ACC Defenses Loaded Again in 2010

Everyone knows that the ACC produces more 1st round NFL defensive players and NFL defensive pro bowlers than any other conference.  But come April, the draft should feature fewer ACC defenders.  Why?  An astounding number of draft-eligible juniors elected to return to school for 1 more season.  Sure, Georgia Tech lost the best defensive end in the country, Derrick Morgan and All-ACC safety Morgan Burnett.  But for the most part, the ACC is getting its to-be seniors back.  Paired with some excellent up and coming juniors, the ACC's defensive talent blows every other conference away, almost to the point where the ACC's combined talent is greater than that of all the other conferences combined.  

College Football News recently gathered a list of the top to-be draft eligible players for 2011 (the stars of the coming season).  Here were the ACC's defenders:

Defensive Line

Defensive End Defensive Tackle
1. Robert Quinn, North Carolina (Jr.) 1. Marvin Austin, North Carolina
2. Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson (Jr.) 6. Marcus Fortson, Miami (Jr.)
7. Allen Bailey, Miami
9. Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson
11. Tydreke Powell, North Carolina (Jr.) 
12. Brandon Thompson, Clemson (Jr.)

The top two defensive end prospects in the country reside in the ACC as do the # 1, 6, 7, 9, 11, and 12 defensive tackle prospects.  This position is extremely junior heavy, but three of the defensive tackles bypassed the draft.  Austin and Bailey were likely 1st rounders had they declared.  The SEC and Big 12, thought to be the power conferences, aren't even close.  But it's not all about the defensive line.  The ACC is loaded in other areas as well

Linebacker

Inside Linebacker Outside Linebacker
2. Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina 1. Bruce Carter, North Carolina
5. Alex Wujciak, Maryland 2. Mark Herzlich, Boston College
6. Barquell Rivers, Virginia Tech (Jr.) 8. Nigel Bradham, Florida State (Jr.)
9. Colin McCarthy, Miami

The most notable name here is Herzlich, who was poised to be a top 10 pick in last year's draft.  Despite being unquestionably the best or second best linebacker prospect, He chose to come back to school for the 2009 season and was almost immediately diagnosed with cancer.  Under any normal circumstance he would be gone but after taking a merical-redshirt he will return for Boston College to help give the ACC one of the nation's best linebacker groups.  To an even greater extent than the defensive line, the ACC got a huge boost from defenders electing to return for their senior years.  Again, the SEC can't measure up.  But the ACC has always produced great defensive backs and next year the conference is loaded there again:

Defensive Backs

Cornerback Strong Safety Free Safety
2. Kendrick Burney, North Carolina 1. DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson 1. Deunta Williams, North Carolina
4. Ras-I Dowling, Virginia 12. Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson
6. Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech
7. Brandon Harris, Miami (Jr.)
13. Charles Brown, North Carolina
15. Cameron Chism, Maryland (Jr.) 

The ACC has 4 of the nation's best 7 cornerbacks and both the best strong and free safety prospects. The top 5 in this group all bypassed the draft in favor of returning for their senior years.  

One final note here.  It's very possible that Clemson and North Carolina could each have four 1st round draft picks on defense this season.  In total those two teams combine for 13 of the 23 players on this list.  

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