2014 NFL Draft: Atlantic Coast Conference Sleepers to Watch

North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner could rise up boards with a strong senior season. (Photo: USA Today Sports Images)

James Hurst, OT, North Carolina

While three North Carolina offensive lineman were selected in the 2013 draft, including No. 7 overall pick Jonathan Cooper, the best lineman may still be in Chapel Hill.

James Hurst has been the starting left tackle for the Tar Heels since his freshman season, starting 36 games over the past three seasons.

Hurst has good size and length, listed at 6’7” and 305 pounds, but could add a bit of weight to his frame. He plays with good strength and it shows when he drive blocks and matches up against bull rushers.

He uses his natural athleticism well to match up one-on-one with rushers out on the edge. He ran a 5.18-second 40-yard dash in high school, according to Scout.com.

While his size and athleticism is impressive, scouts will love his toughness. Hurst is one of the meanest linemen in the country.

Hurst’s most glaring weakness is his inconsistent footwork and technique. His pass-blocking technique needs the most refinement, which may make him a better right tackle prospect coming out of college.

If Hurst can refine his technique, he could be a first-round draft selection. His first test of 2013 will be difficult though, when he matches up against top draft prospect Jadeveon Clowney on Aug. 29.

Nick O’Leary, TE, Florida State (Jr.)

Nick O’Leary is probably most famous for being the grandson of golf legend Jack Nicklaus, but this season O’Leary has a chance to make a name for himself.

O’Leary was one of the top tight end recruits in the nation in 2011, but has yet to live up to those expectations.

He followed up a decent freshman campaign with a disappointing sophomore season, catching just 21 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns last season. Still, he has a chance to live up to his potential.

O’Leary is a bit small for a tight end, listed at 6’3” and 238 pounds, but he makes up for what he lacks in size with his athleticism. He can use his athleticism to create matchup problems, as he has lined up outside, inside and even in the backfield.

He has good hands and when he seizes the moment, he looks like a matchup nightmare. Still, he needs to produce. He has a tendency to disappear for long stretches of games. He has also made costly mistakes, such as his fumble in the 2013 Orange Bowl versus Northern Illinois.

O’Leary is still only a junior this season, but this may be his last chance to shine since the Seminoles also have former Penn State tight end Kevin Haplea on the roster. It’s that motivation which may finally push him to become a top tight end.

O’Leary is like a late-round prospect or undrafted free agent at this point, but if he can play up to his potential, he could elevate himself to a mid-round selection.

Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina

Bryn Renner finished the 2012 season, his first season in a new offensive system under first-year UNC head coach Larry Fedora, with four straight 300-yard passing games during which he had an 11:2 touchdown-interception ratio.

Renner proved during this stretch of the 2012 season that he could be a legitimate NFL quarterback prospect.

He has good size, listed at 6’3” and 225 pounds, with a good build and the toughness to stand up to hits in the pocket. He is a pocket-passing quarterback who moves well in the pocket and reads defenses well. He goes through his progressions well and takes what the defense gives him.

While he lacks an elite arm and will get into trouble when forcing throws, he showcases very good accuracy and ball placement. His arm strength is just good enough to make it at the NFL level.

What is most intriguing about Renner is his football intelligence. The son of a football coach, he understands the game and how to match up against schemes well.

Like his teammate James Hurst, watch for how he performs in UNC’s opening game against a tough South Carolina defense. If he can showcase his timing and intelligence against the Gamecocks, it’ll get his senior campaign off to a good start.

Renner is a likely mid- to late-round selection going into his senior season. If he can improve in his second season under Fedora, he could end up going as early as Round 2.

Others to Watch:

Kenny Anunike, DE, Duke

When he’s healthy and on the field, Anunike has been one of the most solid defensive ends in the ACC. His four surgeries on his left knee is a big concern.

Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State (Jr.)

Erving was solid at left tackle for Florida State last season, despite it being only his first season on the offensive side. Should he continue to progress and declare after his junior season, he could end up being a first-round draft selection.

Antone Exum, DB, Virginia Tech

Exum is a big, physical cornerback with experience at safety as well. When he will see the field in 2013 is still in question, however, after he tore his ACL during a pickup basketball game in January.

Asa Watson, TE, North Carolina State

An intriguing athlete at tight end, Watson’s size (6’3” and 237 pounds) may limit his chances in the NFL, but he could be a solid H-back or player in a similar role at the next level. His brother, Ben, plays tight end for the New Orleans Saints.

Louis Young, CB, Georgia Tech

A junior season filled with injuries, inconsistencies and off-field issues erased memories of Young’s solid sophomore season. Still, he has good size and athleticism that will intrigue scouts.

Other Sleeper Articles:

Big Ten Conference

Big 12 Conference

Pac-12 Conference

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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

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