The secondary for Louisville hasn't gotten a lot of attention this offseason, but I think this group could turn out to be the most improved. This group has the best blend of experience and talented young guys of any group on the team, arguably. Josh Harvey-Clemons, Chucky Williams, Shaq Wiggins, Trumaine Washington, and Jaire Alexander all have plenty of experience in Todd Grantham's system and they all are plenty talented. Throw in Dee Smith and you have six guys that are all very talented and are all good fits for the system.
Cornerback was a bright spot for Louisville last year with Trumaine Washington putting up numbers that would've easily been all-conference worthy in most season. Washington ended the year with 4 picks, 2 sacks, and 7 tackles for loss. Washington fits well as the boundary corner as he's extremely aggressive against the run and he's not afraid to jump short routes. Shaq Wiggins didn't get tested all that much last year but he made plenty of nice plays against some of the top receivers in the conference. Wiggins got beat a few times and was flagged for some boneheaded penalties but I think he will be much more focused this year with the NFL being a real goal now as well as Jaire Alexander right on his heels for playing time. The positive for Louisville is that they have some depth with Alexander being able to play both spots. It also allows for situational versatility because Alexander can play the slot when needed.
JHC had one of the most up and down seasons I can remember as a football fan. He started the season with two interceptions against Auburn and strong games against Houston and Clemson. He then sunk into obscurity and laid an egg against FSU. But he finished the season with a really good game against TAMU and comes into this season with a lot to prove to pro scouts. He's a talented player and we all know that but he needs to play to that talent level consistently.
Chucky Williams is one of my favorite guys on the team. He plays like a guy that wants to make the biggest hit possible on every tackle he makes and I love that mentality. What I didn't know about Chucky until he finally got to see the field last year is that he has really good ball skills and can run pretty well for his size. Williams broke up 7 passes to go along with his 3 picks. He also gained 79 yards on two of his interception returns.
Dee Smith and Zykiesis Cannon are fighting for the third safety spot but I think Smith will be the guy that wins the job. Smith was the highest rated recruit in Louisville's class last year and ended up getting some time on the field in the middle of the season before he was injured. Cannon is a solid player that excels on special teams and really has a knack for being in the right spot on defense. The decision for the coaches really seems to come down to how safe they want to play it. Smith will likely make more plays but Cannon will likely make less mistakes. Another guy to keep an eye on here is London Iakopo. He was a highly rated JUCO prospect but he hasn't shown up on the depth chart. He could be used here as well as a backup to JHC at strong safety.
Look for Khane Pass and Ronald Walker to also get some run this year. Pass is a solid player but he plays behind JHC and will have a hard time getting non-garbage time minutes. Walker is probably behind Alexander at whichever cornerback spot he ends up playing due to the fact that Alexander is just a step ahead of everyone else.
AROUND THE ACC
M.J. Stewart/Des Lawrence, UNC
Stewart and Lawrence are completely interchangeable to me so I put them both in one spot. Both of these guys did an outstanding job of locking down receivers and making plays on the ball. Stewart led the league in passes defended while Lawrence was right behind in the third spot. UNC scored a lot of points so the opposing offense threw the ball a good amount of the time and these guys stood up to the challenge well. If these two guys could have similar seasons to what they had last year, UNC might not have as much of a drop off as some have predicted.
Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson
Tankersley went from the glaring question mark in Clemson's defensive backfield to the biggest playmaker last season. Mackensie Aleander and Jayron Kearse got the accolades because they were the NFL prospects but Tankersley answered the bell every time he was tested last year. This year Tankersley is the focal point of a rebuilt secondary and won't be tested as much. It will be interesting to see if he can be a game changing player without as many opportunities.
Derwin James, FSU
I can't think of too many players that lived up to their hype like Derwin James. He only started about half of FSU's games and still ended up with 91 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss on the season. James didn't do much against the pass but that's about the only negative you could say about his season as a freshman. And if we're being honest, his skills as a pass rusher should be factored in to his abilities "against the pass". James has a full year under his belt now and will be playing on a defense that will likely be improved from last year. Teams will key on him but it's going to be hard when you have guys like Josh Sweat and Matthew Thomas rushing the passer on third downs as well.
Jordan Whitehead, Pitt
I made an exception with the secondary and included four players because I got done with the first two and realized that I hadn't even listed the two biggest impact players in the conference. I went with Whitehead over Quin Blanding for just that reason. Blanding is probably the better overall player but Whitehead made plays as a safety and as a running back for Pitt last year and he played extremely well at both positions. Whitehead didn't get a lot of carries as a running back but he averaged 10 yards per carry and scored 2 touchdowns in their big game against Notre Dame. Whitehead should be in for another big year with a full year of college behind him.
NEXT IN LINE
Corn Elder, Miami
I went with Elder over Brad Watson of Wake because Elder adds return man abilities as well as some nice plays behind the line of scrimmage last year. Elder is another guy that wasn't the best player at his position last year but will be asked to be so this year. I think that a new defensive system as well as a youth movement in the front seven will only help the secondary for Miami and Elder will be the beneficiary.
Tarvarus McFadden, FSU
It has to be nice to replace a guy like Jalen Ramsey with another five-star talent from the state of Florida. McFadden was the third ranked cornerback in the nation two years ago and he got to see the field last year while also learning from one of the best cornerbacks in recent memory. McFadden isn't Ramsey and he probably won't every be the type of player Ramsey is but he is a tall and rangy kid that can run and can be aggressive enough to play with any receiver. McFadden will also have a bulls-eye on his chest. He's the new kid on a vaunted FSU defense and he will have to prove himself early.