ACC Preseason Top 25 Players of 2012: #19, Bryn Renner

North Carolina’s Bryn Renner is #19 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 25 Players for 2012

As part of our 2012 season preview, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC for this season, from 25 to one. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective, so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

No. 19, Bryn Renner, QB/North Carolina

Last season, in just his first year as a starter, Renner was able to assemble a fairly gaudy stat line — nearly 3,100 yards and 26 touchdowns — yet very few people even noticed. Part of that could’ve been attributed to the ongoing NCAA violation issues plaguing the program (resulting in a one-year bowl ban), while star teammates Dwight Jones and Giovani Bernard also managed to grab some of the spotlight, too. But in 2012, enter new head coach Larry Fedora.

During his time at Southern Miss, Fedora established a fast-paced attack with minimal talent, averaging among the top 10 offensive snaps-per-game in the country over the past few seasons there. Now, with elite talent like Renner and Bernard, the coach has already prepared to establish a frantic, high-octane pace with the Heels, too. So far, it appears that Renner’s preparing himself with some inspired optimism, and is working extensively with coaches to make sure he truly gets the new system, versus the former pro-style attack. Continue reading

ACC Football Standout Senior 2012: North Carolina

Taking Over for Dwight Jones, UNC’s Erik Highsmith Has A Lot to Prove as a Number-One Receiver

While we won’t be naive (and/or like Rick Reilly/Peter King/insert-your-own-cliched-columnist) and claim there’s some sort of pristine or pure honor in playing out your four years that other players just don’t get to experience, we’d still like to point out the senior players that are likely to stand out in 2012. These players have put in the time during their college careers, and now serve as the cornerstones of their respective teams’ potential success this season.

We’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his team, and why. Have a different thought on the matter? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

As the number-two target for North Carolina last season, receiver Erik Highsmith set career-highs across the board, and even saw some carries from the backfield for the first time. With Dwight Jones off to the NFL, however, he’ll be called upon as Bryn Renner‘s big-play option — an imperative counterbalance to the rushing attack led by Giovani Bernard. If either of Highsmith’s cohorts look to repeat 2011’s impressive performances, it’ll likely start with the receiver’s ability to step up into that leading role. Continue reading

NFL Draft 2012: Dwight Jones, Chase Minnifield and Other ACC Players Go Undrafted

North Carolina’s Dwight Jones Will Now Be Playing for the Texans, With a Chip On His Shoulder

While 31 (33) of their ACC cohorts were selected during this weekend’s NFL Draft, the festivities still left plenty of ACC players without an NFL team to call home yet. Of course, many have since signed as free agents with squads, however, it still doesn’t eliminate the questions about why they weren’t considered among the top 253 players available.

We’ve listed out our top 10 most puzzling undrafted ACC players for 2012 below. Also included are notes on their skill set, and if they’ve landed on an NFL team since.

Most Confusing Undrafted ACC Players for 2012

1. Dwight Jones, WR/North Carolina (signed as free agent with Houston Texans): Considered a top wideout prospect by most, it’s honestly baffling how Jones’s name failed to be called by Friday — nevermind the entire draft. Quick and physical, he’s a big-play guy who should make for the perfect pairing opposite Texans’ star Andre Johnson.

2. Chase Minnifield, CB/Virginia (signed as free agent with Washington Redskins): Some injury concerns scared off teams from drafting Minnifield this weekend — a shame, considering he was projected to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Given the pass-happy competition the ‘Skins face in the NFC East, the cornerback’s ballhawking skills will surely come in handy. Continue reading

2012 NFL Draft Preview: North Carolina

North Carolina DE Quinton Coples May Be a Top-10 Pick in the 2012 NFL Draft

Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 43 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 26 and 28.

Several pieces from the vaunted North Carolina defense will be up for grabs in this year’s draft — most notably Quinton Coples and Zach Brown. While several of these former Tar Heels leave the program with an air of scandal attached, that’s unlikely to have any effect on their extremely promising pro careers.

