Less than two 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.
North Carolina had just 28 sacks last year. No it’s not the worst figure (ranked 44th in the country), but given the amount of talent on last year’s defensive line, it’s at least mildly disappointing. If this team is going to make a run in 2013, it must improve defensively — specifically when it comes to the pass rush, where they’ll have to make up for some of the secondary’s issues. That’s where Kareem Martin comes in. Now the line’s standout performer, he’ll need to find a way to improve upon last year’s excellent effort, without another talent like Sylvester Williams to take some of the pressure off him.
Martin is as experienced a linemen as they come, with 28 career starts in three seasons. His 6’5″ and 265-pound frame make for a looming figure and tough blocking assignment, plus that length becomes a major asset once he’s behind the line of scrimmage. Last year, Martin managed 15.5 tackles for loss (just four of which were sacks), while regularly terrorizing opposing ball-carriers. But as he told NFL.com back in June, he knows that more of those stops need to be sacks this season. In the same article, he points to game tape to highlight nine sacks he left on the field, and appears determined to hit the number 10 this year. If the other figures hold, that’s 21.5 tackles for loss on the year, plus he’s going to get at least one more game in 2012, now that the bowl ban’s been lifted. Statistics-wise, that’s simply staggering.
Running about a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, it’s easy to see how he ends up in the backfield so much, but I’m curious to see what he’s doing to finish off plays (as opposed to falling short last year). He readily points out he needs to be quicker to react once the ball’s snapped, but can he manage to do so? The 4-2-5 defense creates an interesting dynamic, and it’s one that should benefit Martin greatly this year (similar to how it did in 2012). With the “bandit” linebacker/end functioning as a speed rusher on blitz schemes, attention is regularly drawn to the other side of the field to cover the man with more momentum. Martin can use this to his advantage and take advantage of single-coverage, but he needs to do a better job of getting past solid blocks. Many are projecting a breakout year for the senior — and I agree — but if he adds any creative evasive maneuvers to his repertoire, we could be in for one hell of a ride this fall.