Nearly 30 underclassmen around the ACC have declared for the NFL Draft as of Jan. 15, with three days remaining before the official deadline of Jan. 18. Nine ACC schools have lost at least one underclassman to an early NFL declaration this winter.
Who are some of the likeliest departing ACC underclassmen to get selected in first round this spring? And which five ACC underclassmen made the best decisions to declare now for the NFL?
Derwin James, Florida State
James is the very type of hybrid defensive back that NFL defensive coordinators crave. During his time at Florida State, James demonstrated that he can play a traditional safety role, while also stepping up and being a prominent figure in run support and presssuring opposing quarterbacks. The NFL franchise that drafts James will instantly be more versatile and more explosive defensively.
Of all the ACC’s underclassman draft prospects, James is the one most consistently discussed as a high first rounder. CBS Sports projects James No. 11 to the Miami Dolphins, while WalterFootball.com projects James No. 12 to the Cincinnati Bengals. Bleacher Report isn’t quite as high on James, but still projects him at the end of the first round, No. 30 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Derwin James is a special athlete with the body to play down in the box or in center field,” Bleacher Report’s analysis of James states. “He was slow to return to full speed after coming back from an injury that cost him almost all of last season but closed the year with an awesome stretch of games that highlighted what he can do as a versatile safety.”
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Another defender, Edmunds, is the second most likely ACC underclassmen to hear his name called in the first round on April 26 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Bleacher Report likes Edmunds enough to project him No. 11 to the Dolphins, while WalterFootball.com has him going No. 22 to the Buffalo Bills. CBS Sports projects Edmunds to the New Orleans Saints at No. 27. The experts like Edmunds’ 6-5, 240-pound frame, along with his ability to get around the field and make tackles.
“Edmunds is a quick, instinctive linebacker with good length,” states WalterFootball.com, which ranks Edmunds the No. 3 outside linebacker prospect in the draft pool.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Although Jackson is widely considered the top dual-threat quarterback, opinions vary as to where he’ll get drafted. While CBS Sports sees him as a mid-first rounder, projected No. 15 to the Arizona Cardinals, WalterFootball.com proposes the notion that Jackson could be the heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger at Pittsburgh. They project him at the end of the first round, No. 29 to the Steelers. Although Bleacher Report also projects Jackson to Arizona, they have him going in the second round (No. 47 overall). Jackson is one player who can dramatically raise his stock with a strong showing at the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis.
“In speaking with a general manager from an AFC team, they said that Jackson is the most dynamic player in the 2018 NFL Draft,” said Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com. “With amazing running ability, speed, and a powerful arm, Jackson is a rare talent who possesses a phenomenal skill set.”
Jaire Alexander, Louisville
Injuries slowed Alexander down throughout the 2017 season, which played a factor in his decision to head early to the NFL. An early-season knee injury, and then a broken hand, kept Alexander off the field for approximately half the regular season. The risk of further injuring himself in 2018 at U of L, when he’s already considered a potential top 60 draft prospect now, made leaving college the right move. Although he received a second round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, Alexander has the potential to perform his way into an even higher selection.
“(Alexander) is a good cover corner who could be a first-round pick if it weren’t for the durability concerns,” said WalterFootball.com, which ranks Alexander the No. 6 cornerback in the draft pool.
Mark Walton, Miami
Like Alexander, Walton is making the right move heading to the NFL now because of concerns that his stock could drop in another year in college. Walton, who rushed for over 1,100 yards in 2016 as a sophomore, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in October. He was on pace for another thousand-yard season, but still finished his abbreviated Miami career with nearly 2,000 career rushing yards.
The 5-9, 205-pound Walton is an every-down type of back. Pro scouts like his vision and his ability to find holes, while there are questions about his speed and durability. Walton projects as a mid-rounder, who could get taken as early as late second round with a strong Combine performance.