August 9, 2022

Ranking the ACC’s most feared defenders of 2022

ACC's 20 most feared defenders of 2022

Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy prepares to line up in the second quarter against Iowa State Wednesday December 27, 2021 at Camping World Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The conference is stacked with elite defenders.

From disruptive rushers off the edge, to the space-eating monsters along the interior, there’s a plethora of studs who can hold their own in the trenches.

With linebackers who can fly from sideline to sideline, corners that are comfortable on their own island, and safeties who can blanket half of a field, the ACC will field some of the country’s best defenses this fall.

20. Jahfari Harvey, DE, Miami: The former four-star prospect is coming off a promising campaign with the Hurricanes. Harvey wreaks havoc off the edge and is very flexible in the hips. His six-foot-four frame allows him to be a disruptive force in batting balls down at the line of scrimmage. Harvey tallied four total tackles and recorded a sack in the victory over Appalachian State. He also put the quarterback to the turf against Central Connecticut. The Florida native returned an interception for a touchdown against North Carolina. Harvey racked up a season-high, six total tackles, including three solo against Florida State. The following game he added three solo stops in the win over Virginia Tech.

19. Kei’Trel Clark, CB, Louisville: He’s one of the best cover corners in the league and a natural at blanketing elite receivers. Clark recorded four solo tackles in the season-opener against Ole Miss. The following week he generated five solo stops, including two for loss, and picked off two passes in the victory over Eastern Kentucky. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder also had five solo tackles apiece against Wake Forest and Virginia. Clark broke up four passes at NC State. He snagged an interception and tallied four solo stops at Florida State. Clark capped off his stellar campaign with second-team, All-ACC honors. With the addition of Quincy Riley to the secondary, Louisville will have two elite corners this fall.

18. Myles Murphy, DT, North Carolina: The former four-star prospect finished second on the team in tackles for loss last season. Murphy is a menace along the interior, who stands six-foot-three and weighs 300 pounds. Not to mention Murphy earned second-team, All-ACC honors. He tallied two tackles for loss and put the quarterback to the turf in the victory over Georgia State. The North Carolina native also recorded a sack against Georgia Tech, Duke and Miami. Murphy racked up a season-high, four solo tackles in the win over Wofford. His size and tenacity allows him to clog up holes and maul offensive linemen. Now Murphy is poised to be one of the best defensive tackles in the country.

17. Darian Chestnut, CB, Syracuse: The New Jersey native made an immediate impact for the Orangemen as a true freshman last season. Chestnut led Syracuse in interceptions and pass breakups. Not to mention he earned third-team, All-ACC honors. He recorded five solo stops and snagged an interception in the opener against Ohio. Chestnut also had five solo tackles and broke up a pass in the win over Liberty. The former four-star prospect hauled in an interception at Florida State. In back-to-back victories over Virginia Tech and Boston College, he combined for seven solo tackles. Chestnut proved he was a lockdown corner when he intercepted Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett in the season finale.

16. Charlie Thomas, LB, Georgia Tech: The former three-star prospect led the Yellow Jackets in tackles for loss, and finished fourth on the team in stops last season. Thomas is a natural at penetrating the backfield, and has 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage over the past two years. The Georgia native solidified he was an enforcer in 2021. Thomas snagged two interceptions in the victory over Kennesaw State. The following week he racked up 12 total tackles against Clemson. The next game against North Carolina, Thomas generated seven solo stops and 2.5 sacks. Not to mention he stockpiled 10 total tackles in the win over Duke. He also has the speed to fly from sideline to sideline.

15. Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson: The former five-star prospect is an animal along the interior. Bresee has played in 15 games over the past two years, and generated 26 total tackles, including 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. He earned first-team, All-ACC as a true freshman in 2020, and third-team honors last season. The six-foot-five, 300-pounder went on a tear in Clemson’s first four games of 2021, before he suffered a season-ending knee injury against NC State. Bresee had three solo stops in the opener against Georgia, and another the following week in the victory over South Carolina State. The Maryland native tallied two solo tackles, hauled in an interception and had a sack in the win over Georgia Tech.

14. Sirvocea Dennis, LB, Pittsburgh: The former two-star prospect led the reigning ACC Champs in stops, and generated 10 tackles for loss last season. Dennis tallied six total stops in the victory at Tennessee. He returned an interception for a touchdown against Clemson. The New York native had eight total tackles against Western Michigan, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami. The six-foot-one, 230-pounder stockpiled nine total tackles and a sack in the win over North Carolina. His 12 total stops and two sacks at Wake Forest were both season-highs. Dennis left a lasting impression with four solo tackles against Michigan State, and capped off his stellar season with second-team, All-ACC honors.

13. Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson: With no more eligibility left for James Skalski, the former five-star prospect will carry the torch as the Tigers’ enforcer. Simpson finished second on the team in tackles for loss and sacks last season. He tallied eight total stops at NC State. The six-foot-three, 230-pounder racked up a season-high, seven solo tackles and two sacks in the win over Louisville. Simpson also put the quarterback to the turf against Pittsburgh, Florida State, Connecticut and Wake Forest. The Charlotte native generated four solo tackles apiece in victories over Syracuse, South Carolina and Iowa State. Despite all of his production, Simpson didn’t receive any All-ACC consideration in 2021.

12. Cam’Ron Kelly, S, North Carolina: The Virginia native is a ballhawk, who can blanket half of a field. Not only did Kelly lead the Tar Heels in interceptions last season, but he also finished third on the team in tackles. Not to mention Kelly earned third-team, All-ACC honors. The former four-star prospect tallied seven total tackles, and picked off a pass in the victory over Duke. He generated nine total stops the following week against Florida State. Kelly had a season-high, 12 total tackles, including 11 solo at Notre Dame. The six-foot-one, 210-pounder hauled in two interceptions against Wake Forest, and another in the win over Miami. Kelly had 12 stops in the bowl game against South Carolina.

11. Nick Jackson, LB, Virginia: The Atlanta native led the ACC and finished 14th in the FBS in tackles per game last season. Jackson has a knack for bringing down ball carriers. He also earned second-team, All-ACC honors in 2021. Jackson stockpiled 12 total tackles in the victory over William and Mary. In back-to-back games against North Carolina and Wake Forest, Jackson combined for 21 total stops. He racked up 11 total tackles and a sack in the win over Duke. The six-foot-one, 236-pounder had a season-high, 16 total tackles at BYU. In back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, he combined for 21 tackles and a sack. Jackson generated 10 stops against rival Virginia Tech.

10. Dax Hollifield, LB, Virginia Tech: The former four-star prospect was recruited by the legendary Bud Foster out of high school. Hollifield led the Hokies in stops and tackles for loss last season. He tallied eight total tackles, including two for loss in the victory over Middle Tennessee. The North Carolina native racked up a season-high, eight solo tackles, including one for loss, and made the quarterback eat grass against West Virginia. The following week Hollifield put the quarterback to the turf in the win over Richmond. In back-to-back games against Boston College and Duke, Hollifield combined for 22 total stops, including 2.5 for loss and a sack. Hollifield is the heart and soul of the Hokies’ defense.

9. Josh DeBerry, CB, Boston College: The former three-star prospect is an elite cover corner, who excels against the run. DeBerry tied for first on the team in tackles for loss and was second on the Eagles in stops last season. Not to mention he earned second-team, All-ACC honors. DeBerry picked off a pass in victories over Massachusetts and Missouri. He tallied five total tackles, including four solo against Clemson. The Michigan native combined for 14 solo stops in back-to-back games against NC State and Louisville. DeBerry had a sack in the win over Virginia Tech, and racked up a season-high, 10 total tackles against Georgia Tech. The 5-foot-11, 177-pounder has 97 stops over the past two seasons.

8. Shaka Heyward, LB, Duke: The Georgia native led the Blue Devils in stops and tackles for loss last season. Heyward’s production got overlooked because of Duke’s 3-9 campaign, but he proved to be one of the league’s best defenders. He racked up a season-high, 16 total tackles against North Carolina A&T. The following week Heyward tallied 12 total stops in the win over Northwestern. The next game he picked of a pass in the victory over Kansas. Heyward put the quarterback to the turf against North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Pittsburgh. The six-foot-four, 220-pounder had 10 tackles in the finale against Miami. Heyward capped off his amazing season with third-team, All-ACC honors.

7. Habakkuk Baldonado, DE, Pittsburgh: The Rome native is relentless in his pursuit. Baldonado eats ball carriers for breakfast, and quarterbacks for desert. He led the ACC Champs in sacks and finished second on the team in tackles for loss last season. The former three-star prospect also earned second-team, All-ACC honors. Baldonado put the quarterback to the turf twice in the victory at Tennessee. The following week he generated six solo tackles and a sack against Western Michigan. Baldonado also made the quarterback eat grass against Virginia Tech, Clemson. Miami, North Carolina and Wake Forest. The six-foot-five, 255-pounder recorded a season-high, seven total tackles in the ACC Championship Game.

