Breaking Down The 2010 Phil Steele All-ACC Team

It's out! Now it is time once again to start breaking down the 2010 Phil Steele All-ACC Team.  Here it is (click for full size):


It's difficult for any national writer to come up with 4-deep conference teams.  I give writers a lot of leeway if they are willing to go beyond the customary first team that most national magazines do.  I only ask that their methods remain consistent throughout.  If they want to pick the guys who will have the most production, that's fine.  It's also fine to pick the best players, regardless of numerical production.  I don't, however, like when they mix the two.  Stay consistent throughout, please.  Let's get to it...

Today we'll take a look at the offense.


Not having Christian Ponder at the top would instantly discredit the entire list, so Phil is good there.  Kudos also to Phil for being one of the few to realize how well Tyrod Taylor played last year.  But after that it gets murky.  Jacory Harris should not be on the list based on last year's performance (6th in ACC passer rating, led the conference in interceptions, etc.).  By putting Harris third, Phil is asserting that he will have a huge year.  That's fine by me, but what about other quarterbacks who have already had those big years?  I'm talking about Russell Wilson.  Phil might say he didn't have room, but Wilson led the conference in touchdowns, was 4th in passer rating among returning QBs, and he offers something Harris does not:  the ground threat.  Perhaps putting Nesbitt as the 2nd-team running back would be the better option.  After all, Nesbitt had the 3rd most carries in the ACC.  Phil has previously shown that he will move guys around at different positions (see DT/ DE).  Why then, would he not be willing to list Josh Nesbitt at running back?  Leaving Russell Wilson off the list is ridiculous. 

Inside, find the rest of the positions and my thoughts...


Running Back

Other than the above-mentioned suggestion of Nesbitt to running back, I can't argue with the top selections at running back.  The third team, however, is questionable.  If the reasoning for putting Georgia Tech's Anthony Allen on the 2nd-team is increased opportunity and thus performance resulting from his move to B-Back (replacing Jonathan Dwyer), what is the reasoning for Miami's Damien Berry?  Berry is undoubtedly a talented player, but Miami has eleven scholarship backs.  Using numerical opportunity (Allen or Scott) is acceptable, but then to put a player on the list who might not even see 100 carries in ACC play is contradictory in itself.  The same goes for FSU's Jermaine Thomas, who will share carries with other backs.  The same logic applies to putting the talented Darren Evans on the 3rd team.  According to Phil, Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams will have enough carries to make the first team.  If that is so, Evans won't have enough to perform like one of the best 6 backs in the ACC.  I would have Andre Ellington of Clemson on the list.  The Tigers can't throw the ball which means a lot of carries.  And when they do throw, it will include many screens to Ellington. Again I ask, is Phil basing this on projected production or talent?

If there's two things Steele does better than any other national magazine, it's keeping track of the talent that will replace graduating players and considering schedule in his projections.  Phil intelligently uses recruiting rankings to determine the talent level of unknown players.  It's not perfect, but it is the best way I've seen.  It's what led him to piggyback my "Clemson winning the Atlantic Division" selection last year.


That said, Steele's wide receiver selections are confusing to me.  Nobody thinks Duke's Donovan Varner would start for one of the elite teams in the conference, but he will likely lead the ACC in receiving once again because of opportunities.  Duke throws the ball to him all the time.  If Steele is willing to consider opportunities, it means he is selecting his team based on projected performance.  Varner is an excellent choice.  Miami's Leonard Hankerson is also a fine choice for the first team, having finished 4th last year in receiving yards in ACC play.  But then things get a bit screwy. 

It's obvious that Steele thinks North Carolina is loaded.  I agree.  Butch Davis has quietly loaded that program and North Carolina could have as many as FIVE 1st-round draft picks from its defense alone.  And Carolina will arguably be the best team in the Coastal.  But there is no way Carolina has a 1st team and a 3rd team wide receiver.  Steele has Greg Little on the first team and Jheranie Boyd on the third team.  He also has Carolina having a second-team tight end.  I'll explain why this doesn't make any sense by showing Carolina's top-4 performers returning from conference play.  :

Name Yr Pos G Rec. Yards Avg. Rec./G Yards/G
Greg Little SR WR 8 38 494 13 4.8 61.8
Zack Pianalto SR TE 6 23 196 8.52 3.8 32.7
Erik Highsmith SO WR 8 24 215 8.96 3 26.9
Jheranie Boyd SO WR 8 8 137 17.13 1 17.1

Keep in mind that Carolina didn't lose ANY receiver who caught a pass in ACC play.  With that in mind,

Carolina threw the ball 231 times last year in conference play, completing 132 (57%) for 1334 yards.  The above guys caught 1042 of those yards.  None of the above performances warrant all-conference mention.  If anything, Carolina will throw the ball less this year because it will have the lead more often, and Butch Davis is extremely conservative.  But for argument sake, let's say Carolina throws it the same amount, and improves its efficiency from 57% completions to 60% completions, while keeping the average per throw constant.  Carolina has a lot of offensive talent that was either very green, injured, or both last season.  Improvement is rational.  That would give Carolina about 1400 receiving yards in conference which will be divided by its receivers, tight ends, backs, etc.  Even if Carolina improved its passing performance by 15%, there are simply too many options to allow for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-team ACC pass catcher given the amount that Carolina throws the ball.  And for whatever reason, Steele is overlooking returning sophomore Erik Highsmith, who had 55% more production than Boyd in ACC play.  Is Highsmith entering the witness protection program?  Are all of his balls going to Boyd?

