This is the sixth in a series on the 2011 All-ACC team. First, we profiled the players returning from the 2010 All-ACC team. Then we discussed quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends and offensive line. We're now more than half-way home and today it is time to talk defensive ends.
Remember, that these honors are voted on by writers. That means certain (read: Carolina states) schools are favored, sack numbers rule all, and you'll almost never see two players from the same team receive high offers.
The first team here is easy. Both players return and it will be tough for anyone else to unseat them. Quinton Coples of the North Carolina Tar Heels is seen by many as the top prospect in the NFL draft. He's likely the best player at any position in the ACC. And at 6'6" 285, he can dominate against the run while still being deadly against the pass. Brandon Jenkins of the Florida State Seminoles should also repeat his 1st-team selection. He was one of the nation's leaders in sacks last year, and with continued work in the weight room he should not be a liability against the run (not that any writers care about that).
But what about the second team? The race is wide open, but is limited to a few teams. We constantly discuss the fact that defensive lines often separate elite teams from average teams, and that's very clear in the ACC. The poor teams not only don't have the talent on the defensive line, but they also won't be pass rushing much since they will be playing from behind. The ACC has a lot of really talented defensive ends.
Who are the candidates? Florida State actually has two more in Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine. These two would immediately supplant the two starters for many ACC teams. But there are practical concerns here. Werner may not have the sack numbers as he doesn't take many risks and is more of a run-stopper. And an issue for both is playing time. If these two split playing time they will not make the team. These will be two of the best 15 ends in the conference, but they might not get recognized.
Clemson has three candidates of its own in Malliciah Goodman, Andre Branch and newcomer Corey Crawford. Crawford may be the most talented of this bunch, though Goodman also has great physical tools. This will depend on playing time, but you can count on one Clemson end making the team.
Miami is loaded at defensive end as well, with Olivier Vernon leading the way. Vernon is an excellent player, but the question will be how many sacks he tallies as he is more of a balanced end and not just a pass-rusher. The same goes for Adewale Ojomo.
Virginia Tech has two unknowns at end, but you can bet one will make it on to the All-ACC team. Why? Schedule. Virginia Tech has the schedule to go undefeated, which means there will be plenty of opportunities for pass-rushing against awful teams, which in turn leads to sacks. James Gayle is the likely beneficiary here. He might not be one of the best 10 defensive ends in the ACC, but this is about numbers and not actual play.
North Carolina was mentioned above with Coples, but Dante Paige-Moss is certainly one of the best 10 ends in the league. Will he have the numbers to make it with Coples on the other side? He could benefit from teams double-teaming Coples.
It should be noted what Georgia Tech's Jason Peters and Virginia's Cam Johnson are both good players. But they probably won't have the opportunities to put up numbers worthy of the All-ACC team due to their team quality (or lack of).
Who will make the All-ACC team?
1st Team: Coples (UNC) & Jenkins (FSU)
2nd Team: Vernon (MIA) & Gayle (VT)
Honorable Mention: Paige-Moss (UNC) & Branch (Clemson)
Thoughts? Certainly a loaded group and a difficult decision.
Why did UNC land two and FSU only one? Simple. UNC has two defensive ends in consideration, while FSU has three. Splitting playing time is not a recipe for the All-ACC team.