By Dave Lackford
1. Dexter Lawrence –Early Enrollee, Clemson, DT, NC, 6’4” 325-pound
Lawrence was a 1st Team USA Today All-American, consensus 5 star, and the composite #2 overall player in the country.
Name a Power Five school and the young man had an offer from the head coach himself. His size, strength, agility, and technique make him the top ACC recruit coming into the 2016 season.
All signs indicate that Lawrence will start day one for the Tigers. He’s a humongous force in the middle of the defensive line and he’s much more than just a space eater. Dexter is explosive and fast, has the ability to shed blocks to disrupt any run between the tackles, and agile enough to bail out of the phone booth and take angles on QBs that tuck and run or running backs that take the ball around the edge.
In the first spring scrimmage for Clemson, Lawrence registered 3 tackles, a sack, and an interception. Quite a first impression for the ultra talented 5 star from North Carolina. Look for an impact season this year from the true freshman defensive tackle.
Levonta Taylor was a 1st Team USA Today All-American, the consensus #1 CB in the country, and the composite #7 overall player last year. He wowed the nation at Nike’s “The Opening” last summer by running a 4.34 second 40-yard dash and jumping an astonishing 42.2 inches in the vertical. All of those HS combine numbers are fun, but what he does in shorts is nothing compared to what he does while suited up under the lights. A tireless student of the game and relentless gym rat, Taylor is a natural leader that other players gravitate towards. Rumor has it that he helped FSU land four star TE Nasier Upshur from Philadelphia as well as four star linebacker Dontavious Jackson from Houston Texas.
On National Signing Day, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher joked that once Taylor’s days as a player were finished, he would have an immediate job as a recruiting coordinator for the Seminoles.Like most FSU defensive back recruits, Taylor can play any position in the secondary. In other news, he also figures to make a serious run at FSU’s punt returner position. This is a major plus for FSU, a team that desperately needs a shot in the arm from that position. Because of his versatility in the secondary and punt return prowess, ‘Nole fans like to compare Taylor to former standout CB/PR Greg Reid.
That’s a fair comparison, but to me Taylor is more like a bigger, faster, more athletic version of Tyrann Mathieu. Yeah I said it, a bigger, faster, more athletic, and equally tenacious version of the Honey Badger. So even though Florida State is stacked with talent in the secondary entering 2016, a player with Taylor’s work ethic, talent, and knowledge of the game will be too much to keep off the field. Look for Taylor to end up commandeering the Seminoles’ “Star” position (a hybrid nickel corner/strong safety position) by mid-season at the latest or week one against Ole Miss at the earliest.
Bracey, a consensus 4 star WR, is thought by some to be the most talented recruit Duke has ever signed. A very physically impressive specimen with 4.5 speed, Bracey spent most of his time at QB during his Junior and a Senior years at Benedictine College Preparatory, directing them to back-to-back VISAA state titles in 2014 and 2015. But when you have a kid with Bracey’s talent committed to your football program, you just get him on campus and figure out how to deploy him in practice.
Even with his position somewhat in question (most have him pegged as a WR) an offensive weapon of Bracey’s caliber will see copious playing time and will likely be the focal point of head coach David Cutcliffe’s offense no matter where he plays. He rushed for 1,112 on 144 carries last year while adding over 1,100 passing yards with 18 touchdowns opposed to two interceptions. As a sophomore wide receiver in 2013, Bracey caught 51 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns earningMaxPreps Sophomore All-American honors.
Senior QB Thomas Sirk injured his achilles tendon in February and back up RS Junior QB Parker Boehme will take over this season. Early reports indicate that Bracey asked the staff to play wide receiver this season but it is not out of the realm of possibility for Bracey to see some time at QB, particularly out of the Wildcat formation. Considering Bracey’s versatility and Cutlciffe’s reputation as a mad scientist, one has to anticipate Bracey being used in creative ways to maximize his elite talent. Wherever he plays, I expect Bracey to put together an ACC All-Freshman season.
Rahshaun “Shaq” Smith was a composite 4 star linebacker (Rivals: 5 star #6 player in the nation), a 2nd team USA Today All American, and the #3 composite LB in the nation.
Smith is a versatile OLB that can rush the passer, drop back in coverage, or track down ball carriers from sideline to sideline. Shaq fits the mold of the hybrid OLB/WDE that Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables loves. This is huge for the Tigers considering the NFL exodus of players from the 2016 defense. DE’s Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson are gone, as are linebackers Travis Blanks and BJ Goodson.
Look for Smith, who has been impressive so far this Spring, to make a serious run at the strong side linebacker position vacated by Travis Blanks, but to also be camouflaged all over formations in order to get the drop on offensive coordinators. Early reports out of Death valley have been that Smith is unblockable in spring practices and he’s getting significant run with the first team defense. All indications are that Smith is leading for the strong side linebacker spot and he doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon.
New Hokies coach Justin Fuentes, has been recruiting the consensus 4 star, and #1 JUCO dual threat QB since 2013. Evans was a Senior in high school, and Fuentes was at the helm at Memphis. Well, Fuentes got a second bite at the apple when he recruited Evans this past off-season as the Tigers’ head coach, and later as the Hokies’ lead man, when Evans was playing Juco ball for Trinity Valley C.C. in Athens, Texas. He put up major numbers over 8 games at Trinity Valley, completing 62% of his throws for 3,164 yards, 38 touchdowns and three picks, while rushing for 414 yards.
The dual threat signal caller signed with the Hokies on December 12th, and hopes to be the second straight transfer QB to start for the Hokies, following the lead of his predecessor, Michael Brewer. He is considered the front runner for the Hokies’ QB spot this season due to him being Fuentes’s “guy” and, the competition he’s up against. Brenden Motley, the returning starter from last season, looked inept as a passer last season and many think his inability to step up in the absence of Michael Brewer led to the dismissal of former offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who now holds the same position for Boston College.
Speaking of Loeffler, he was the main recruiter for incoming freshman QB early enrollee Joshua Jackson, but the buzz around Blacksburg is that Jackson has an uphill battle and may end up taking a redshirt. That leaves Dwayne Lawson, who only threw 36 passes last season, as the other competitor for Evans. From what I’ve heard and read, the battle for the Hokies is between Lawson and Evans, and Evans holds the edge going into the summer.
Considering what VT has coming back on offense in the form of dynamic TE Bucky Hodges, ALL-ACC WR Isaiah Ford, and rising sophomore standout tailback Travon McMillian, Jerod Evans may actually be the most pivotal incoming ACC player on this list. If he wins the starting nod for the season opener against Liberty on September 3rd, one has to believe that he is the most significant addition to any ACC team in 2016 as far as plugging the most important position of need, specifically and in general, with a major upgrade in talent.