6. Drake Thomas, LB, NC State: The former three-star prospect led the Wolfpack in stops and tackles for loss last season. Thomas finished fourth in the league in tackles per game and earned first-team, All-ACC honors. He’s also a terror in pass coverage, with an interception in wins over South Florida, Clemson and Syracuse. The pick Thomas hauled in against the Orange, he returned 38 yards to the house. Thomas recorded 10 total tackles at Mississippi State, and generated seven solo stops, plus two sacks at Miami. The following week he had a season-high, 15 total tackles and two sacks in the victory over Louisville. Thomas tallied nine total stops in the win over rival North Carolina.

5. Jammie Robinson, S, Florida State: The Georgia native stockpiled 135 stops in two seasons at South Carolina before he arrived in Tallahassee. After Robinson’s superb campaign in 2021, there’s no denying he’s one of the best defenders in the ACC. The former four-star prospect led the Seminoles in tackles and interceptions last year. He capped off his season with first-team, All-ACC honors. Robinson generated 13 total tackles against Louisville, and 12 stops, including nine solo in the win over North Carolina. He displayed soft hands with interceptions against Massachusetts, NC State, Miami and Florida. His lasting impression was a season-high,18 total stops in the finale against the Gators.

4. Mikel Jones, LB, Syracuse: The Miami native is a tackling machine. Jones ranked second in the ACC, and 22nd in the FBS in tackles per game last season. He was No. 2 on the Orange in tackles for loss. Jones capped off his stellar campaign with first-team, All-ACC honors. The former four-star prospect generated 10 tackles, including one for loss in the opening win over Ohio. The next game Jones racked up 11 total stops, including 2.5 for loss against Rutgers. Jones tallied nine solo tackles and put the quarterback to the turf twice in the victory over Liberty. The six-foot-one, 220-pounder also had a sack against Louisville and NC State. Jones had a season-high, 10 solo tackles against Clemson.

3. Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh: The six-foot, 275-pounder is arguably the best defensive tackle in the country. And has the numbers to back it up. Kancey led the Panthers in tackles for loss and finished second on the team in sacks last season. He tallied five total stops and a sack in the opener against Massachusetts. The Miami native also made the quarterback eat grass against Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia. Kancey recorded three solo stops against Western Michigan and Duke. Not to mention he earned first-team, All-ACC honors. The former three-star prospect has caused chaos from the interior, with 60 total tackles, including 20 for loss over the past two seasons.

2. Rondell Bothroyd, DE, Wake Forest: He’s the edge rusher that makes ball carriers tremble in their shoes. Bothroyd was unblockable and stockpiled a jaw-dropping, 16.5 tackles for loss last season. The former three-star prospect ranked second on the team in sacks and fourth in tackles. Bothroyd put the quarterback to the turf in eight out of the Demon Deacons’ 14 games. The Connecticut native generated a season-high, 10 total tackles against Army. In back-to-back games against Clemson and Boston College, Bothroyd combined for 13 solo stops. The six-foot-four, 258-pounder has a non-stop motor and is always disruptive. Bothroyd will finally get the All-ACC consideration he deserves in 2022.

1. Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson: The 20-year old is an offensive lineman’s nightmare, who’s a beast off the edge. Murphy led the Tigers in tackles for loss and sacks, plus he earned second-team, All-ACC last season. He made the quarterback eat grass in the opener against Georgia. The former five-star prospect generated five total stops, including a sack in the win over Boston College. Murphy combined for eight solo tackles and 2.5 sacks in back-to-back games against Florida State and Louisville. The six-foot-five, 275-pounder also put the quarterback to the turf against Connecticut and Wake Forest. Murphy has 76 total tackles, including 25 for loss and 12 sacks over the last two seasons with the Tigers.

Honorable Mention

Tanner Ingle, S, NC State: He finished second on the team in tackles and earned AP first-team, All-ACC last season.

Tyler Davis, DT, Clemson: The six-foot-two, 300-pounder is a monster, who earned first-team, All-ACC in 2021.

Brandon Hill, S, Pittsburgh: He’s a general in the Panthers’ secondary, who’s coming off a All-ACC campaign.

Tatum Bethune, LB, Florida State: He led UCF with 108 tackles and averaged nine stops per game last season.