BBD Staff Writer: Joseph Curtis
The Atlantic Coast Conference has consistently been one of the top conferences in producing NFL talent throughout the last decade.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins are receiving much of the focus heading into the 2013 college football season, but plenty of talent with 2014 NFL draft potential exists throughout the ACC.
31 players from the ACC were selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, second only to the Southeastern Conference. The additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse this season add even more talent to the conference.
Let’s take a look at some lesser-hyped prospects in the ACC who should be names to watch leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft.
Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
It can be easy to overlook Michael Campanaro. Listed at a generous 5’11” and 190 pounds, Campanaro may not look like a top receiver, but he has been one of the most productive receivers in the ACC over the past two seasons.
He has caught 152 passes over the last two seasons, including an ACC-best 7.9 receptions per game last season.
Campanaro’s versatility is his greatest asset. He is used all over the field, but his best work comes from the slot, from where he finds holes in the middle of the field and creates mismatches against linebackers.
He uses his quickness and deceptive speed to create space. He has run a 4.41 40-yard dash time, according to Wake Forest’s athletics website.
Campanaro has a knack for finding holes in the defense, but he needs to refine his route running a bit more. He is also a natural pass catcher with some of the best hands of the 2013 draft class.
After the catch, Campanaro can make poor tackling teams pay. He came to Wake Forest as a running back, which his shifty running style shows. He can even come in motion and take handoffs on sweeps. He has 47 carries for 228 yards and two touchdowns in his college career.
With the exception of his route running, there are few weaknesses in Campanaro’s game. He does need to find the end zone more often and perhaps bulk up a bit, but for the most part, he’s a solid receiver who can contribute in the NFL right away.
With another solid season, Campanaro could possibly be a Day 2 draft selection.
Aaron Donald, DL, Pittsburgh
With 16.5 sacks over the last two season, Aaron Donald has shown he is a fierce interior penetrator, but questions about his size keep him from being an elite prospect.
Listed at 6′ and 275 pounds, what position Donald will play and where he fits defensive schemes are huge question marks.
Despite his lack of size, he was able to use his quickness, strength and length to shed blockers and get into backfields. He led the Big East last season with 18.5 tackles for loss.
A smart player with a great motor, scouts and coaches will have a difficult time trying not to like Donald. As previously mentioned, size is the big question mark that will force him down draft boards.
Donald filed paperwork with the NFL Draft Advisory Committee last season, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, but returned for his senior season.
As long as he doesn’t regress, Donald is a mid-round pick who should fit in a defense as an interior pass rushing specialist. He has the skill set and production to be a steal in the draft.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Aaron Donald, ACC, Antone Exum, Asa Watson, Bryn Renner, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, James Hurst, Kenny Anunike, Louis Young, Michael Campanaro, Nick O'Leary, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Prospects to Watch, Sleepers, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest