JOE GILES-HARRIS - DUKE
No linebacker in the conference had a more productive year than Joe Giles-Harris. He finished the year ranked in the top five in tackles and tackles for loss. Duke has been known for having defensive players who put up big numbers but Giles-Harris might be the best of them. Duke is a sleeper team in the conference this year and they need their linebackers to make some big plays to make that pick a good one.
KENDALL JOSEPH - CLEMSON
Clemson has their great defensive line but that greatness means that the other players that play up front get overlooked sometimes. Kendall Joseph is the leader of Clemson’s great defense and he makes a lot of the under the radar plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He also makes the calls and adjustments on the field. Joseph will have a fully healthy Dexter Lawrence in front of him this year and he will also have a healthy Tre Lamar next to him.
JORDAN MACK - VIRGINIA
Virginia has had some very productive defensive players over the last five years or so and Mack looks like he’s the next guy that will step up and put up crazy numbers. Virginia lost their top three players on defense from last year so Mack will have to be the guy to make some impact plays. He has a strong secondary behind him and a good outside pass rush, so Mack could be the key to UVA’s defense not taking a step back this year.
SHAQ QUARTERMAN - MIAMI
Shaq Quarterman is very similar to Kendall Joseph in that he does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Miami is coming off of a very strong season where they won the division and competed for a playoff berth. Quarterman leads a defense that hasn’t been fully weaponized yet and they could take a big step forward in Manny Diaz’ system. They have great speed and play making ability in the back end but they need a little more production up front.
Quarterman will ensure that Miami’s run defense will be stout again. They only allowed 3.5 yards per carry last season. What will be interesting to watch will be whether or not teams will look to run as much as they did last season if the defense can’t force as many turnovers in the passing game.
OLUWASEUN IDOWU - PITT
Pitt didn’t have a lot to be excited about last year but Oluwaseun Idowu had a very good year at outside linebacker. Idowu finished the year with 94 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks. Pitt’s defensive scheme is very basic and relies on guys like him to make plays in space. Idowu has good speed to the ball and does a solid job in short zone coverage. I would expect that another year in the weight room will help him when it comes to getting through blockers on the outside.
BEST OF THE REST
Cole Holcomb - UNC
Michael Pickney - Miami
Chris Peace - Virginia
Ben Humphreys - Duke
Germaine Pratt - NC State