Quinton Coples, DE, Senior

As a 6’5″, 285-pound monster coming off the end, Coples is a horrifying sight for most offensive linemen, regardless of ability. With a nice first move, and a nose for affecting the play in a variety of ways, the Heels’ leader in sacks and tackles last year promises to make an impact from the get-go. In run defense, he already possesses a pro-level skill set when it comes to containing runners from hitting the edge. As for passing, while Coples excels at getting to the quarterback, his true value comes not in getting that big sack, but forcing quarterbacks out of their comfort zone and into poor throws. Already projecting to be a star at the NFL level, he’s seen as a top-10 pick; the type of talent you can’t miss if you have a hole to fill on the defensive line. While this type of rhetoric is bounced around both successes and failures in the draft, Coples projects well into the right 4-3 system. Continue reading

ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: North Carolina Tar Heels

Tailback Giovani Bernard Will Be the Motor That Runs the North Carolina Offense in 2012

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels’ spring practice preview couldn’t have had worse timing, really. While first-year head coach Larry Fedora will continue to implement his system, the NCAA’s ruling yesterday to ban his team from the postseason obviously looms large. Postseason aside though, Carolina’s offense alone should put them in line to contend for a Coastal Division championship they’re ineligible to win. As much as they’ll spend the spring trying to replace star receiver Dwight Jones, this team is built for a balanced, high-powered attack, even without the assumed first-round pick. In his first season as a starter last year, quarterback Bryn Renner racked up over 3,000 yards to go along with 26 touchdowns. In his own first season of college football, halfback Giovani Bernard recorded 1,615 total yards and 14 scores. So irregardless of who else participates, UNC should be okay as both players progress. That said, it’ll take some additional consistency from the running game outside of Bernard too, especially reserve A.J. Blue. Passing-wise, Brenner will spend the spring targeting seniors Jheranie Boyd and Erik Highsmith, who are both capable targets ready to pick up the slack for Jones’ departure. Continue reading

Top 15 ACC Players at the 2012 NFL Draft Combine

Boston College LB Luke Kuechly Leads a Strong Crop of ACC Players to the NFL Draft Combine

Another crop of players leaves the college ranks this spring to take part in one of my favorite events growing up (that is, until Roger Goodell ruined it): the NFL Draft. In preparation for their selections come April, the league released its official Combine invite list, and there are plenty of ACC players in attendance. In total, the 14 teams had 51 selections, with Miami scoring the most (eight). No surprise with the questions still looming over that program.

Below, we’ll list the top 15 prospects invited to the Combine, followed by a quick team-by-team list based on total numbers.

Top 15 ACC Players at the 2012 NFL Draft Combine

1. Luke Kuechly, LB/Boston College

2. David Wilson, RB/Virginia Tech

3. Andre Branch, DE/Clemson

4. Lamar Miller, RB/Miami

5. Dwight Jones, WR/North Carolina

6. T.J. Graham, WR/NC State

7. Sean Spence, LB/Miami

8. Chris Givens, WR/Wake Forest Continue reading

Far-Too-Early 2012 ACC Power Rankings (February 7)

Can Jimbo Fisher and Florida State Translate a National Signing Day Victory Into an ACC Title?

With National Signing Day behind us, we take our first look at how the ACC‘s teams appear to stack up heading into the 2012 season. Taken into account are returning starters, 2012 schedule and instant freshman contributors from the recent recruiting class. This will be revised monthly throughout the offseason.

1. Florida State Seminoles (2011 record: 9-4): For a team that appeared awfully talented in 2011, the ‘Noles look even more dangerous in 2012. Quarterback EJ Manuel is healthy and understands this squad has something to prove, while what’s arguably the nation’s top recruiting class may get some opportunities on both sides of the ball should they be needed. While defense was dominant last year, FSU’s offense may be just as noteworthy.

2. Clemson Tigers (2011 record: 10-4): Despite losing defensive end Andre Branch, the Tigers return their three biggest offensive weapons — Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington. That alone should put the Tigers in contention to finish right where they did in 2011; the ACC title game. It’ll be up to their defense, though, to pick up the slack if they want to get past FSU in the Atlantic division.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies (2011 record: 11-3): Continuing to fight off their elite-opponent demons, the Hokies may struggle against their improved conference-mates in 2012. However, with quarterback Logan Thomas back (and likely improved), it’s hard to see how this team can’t ride him and what should be another strong defense to at least nine wins on the year.

4. NC State Wolfpack (2011 record: 8-5): While questions may loom about the receiving corps and running game, senior QB Mike Glennon and an experienced offensive line should be enough to project big things for the ‘Pack. If the defense can generate the type of pressure they managed to late in 2011, look out.

5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2011 record: 8-5): Returning most of their starters, including quarterback Tevin Washington, the triple-option should be as good as ever for the Yellow Jackets offense in 2011. Of course they won’t be as flashy or exciting as some of the teams above them here, remember that this team can (and will) put a flurry of points on the board. Defense be damned. Continue reading