The ACC has produced plenty of great talent recently with 51 players drafted last season, including nine from Notre Dame. This year we return back to some form of normalcy and with another loaded class of defenders returning. A ten-player list was composed of some of the best talents in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The group of top defensive players in the ACC featured is based on film, production, and impact on their individual teams. The list will also exclude any transfers that did not play in the ACC last season. The list will also be grouped by position groups instead of numerical order.
Top Defensive Players In The ACC
Virginia Tech defensive end Amare Barno returns this season as one of the best pass rushers in the ACC. After playing in only three games in 2019 and taking a redshirt, the former junior college standout stood out as a full-time defensive end. He led all-power five players in tackles for loss last season despite only starting in the last six games for the Hokies. After leading the team in sacks and ranking eighth within the ACC, Barno could potentially have a double-digit sack total.
Clemson freshman defensive end Myles Murphy more than held his own against an entire season of ACC opponents. The true freshman led the Clemson defensive line in tackles, sacks, and tackles for loss while also becoming the first Clemson freshman to force three forced fumbles since 1988. In the ACC championship, Murphy made his presence felt by recording two sacks. Murphy was named the Associated Press’ ACC C0-Newcomer of the year. This season Clemson will return all but one starter from their defense last year’s defense, with another jump expecting to come from the young defensive lineman.
It’s debatable who is the most talented defensive tackle within the ACC but Tyler Davis may be the most important. While the Clemson Tigers are extremely deep on the defensive line, the defense was at its best with Davis. Last season the sophomore missed time at different points within the year but still contributed two sacks. While the sack total seems average, as a true freshman Davis recorded six and a half sacks helping Clemson return to the national championship. Reports out from this Spring are that Davis is healthy and has also taken on a bigger leadership role. This season look for the junior to return back to freshman form and dominate.
While many will expect another name here, one of the most disruptive players in the ACC is Miles Fox. The senior led all interior defensive linemen in the ACC in tackles for loss last season. He also finished second on the team in sacks only behind the recent Buffalo Bills draftee, Carlos Basham. This will be his sixth collegiate season and that experience should translate into an even more impressive season for Fox.
The ACC has a strong group of linebackers returning next season including the conference leader in Peyton Wilson. The six-foot-four middle linebacker is the main piece in NC State’s 3-3-5 defense and proved why. He became the first Wolfpack player to lead the ACC in tackles for the first time since 2000 and was named first-team All-ACC. His sideline to sideline quickness makes him the best inside linebacker in the ACC. Along with leading the ACC, his 108 tackles last season ranked top five in the nation.
The second-leading tackler in the ACC was Virginia’s Nick Jackson with 10.5 tackles per game finishing in the top ten nationally. In seven of the ten games, last season Jackson accounted for ten or more tackles for the Cavaliers. His stout presence in the middle of Virginia’s defense makes him one of the more valuable linebackers in the ACC. As impressive as his stats were, more should be expected in his second full season as a starter.
Sirvocea Dennis is perhaps the most underrated defender in the ACC, regardless of position. On a Pittsburgh defense that had five players drafted in this year’s NFL Draft, Dennis was the leader in tackles for loss. His 14 tackles for loss last season ranked ninth nationally and this was as a backup linebacker. In one of his two starts this year, Dennis recorded 11 tackles with four and a half of them being for a loss and 1.5 sacks. That performance would net Dennis the ACC Linebacker of the Week award.
The top returning cornerback in the ACC is Andrew Booth for the Clemson Tigers, a super athletic talent that garnered 2nd team All-ACC honors. The name may sound familiar after he made SportsCenter with a one-hand interception against Virginia. Clemson will depend on Booth to take away their opponent’s best wideout and with another solid season, it’s possible he’ll be a first-round pick.
Hybrid safety Jahmin Muse of Boston College will be a household name by the end of this season. He led the Eagles in interceptions with three in his first year starting along with fortifying a very solid pass defense. With this being the second season under head coach Jeff Hafley and his fifth collegiate season, he’ll be looking to double his production in the secondary.
The only Thorpe award semifinalist to be represented from the ACC last season was Miami safety, Bubba Bolden. After breaking his leg in 2019, he returned back to form in 2020. And he led the Hurricanes in tackles and blocked field goals. Bolden was named ACC Defensive Back of the week twice. His hitting ability is a huge reason why with four forced fumbles which ranked third nationally. With another solid season, Bolden could potentially be a 1st round draft pick.