ESPN ranks us 2nd in LBers heading into next year.


Oct 10, 2015
Thought we might be "1 for this group

ACC position rankings: Linebacker
Feb 14, 2017

All this week, we’re taking a fresh look, position by position, at how the ACC teams stack up -- from the best of the conference to the units that might surprise to the groups that will prove to be an Achilles’ heel for some teams’ 2017’s title hopes.

Next up: Linebackers

This is an interesting mix, from some veteran groups with talent but perhaps a lower ceiling, including the unit at Florida State, to some young but unproven groups, such as Clemson’s cadre of talent or Miami’s rising sophomores.

Tremaine Edmunds' combination of size and speed helps give Virginia Tech the top group of linebackers in the ACC. Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports
Best overall: Virginia Tech Hokies

Last year’s starting duo of Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds combined for 220 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and four interceptions, and both emerging stars are back for 2017. Edmunds’ combination of size and speed makes him a unique talent that Bud Foster did a terrific job of utilizing in 2016, and Motuapuaka has as good a natural feel for attacking the ball as any linebacker in the ACC. Add in a strong season from Mook Reynolds at the nickel (or whip) position, and its hard to argue the Hokies are as well stocked with top talent in the middle of the defense as anyone.

Runner-up: Miami Hurricanes

When 2016 began, it looked like Miami’s defense might completely unravel because of the linebackers. The idea of starting three freshmen seemed crazy. But that’s exactly what happened, and Shaq Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud proved to be a force on a defense that was among the ACC’s best. With that trio having a year of experience under their belts, its easy to see Quarterman & Co. taking another step forward in Manny Diaz’s system, and the Hurricanes appear poised to have a defense that should help them contend for a division title.

Under-the-radar group: Syracuse Orange

It’s hard to look at Syracuse’s defensive numbers last year and assume the Orange were very good on that side of the ball. They weren’t. They were young and inexperienced, and the up-tempo style of Dino Babers’ offense put immense pressure on the D to step up. But amid the growing pains were a pair of linebackers as consistent as any in the ACC: Zaire Franklin and Paris Bennett. Each topped 100 tackles, while Franklin recorded 10 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. They’re the steadying force for the Orange, and the foundation for what should be an improved unit overall in 2017.

Achilles’ heel: Pitt Panthers

The Panthers’ defense already was a bit of a mess last year, so some fans might argue the turnover at linebacker -- where longtime starters Matt Galambos and Mike Caprara both depart -- might be a blessing in disguise. Pitt likes what it has in youngsters Chase Pine and Kaezon Pugh, but while there likely is more athleticism waiting in the wings, there’s a lot of work to do to get them ready for the big stage.

Our top five: 1. Virginia Tech, 2. Miami, 3. Florida State, 4. Clemson, 5. Duke