Darby one of the fastest and most athletic players in the country, he possesses the natural playmaking ability to develop into a dynamic defensive standout.
Since Wake Forest has been such an off-the-radar non-contender for the past few seasons, the Demon Deacons' top player, defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock, hasn't received the type of publicity he's deserved for his performance.
Over the last three years, Whitlock has been one of the most consistent and productive defensive tackles in college football. Since entering the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman back in 2010, he's totaled 9.5 sacks and 116 tackles, including 30 tackles for loss and 70 solo stops.
Though the 5'11'', 260-pound senior may be undersized for the position, few other players in the country possess as much heart and toughness as Whitlock does.
Dabo Swinney has signed some outstanding recruits during his tenure at Clemson, but few were as highly regarded coming out of high school as linebacker Stephone Anthony was. Ranked as a 5-star prospect by both Scout and Rivals, Anthony had some huge expectations to live up to when he first arrived at Clemson back in 2011.
After showing steady signs of improvement in each of his first two seasons, it now looks like the former blue-chip recruit is ready to ascend to stardom.
Since the highly athletic 6'3'', 235-pound junior has had a year's worth of experience playing in Brent Venables' defensive system, Anthony should now feel comfortable and let his natural instincts and playmaking ability take over.
Florida State welcomes back four starters—Bryan Stork, Josue Matias, Tre Jackson and Cameron Erving—to an offensive line that is shaping up to be one of the strongest units in college football.
While all four of those returning starters will likely contend for All-ACC honors in 2013, the lineman to really watch out for is Matias.
Last year, in his first season as a starter, the massive 6'6'', 326-pound junior displayed the type of power, leverage and nastiness that you look for in a dominant run-blocker. He led the Seminoles with 31 total knockdown blocks, and he helped pave the way for a rushing attack which averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
Now that he has a year of starting experience under his belt, Matias should continue to develop into a monster run-blocker this season.
The interior of North Carolina's offensive line took some major hits when offensive guards Jonathan Cooper and Travis Bond moved on to the NFL this offseason. Luckily, though, the Tar Heels still have one of the top centers in college football Russell Bodine.
Last year, in his first season as a full-time starter, Bodine proved that he was one of the best run-blockers in the country.
Even without Cooper and Bond flanking him, the 6'4'', 310-pound junior should continue to open up big holes inside in 2013.
Not only will Virginia Tech's defensive line feature one of college football's top pass-rushers, defensive end James Gayle, the Hokies' front four will also feature one of the top run-stuffers in the country, defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, as well.
Last year, Hopkins played a key role in helping the defense shut down opposing run games. Virginia Tech allowed just 3.6 yards per carry and just 13 total rushing touchdowns.
The 6'0'', 306-pound senior was more than just a big body taking up space in the middle of the field. He was an active tackle, who caused plenty of disruption in the interior, totaling 51 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
With Hopkins back to clog up running lanes, Virginia Tech should yet again have one of the top run defenses in the ACC in 2013.
Last year, Boston College's defense obviously missed the presence of star linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. However, the Eagles actually got some pretty strong play out of their linebacker corps.
The continued emergence of Kevin Pierre-Louis was a big reason why the unit was able to stay so stable, even though Kuechly was no longer there to lead the way.
Over the last three years, Pierre-Louis has quietly been one of the most productive defenders in college football. During that time, he's averaged eight tackles per game, including an outstanding average of 9.4 stops per game in 2012.
Though the 6'1'', 215-pound senior will likely never reach the same type of star status as his former teammate Kuechly, Pierre-Louis does have a great chance to be one of the few defenders in the ACC who finishes the 2013 season with over 100 tackles.
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
Asa Watson, TE, NC State
Brandon Linder, OG, Miami
Bryan Stork, OC, Florida State
Bryan Underwood, WR, NC State
Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
Clive Walford, TE, Miami
Corey Crawford, DE, Clemson
Darius Jennings, WR, Virginia
Darryl Cato-Bishop, DE, NC State
David Sims, RB, Georgia Tech
Demonte McAllister, DT, Florida State
Deon Long, WR, Maryland
Dexter McDougle, CB, Maryland
Eli Harold, DE, Virginia
Giorgio Newberry, DE, Florida State
Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson
Jason Hendricks, S, Pittsburgh
Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
Jay Finch, OC, Georgia Tech
Jemea Thomas, CB, Georgia Tech
Justin Jackson, LB, Wake Forest
Juwan Thompson, RB, Duke
Kenny Anunike, DE, Duke
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Laken Tomlinson, OG, Duke
Malcolm Bunche, OT, Miami
Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Matt Patchan, OT, Boston College
Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse
Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
Nick O’Leary, TE, Florida State
Prince Tyson-Gulley, RB, Syracuse
Quayshawn Nealy, LB, Georgia Tech
Rob Crisp, OT, NC State
Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
Steele Divitto, LB, Boston College
Taquan Mizzell, RB, Virginia
Tariq Edwards, LB, Virginia Tech
Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State
T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina
Tracy Howard, CB, Miami
Travis Blanks, S, Clemson
Tre Jackson, OG, Florida State
T.Y. McGill, DT, NC State
Will Jackson, OG, Georgia Tech