We’re now less than two months away from the start of the 2013 college football season, and that means preview countdowns! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.
Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.
The state of Georgia Tech’s defense last season was… not good. But just because the group was poor overall (allowed over 28 points per game), it doesn’t take away from the individual performances of a few choice individuals. One of those in particular is Quayshawn Nealy, the team’s fourth-leading tackler from last season and the key to a strong linebacker group this season. With 79 tackles last season, the cerebral junior has improved each season on campus and now appears ready to take a leadership role with the team as its main weakside threat.
Last year, when Nealy was an active part of the defense, Tech automatically saw results. In the 56-20 victory over Virginia, he had 10 tackles and an interception. Against Maryland, 12 tackles in a 33-13. In the barnburner over North Carolina, he registered a career-high two sacks. And in the big bowl victory over USC, he snagged another interception. His size (6’1″ and 232 pounds) allows him to remain agile and part of every play in the middle part of the field, while also serving to deceive opposing blockers who may see him as an easy match-up. On the contrary, Nealy’s upper body strength allows him to both get into passing lanes (see last year’s two INTs) and also work around linemen to get after opposing passers. Following this season’s transition to a 4-3 scheme (from Al Groh’s 3-4), he may get more of an opportunity to play more pass defense in the open field as well.
If there’s anything Nealy could work on, it’s his speed. He runs a 4.64 40-yard dash, which makes for good-not-great speed on the edge — and again, may actually be assisted by the transition to the 4-3 scheme, since it allows him extra support from the defensive end. Still, considering his average frame, that speed is what’s going to differentiate him and allow him to make the leap as the star of this defense over the next two years. He’s a smart player, and picks up information like a sponge. Now he just needs to make sure that thought process gets translated to consistent play each and every week. If he does that, both he and the Tech linebackers could be considered among the conference’s best this fall.