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TNIAAM’s All-ACC football picks for 2021

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Who’s stacking the roster with Syracuse players out of principle, and who’s a #disloyalidiot?

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Texas A&M vs North Carolina Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

As you know, zero Syracuse Orange football players wound up on the All-ACC team from media days this summer. And while that’s completely fair given SU’s poor record last year, also consider the fact that none of us were down in Charlotte for the event, so none of us got a vote (unlike last year, when COVID meant that at least John got one because the whole thing was virtual).

So while it’s unlikely we see much in the way of Orange buzz below (#disloyalidiots and all, y’know), these picks may at least be a little more relevant to you — in part because they’re made by people whose opinions you read regularly, but also express doubt about frequently. In any case, here is TNIAAM’s All-ACC squad in advance of the season kicking off.

Offense

Quarterback

  • Sam Howell, North Carolina (5 votes)

Was there another real option here? Howell’s accounted for 76 touchdowns in his first two years at UNC, and is the reason why the Heels have been relevant since the second Mack Brown returned to Chapel Hill.

Also receiving votes: N/A

Running backs

  • Zonovan Knight, NC State (5)
  • Mataeo Durant, Duke (2)

Knight doesn’t have the most rushing yards of any returning player, but may have the best offensive line and possesses a nose for the end zone (10 rushing TDs last year). Durant is probably the lone standout in a Duke offense that could struggle this year. He averaged over 6.8 yards per carry to go with eight scores.

Also receiving votes: Christian Beal-Smith (Wake), Jahmyr Gibbs (GT), Sean Tucker (SU)

Wide receivers

  • Zay Flowers, Boston College (5)
  • Justyn Ross, Clemson (5)
  • Jaquarii Roberson, Wake Forest (5)

Roberson was one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers last year, and was the lone receiver to average over 100 yards per game through the air. He’s crucial to Wake’s offense, and they have the system in place to get him plenty involved.

Getting Ross cleared to play is a big deal for Clemson given how the backfield’s been overhauled, and having an experienced wideout will be extremely helpful. Flowers had the most receiving TDs in the league last season (nine), along with almost 900 yards.

Also receiving votes: N/A

Tight end

Mitchell was one of just two ACC tight ends to average over 43 receiving yards per game, and with question marks around the Hokies’ passing game, having a safety valve like him should definitely come in handy.

Also receiving votes: Braden Galloway (Clemson)

Offensive tackle

  • Ikem Ekwonu, NC State (5)
  • Jordan McFadden, Clemson (5)

There’s a lot to like about an experienced State line this year, and Ekwonu’s size and experience are among the biggest positives. He had 50 pancake blocks last year, and is an absolute force who should open some lanes for Knight and the run game.

McFadden’s a crucial returning piece of the Clemson line, and one with a ton of snaps under his belt already (nearly 1,100 while with the Tigers). Even without Travis Etienne or Trevor Lawrence in the backfield, McFadden helps the Clemson offense stay on track.

Also receiving votes: N/A

Offensive guards

  • Zion Johnson, Boston College (4)
  • Joshua Ezeudu, North Carolina (3)

Ezeudu has a ton of experience, starting for most of the last two seasons. And in 2019, he only allowed one sack all year (hey, that sounds fun!). Johnson had plenty of all-conference buzz going into last year. And even thought the BC line wasn’t exactly what it was expected to be last fall, he’s still a veteran presence that should lead to even more improvement for the Eagles’ offense.

Also receiving votes: Marcus McKethan (UNC), Lecitus Smith (VT)

Center

  • Alec Lindstrom, Boston College (5)

Another Boston College lineman who’s well-accustomed to buzz, Lindstrom has started the last 24 games at center and his play is essential for the run game to get back on track. He was first-team All-ACC last year, and is on track to be once again in 2021.

Also receiving votes: N/A

NCAA Football: Virginia at Clemson Greenville News-USA TODAY NETWORK

Defense

Defensive ends

  • Myles Murphy, Clemson (5)
  • Amare’ Barno, Virginia Tech (3)

Murphy logged 11.5 tackles for loss as a freshman last year, and benefits from the fact that you can’t really double him. Clemson obviously has a lot of blue-chip players to plug in right next to him — including one noted in the next section. He’s a force. Barno was the conference leader in TFLs last year, with 16. Keep that in mind if SU’s line is getting lit up against the Hokies this year.

Also receiving votes: Marcus Valdez (BC)

Defensive tackles

  • Bryan Bresee, Clemson (5)
  • Raymond Vohasek, North Carolina (2)

Like we mention above, you can’t focus on just one player, and Bresee benefits there too, while remaining one of Power Five’s most disruptive defensive tackles. He’s on run-stopping duty, sure. But also gets after the QB from the middle of the line (four sacks last year). Vohasek has a kack for getting into passing lanes (two pass break-ups last year), and gets himself into the backfield with frequency.

Also receiving votes: Tyler Davis (Clemson), Calijah Kancey (Pitt)

Linebackers

  • Payton Wilson, NC State (4)
  • Isaiah Moore, NC State (4)
  • James Skalski, Clemson (3)

Wilson was excellent in the middle of the NC State defense last year, racking up over 100 tackles, while logging 11.5 TFLs. He’s just sort of player who appears to be everywhere at once. He’ll team with Moore (11 TFLs) to give opposing rushing attacks fits, and was a big part of why State shut SU’s ground game down last year.

Skalski won’t put up gawdy tackle numbers, but is a versatile linebacker who can show up on all parts of the field and break up passing or run plays.

Also receiving votes: SirVocea Dennis (Pitt), Baylon Spector (Clemson), Nick Jackson (UVA), Cam Bright (Pitt)

Cornerbacks

  • Andrew Booth, Clemson (5)
  • Garrett Williams, Syracuse (3)

A lot of top corners left the league in the offseason, but Booth steps up into what’s becoming a rotating spot for Clemson’s defense in recent years as the conference’s best at the position. He defended four passes, picked off two and scored a TD last year while excelling in coverage.

Williams could be a homer pick by this group, but he was excellent in coverage in his first on-field action last season, and failed to give up a touchdown until the final game. He’s bound to improve at least a little. And with what should be a more experienced and capable secondary around him, that could provide more opportunities for big plays on his end.

Also receiving votes: Kei’Trel Clark (UL), Tony Grimes (UNC)

Safeties

  • Nolan Turner, Clemson (5)
  • Budda Bolden, Miami (4)

Turner was the Tigers’ second-leading tackler last year with 54 (it’s amazing how many players Clemson gets on the field each year), intercepted three passes and managed 6.5 TFLs as well. He’s another guy that’s just everywhere on the field. Bolden led the ACC with four forced fumbles, while tacking on 74 tackles and 6.5 TFLs.

Also receiving votes: Nick Andersen (Wake)

Special Teams

Kicker

  • Andre Szymt, Syracuse (3)

Also receiving votes: Nick Sciba (Wake)

Punter

  • Kirk Christodoulou, Pitt (3)

Also receiving votes: Lou Hedley (Miami)

Kick/Punt Returns

  • Zonovan Knight, NC State (4)

Also receiving votes: Jahmyr Gibbs (GT)

A quick rundown here to wrap things up. As you know, Szmyt’s on the cusp of being the best kicker in SU history by the numbers — if he wasn’t already just on the eye-test. Meanwhile, Christodoulou could be the league’s top returning punter with a 44.7-yard average last year.

Knight averaged nearly 27 yards per kick return last year and took one back for a TD. He’s going to be effective yet again — or at least get teams to actively avoid him, which is its own benefit.

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What do you think? Not enough Orange? Share your own ideas on the team below.