The SEC has always had a reputation for dominant defensive fronts, with names like Jadeveon Clowney, Jonathan Allen and Myles Garrett coming immediately to mind from recent years.
ESPN writer Andrea Adelson dived into this subject last week — and I really like some of the stuff she brought to light.
"It's hard to argue that any other conference has better defensive linemen and better defensive line depth than the ACC," Adleson said. "Just recently, Phil Steele's defensive line rankings had ACC teams filling four of the top five spots"
Adleson went on to point out that there are currently seven ACC defensive ends or tackles in Mel Kiper Jr.'s way-too-early draft rankings by position, more than any other conference.
Let's dive into this by focusing on the top teams.
There's a fair argument to peg Clemson as the No. 1 front seven in the country heading into the new campaign. The inside duo of Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence combined for 10 sacks last season, while excelling against the run and wreaking havoc along the defensive line. Clelin Ferrell is a star in the making who began to pick up steam late last season, closing out the year with five sacks. Austin Bryant is the fourth to close out the Tigers' front seven — and is the only player of that group who didn't pick up a preseason All-ACC vote.
Anyone who follows the ACC closely is well-aware of the defensive talent at N.C. State — led by Bradley Chubb — one of the top NFL prospects heading into next year's draft. Chubb wrapped up the 2016 campaign with 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles — and is accompanied by underrated names like B.J. Hill and Justin Jones. Darian Roseboro was used in a reserve situation last year but still had seven sacks, while Kentavius Street is freakishly strong with a ton of promise.
"They've got four defensive linemen that are all going to get their names called in next year's draft," South Carolina head coach WIll Muschamp told the Charlotte Observer. "I can assure you of that. It's as good of a front four that we will see all season."
Florida State could very well make a push toward the College Football Playoff, and while they have some nice offensive weapons, their biggest strengths come on defense. FSU returns three top-tier defensive linemen from a season ago, highlighted by Josh Sweat and Derrick Nnadi.
Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post recently wrote a piece titled "UM defensive line could be one of nation's best," and he raised some interesting points. Like the other squads I've touched on, the Hurricanes have plenty of weapons along their front seven. Just look at this stat. Porter noted Miami registered five-year highs in several major defensive categories in 2016 including tackles for loss per game (No. 5 nationally), yards per play (No. 9 nationally), rush yards per play (No. 17 nationally), and sacks per game (No. 22 nationally). Chad Thomas, Joe Jackson, R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton are all likely NFL Draft picks. This is just another example of the ACC's depth on when it comes to defensive lines.
The rest of the pack
Even teams at the bottom of the conference like Boston College and Wake Forest have at least one elite defensive linemen that makes everyone else around them better. At BC, look no further than Harold Landry — clearly one of the best defensive forces in the entire country who just so happens to play for a bad team. Landry's production was ridiculous. He had 16.5 sacks and and forced another seven fumbles. Wow.
Let's not forget about Louisville, either. The Cardinals are best known for their offense and Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, but Louisville finished No. 3 in the ACC in total defense last season largely because of their weapons on the defensive front.
Wake Forest has Duke Ejiofor — who had 11 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2016.
Keep an eye out on this storyline. It should set things up for a fun ride.