1st-team guys end up with 80 or more yards receiving per ACC game.  2nd-team guys look to have about 70-75 yards per ACC game.   3rd-team guys perform at about a 60-70 yards clip per game.  At current rates, Carolina would have to go from throwing the ball from 28 times per game to 38.  The chance that conservative, lead-sitting Carolina turns into Texas Tech is about the same that they have a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd team pass catcher. Steele needs to bump little to 3nd team and Remove Boyd (currently 3rd team), or bump Pianolto down to 3rd team (currently 2nd) and remove Boyd.  Or have Little, Boyd, and Pianolto all 3rd team or less. 

I put together this chart.  It shows the top 30 returning receivers from the ACC, ranked by production in conference games. 


It should be noted that Wake's passing numbers will plummet after losing its 4-year starting QB (Riley Skinner), and switching to the spread option.  Take out Wake's #2 and #3 guys (the ones not in bold) (Steele has Williams as a 4th-team selection), and Phil tabs the top 10 returning wideouts to make all-conference teams.  Then he adds in Benjamin, which is entirely appropriate.  But alllllllllllll the way at the bottom of the chart sits Boyd.  That pick doesn't make sense to me unless Steele forgot to look at UNC's returning production and simply based the selection on recruiting prowess (Boyd was a highly rated receiver).  I bet that's what he did.  That's lazy.  Lamond Jr., Kelly, Fortson, Cannon, and Coale all have a legit argument for inclusion over Boyd. 

Sorry you had to read that.  The selection of Boyd just seemed Bizarre to me.

Tight Ends

Almost perfect.  Steele did a tremendous job here.  Bryan, Pianalto, and Allen are the 1-2-3 tight ends in the conference, both in terms of talent and likely production.  He should give the 4th slot to BC's Chris Pantale, a freshman last season and 4th among the tight ends coming back in terms of ACC production. 

Offensive Line

This is by far the most difficult spot for a national magazine to evaluate.  Steele watches the games but I know he isn't able to watch the line play of 12 ACC teams along with the line play of the other 108 NCAA schools.  Expect mistakes from a national magazine.  Let's see where Phil did well and where he messed up.

I'll go position by position, because many national magazines don't even correctly list the positions.  Steele gets high marks there. 

Starting at Center, I don't have any complaints with the first and second team selections (Sean Bedford and Ryan McMahon).  Observers know that McMahon is overhyped nationally, but he is a good college center.  For 2nd and 3rd team, it looks like Steele simply went with returning starters, as BC, Miami, NC State, Virginia, and Maryland all lost their starting centers to graduation.  Kudos to Steele for not simply picking 5 tackles for the first team. 

En garde!  (On Guard).  Rodney Hudson is a 1st-team All American, so he is a no-brainer.  Thomas Claiborne is a solid choice as well (Boston College).  FSU and BC have far and away the best two lines in the conference and the drop from those two to the third best is probably equivalent to the difference between the 3rd and 9th or 10th best line. I like the Alan Pelc selection for UNC.  He was hurt some last season but is a player when healthy.  Steele gets points in my book for recognizing that.   I do have issue with his Joel Figueroa selection.  He's not a good player and FSU's David Spurlock, who had an up-and-down 2009 season is a notch above him in my mind.

But Phil doesn't do well in the tackle evaluations.  Anthony Castonzo of BC is easily the best tackle in the conference, but his other 1st-team tackle, Orlando Franklin, was an average guard for the Canes last year.  That guy is going to be the 2nd-best tackle in the conference?  Really?  Steele got lazy here.  Franklin was a highly-rated recruit, while some of the guys Steele ranks behind Franklin were not.  But Franklin shouldn't be 1st team or even 2nd team!  There's a group of 3 tackles after Castonzo whom everyone with a clue who watches the ACC would agree.  That group is Florida State's Andrew Datko, Clemson's Chris Hairston, and VT's Blake DeChristopher.  Based on play (not recruiting rankings from 3 years ago), nobody else has an argument to be 1st or 2nd team.  Phil does a good job using recruiting talent to make predictions on guys who have not yet played, but when guys have played 1 or 2 seasons, it's smart to actually consider what they have done on the field.  Also, I don't expect Steele (or any national guy) to be accurate on 4th-team tackles in the ACC, but Landon Walker is awful and there are much better tackles from which to choose; notably NC State's Jake Vermiglio.   

Also of note is CGB's Breakdown by numbers.  Interesting stuff there.

Tomorrow I'll break down Phil's take on the All-ACC Defense

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