The advent of NIL obviously changed the landscape of college football in many ways. In one respect, college athletes can choose to stay in school and still make money. However, many of America’s best football players have their sights set on the NFL and will be drafted.
See also: College Football NFL Draft Deadline Winners and Losers
Despite a less than stellar season, the ACC has several prospects who will jump to the next level. Their previous programs will spend the off-season finding replacements for these stars. Here are 10 ACC stars making the move to the NFL and the leading candidates to fill the void left by their departure.
Path: Josh Downs, WR
Despite being a true contributor in just two seasons, Downs leaves North Carolina as the third-biggest receiver in program history with 202 grabs. He is also fourth in yardage and second in touchdown receptions. When Sam Howell and then Drake Maye needed a big change, they looked at downs first.
In: Andre Greene Jr.
Kobe Paysour has shown as a redshirt freshman that he can be a very effective receiver, but he will need help. With a larger physique, Greene is a very different player to Downs, but the former top 100 recruit is brimming with talent. Knowing his role will increase in 2023, head coach Mack Brown brought him into the Holiday Bowl slate and Greene responded with three catches, one of which resulted in a touchdown.
Path: Israel Abanikanda, RB
Abanikanda had a nice 2021 season but nobody could have predicted his development as a junior. In 11 games, he rushed for 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns. He finished seventh nationally and first in the ACC. Replacing this production with just one man will be extremely difficult, but playing effectively is vital in Pat Narduzzi’s system.
In: Rodney Hammond Jr.
In fact, Hammond was already there. In two seasons, the budding junior has 965 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. At this point, Pitt hasn’t added a running back from Portal and Hammond was ahead of other Panthers backs last fall so he should be the primary ball carrier in 2023.
Path: Calijah Kancey, DT
As with Israel Abanikanda, padding the stats left by Kancey will be almost impossible. In 2021, Kancey had 13 tackles for a loss and seven sacks. He surpassed those numbers in 2022, registering 14.5 tackles to a loss, of which 7.5 sacks were on his way to ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Defensive tackles that active don’t grow on trees.
In: Eliot Donald
No pressure here. Donald is the nephew of former Pitt legend and surefire NFL Hall of Famer Aaron Donald. Donald the Younger is yet to make a big impact on the Panthers, but he was the top pick in the 2021 draft class and had offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Path: Bryan Bresee, DT
Bresee’s career has been a bit mixed. Coming in as the No. 1 overall draft in 2020, he showed at times just how great he could be, so much so that he is expected to be an early first-round pick. But injuries limited him to 28 games in three years and his 51 career tackles and nine sacks fell far short of expectations.
In: De Monte Capehart
Veterans Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhoorhoro return to add some stability to the inside of the defensive line. But Capehart – as well as Payton Page and Tre Williams – will also be pushing for game time. Capehart was a highly sought-after recruit in the class of 2020 and now that Bresee has moved on he may have an opportunity to shine. Also keep an eye on Peter Woods, the highest ranking player in the incoming freshman class.
Path: Myles Murphy, DE
Murphy, another five-star recruit from the 2020 class, had 18.5 sacks and 36 tackles for a loss during his career. He’s had double-digit tackles to a loss in each of his three seasons, and like Bresee, he’s expected to lead the first round.
In: Cade Denhoff
Xavier Thomas and Justin Mascoll are very experienced ends who are expected to get the lion’s share of playing time in 2023, but Denhoff is a wildcard who could be a more dynamic fringe presence. Denhoff, who now weighs 255 pounds, had offers coming out of high school from Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State two years ago.
Path: Trenton Simpson, LB
Simpson’s responsibilities as a linebacker changed in 2022 and his production declined somewhat. Despite this, he compiled 72 tackles and was a third-team All-ACC selection. Simpson still has a touch in the first round, meaning Clemson could lose three picks from Day 1 from his defensive front seven.
In: Wade Woodaz
Despite being an unheralded recruit in the Class of 2022, Woodaz saw action as a true freshman in every game and had 20 tackles, 5.5 of which resulted in a mileage loss. Woodaz is a versatile player who excelled in coverage for a second-tier player.
Path: Sean Tucker, RB
The Syracuse running back tradition is as good as any school in America. The fact that Tucker is third in Orange history in mileage is a clear indicator of how valuable he has been to the program. His total yards and yards-per-carry declined a bit in 2022, but he still reached the end zone 13 times and was named second-team All-ACC.
In: LeQuint Allen
The true freshman hasn’t seen much action in the regular season, but his 90-yard streak against FCS Wagner was the longest by an Orange player in 73 years. When Tucker was drafted for the NFL draft, Allen became the top back in the Pinstripe Bowl and he responded with 94 yards on 15 carries.
Path: Garrett Williams, CB
An ACL tear ended Williams’ season early, but he still finished with 36 tackles and two interceptions in just seven games. He’s a good size and never shy, making him a possible Day 2 draft pick.
In: Jaeden Gould/Jayden Bellamy
It’s unclear where Gould and Bellamy fit into secondary school, but in a perfect world, at least one of them will start at the corner. Teammates from Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey, each have four years left after moving to Syracuse: Gould from Nebraska and Bellamy from Notre Dame.
Path: Dontayvion Wicks, WR
Virginia went from No. 3 in the country in total offense in 2021 to No. 103 in 2022, and Wicks’ numbers fell from 1,203 yards to 430, along with the rest of the team. But Wicks was always present on the field and he will to be a huge loss for an offense from Virginia, which is a sophomore rebounding under head coach Tony Elliott and will have a new starting quarterback following the transfer of Brennan Armstrong (to NC State).
In: Dakota Twitty
Along with Wicks, Billy Kemp and Keytaon Thompson are done, leaving the wide receiver room full of inexperienced players. Twitty Redshirted last fall, but he was the top-ranked recruit in UVA’s 2022 recruit class and is an impressive (6-5, 215) target from the outside.
Path: Tiyon Evans, RB
Evans played a year in Tennessee, moved to Louisville, and played a year with the Cardinals before turning pro. Injuries hampered his performance in both Tennessee and Louisville, but he averaged 6.3 yards per carry and had six touchdowns in 2022.
In: Maurice Turner, rising sophomore
Jawhar Jordan is undoubtedly the lead back, but Turner will be a key figure as a reserve. Not only did he run 314 yards, the former receiver also caught 12 passes. With new head coach Jeff Brohm looking to redesign the offense, Turner’s reception skills should be put to good use next season.
– Written by Jon Kinne who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for the past three years focusing on the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.