Less than three weeks until college football kicks off! 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.
I’ll start by saying I’m entirely aware that Antone Exum will miss the Alabama game at the very least, if not a few more in September as well. I even discussed as much when talking about fellow Tech CB Kyle Fuller yesterday. But just because he’s missing a few games, it doesn’t mean he’s losing all of his value to the Hokies. On the contrary, without him in the lineup, we may see just how desperately that passing defense really needs him in the lineup. With Fuller more focused on stalling receivers at the line, Exum is the only experienced cover corner they’ve got. That should be readily apparent once he’s back in the lineup.
Exum’s 2012 season was everything the Hokies needed from him and more. For a defensive unit undergoing adjustments, an elite coverage man was a necessity, and it was a role Exum gladly filled. His five interceptions made up over one-third of the team total (13) and his 21 passes defended led the ACC. Using his significant size (6’1″ and 224 pounds) and speed, he was disruptive in the passing game, giving receiver after receiver fits as the ball headed their way. And he was a difference-maker to close out games as well. Exum’s picks effectively locked up three of Tech’s seven victories last year — no small feat, and not something many other defenders can lay claim to. He and Fuller played well off each other, and will look to again during the 2013 campaign.
There are question marks, though. Exum tore his ACL and was originally trying to make the field for kickoff weekend. That ship has sailed, but it was an aggressive recovery timetable. Can he come back at full strength, however — or at least, can he come back at full strength right away? Plus, without the ability to work out for most of the offseason, will we see any improvement from him? He’s got some ways to go in terms of tackling (suffers from the common cornerback malady of failing to truly wrap up ball carriers), and it’s now unlikely we’ll see progress on that front. It hasn’t killed him in the past, but he’s also been running on a healthy ACL in the past, too. I’m buying into Exum returning to form, but how he responds to those initial passes coming his way will be a storyline to watch for Virginia Tech.