As part of our 2012 season preview, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC for this season, from 25 to one. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective, so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
The 2011 season was a big one for first-time starters in the ACC. And while Noel may not have been the loudest arrival in the conference, he made his presence felt nonetheless. As a freshman last year, the cornerback managed to pay huge dividends against the pass, defending a total of 21 passes (tied for most in the nation). This, even with now-departed counterpart Josh Bush also roaming the secondary along with him.
Not to be slated as a high-risk, deflections-only corner, Noel also racked up 66 total tackles, recording at least five stops in all but one of his final seven contests. Still, his smarts reacting to the ball in the air were among the best in the nation last season, even though he only recorded two picks. If there’s one glaring error in his game after his first year, many would point to that factor. He’s obviously a difference-maker in coverage, but that difference must be turned into possession and points. Obviously, that’s what currently separates Noel from the likes of NC State‘s David Amerson most of all… holding on to the football.
As the most feared Wake defender in coverage now, with Bush gone, Noel will find offenses avoiding him more in 2012. In order for him to remain effective, he’ll be tested to stretch zone coverage where possible, as well as serve as a decoy on blitz schemes. As stated earlier, Noel was able to fly under the radar somewhat last season. But trust me, every ACC coach has watched every pass thrown his way. They know it’s just a matter of time before those tips are turning into interceptions, and they don’t want to be the first team to find out the hard way. If Noel can start converting these opportunities more often, he could be one of the country’s most frightening pass defenders.