NFL Draft 2013: Jonathan Cooper, EJ Manuel, Bjoern Werner Among 34 ACC Players Selected

EJ Manuel Was One of 34 ACC Players Selected During Last Week's NFL Draft

Former FSU QB EJ Manuel Was One of 34 ACC Players Selected During Last Week’s NFL Draft

The 2013 NFL Draft is officially in the books after 254 selections from the NFL’s 32 franchises. In total, the ACC saw 31 players chosen in this year’s draft — 34, if you include the three draftees from Syracuse (and for argument’s sake, we will here). That number — regardless of which you decide to use — puts the conference behind just behind the more highly-regarded SEC in terms of NFL-bound talent this season. While not the only thing that counts by any means, moving players on to the NFL resonates with potential recruits, and does help all 14 (15) schools in one way or another.

We’ve included various breakdowns below — from school-by-school, to conference comparisons, an NFL team-by-team list, as well as the full list of ACC players chosen between Thursday and Saturday. Also, stop by later on, to see our compilation of the most confusing non-selections from the ACC, and where those players also ended up.

First 10 ACC Players Selected

No. 7 overall (Round 1): Jonathan Cooper, OG/North Carolina, selected by the Arizona Cardinals

No. 16 overall (Round 1): EJ Manuel, QB/Florida State, selected by the Buffalo Bills

No. 19 overall (Round 1): Justin Pugh, OT/Syracuse, selected by the New York Giants

No. 24 overall (Round 1): Bjoern Werner, DE/Florida State, selected by the Indianapolis Colts

No. 25 overall (Round 1): Xavier Rhodes, CB/Florida State, selected by the Minnesota Vikings

No. 27 overall (Round 1): DeAndre Hopkins, WR/Clemson, selected by the Houston Texans

No. 28 overall (Round 1): Sylvester Williams, DT/North Carolina, selected by the Denver Broncos

No. 37 overall (Round 2): Giovani Bernard, RB/North Carolina, selected by the Cincinnati Bengals

No. 40 overall (Round 2): Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, DE/Florida State, selected by the San Francisco 49ers

No. 42 overall (Round 2): Menelik Watson, OT/Florida State, selected by the Oakland Raiders

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NFL Draft 2013 Preview: North Carolina Prospects

Jonathan Cooper is One of Several Former Tar Heels Climbing Draft Boards

Jonathan Cooper is One of Several Former Tar Heels Climbing Draft Boards Right Now

Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 50 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 25 through 27.

North Carolina‘s recent resurgence obviously means they have quality players, so it should come as no surprise the Heels are able to churn out yet another collection of pro-level talent this year. This could change as coach Larry Fedora starts to bring in players more suited for his aggressive spread offense and non-traditional defensive schemes. But for the time being, UNC is improving both on the field and in NFL Draft war rooms across the league.

Jonathan Cooper, OG, Senior (Projected: Early First Round)

Cooper was the anchor of the Carolina offensive line last year, and one of the primary reasons for Giovani Bernard’s breakout season in the backfield (see more below), so it’s no wonder he’s now receiving early first round hype. The 6’2″ and 311-pound guard is an impressive athlete, with quick feet, an equally impressive 40-time (5.06 seconds) for his position and the type of durability (47 career starts) that scouts dream of. Yes, in an ideal world he could be a bit taller or put on a few extra pounds, but the latter can be fixed at the gym and the former is evened out by the advantage provided by his low center of gravity. Over the course of his career, Cooper’s proven he can open holes for running backs, and at the end of the day, that’s what he’ll be judged on. Lots of teams need offensive line help in the early parts of the draft too, which should give him ample opportunities to be chosen within the first 10 or 12 picks.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Sophomore (Projected: Second Round)

Teams that pass on Bernard could be very sorry later on; something he’ll make sure to deliver on. The quick back may lack that breakaway speed you’re looking for out of a featured rusher, but his ability to see the field and hit the hole quickly instead are equally important attributes. At 5’9″ and 205 pounds, there is some concern that he’ll be an injury risk, though if you look at his game tape, you’re much less concerned. As a running back, receiver and return man, Bernard has field vision and body strength that make him a monster in the open field or between the tackles. He’s the type of player who can put an entire team on his back, and very many times did during his Tar Heels career. While it’s certainly a best-case scenario, Bernard has the physical and mental makeup to be an elite target out of the backfield in the same molds as former pros Marshall Faulk or LaDainian Tomlinson.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

UNC Running Back A.J. Blue Appears Ready to Pick Up Where Giovani Bernard Left Off

UNC Running Back A.J. Blue Appears Ready to Pick Up Where Giovani Bernard Left Off

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

Spring Practice Start Date: March 6

Spring Game Date: April 13

Year two of the Larry Fedora regime brings with it plenty of hope and optimism. If not for postseason ineligibility, the Heels would’ve won the Coastal division in 2012. Now, despite some key losses to the NFL Draft, it’s arguable that things haven’t seemed brighter (on the field) in Chapel Hill in over a decade. So what can we expect from UNC this spring?

For one, playmakers are already established, meaning spring practice brings a much larger focus on the offensive line, which largely has to be replaced. Quarterback Bryn Renner progressed very well in Fedora’s spread offense last season, and while it’s certainly no easy feat to replace Giovani Bernard at halfback, A.J. Blue is no newcomer, either. On limited carries last year, he still managed 433 rushing yards and nine scores, so he’ll be more than capable of carrying the load from that spot. At receiver, Quinshad Davis put in an impressive freshman showing this past fall, which can only mean good things for this year. Given the veteran presence all across the offense, there’s likely to be some new folds added to the Heels already dynamic attack. Fedora’s largely worked with his personnel, rather than forced square pegs into round holes, but that’s changing now as he’s recruiting more of his type of players.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia's 2012 Season Was About as Tumultuous as They Come; But Is There Hope on the Horizon?

Virginia’s 2012 Season Was About as Tumultuous as They Come; But Is There Hope on the Horizon?

Team: Virginia Cavaliers

W-L: 4-8 (2-6)

Postseason: None

Top Offensive Performer: Oday Aboushi, OT

Top Defensive Performer: Steve Greer, LB

Coming off a breakout 2011 season, and another big recruiting class, Mike London’s Virginia team was poised to take the leap in 2012; or so many thought. Rather than progression, what the Hoos saw this past fall was a severe regression. Not only was the team’s win total cut in half when compared to the year before, but a squad that appeared built on continuity was suddenly in a tumultuous state. The Cavaliers’ secondary — as young as expected, took nearly two months to truly get their acts together. The running game, a formidable two-back system, was suddenly as unproductive as they come. And most glaring was the quarterback issue which would shape every narrative for Virginia, from August, all the way through the final, excruciating loss.

One would assume the thought process when bringing in Alabama QB transfer Phillip Sims was that he’d sit this season before taking the reigns in 2013. With returning starter Michael Rocco at the helm, that route seemed to make the most sense — until Sims was granted a waiver allowing him to suit up this season. With a quarterback controversy brewing, Rocco held onto the job, but never quite stopped looking over his shoulder, and the results were mostly hazardous. Thought the UVA passing game would finish a very respectable 37th in the FBS (in terms of yardage), it sorely lacked for efficiency or success. Rocco and Sims combined for 15 interceptions on the season (93rd in the country) and both passers’ accuracy turned out a staggered curve of inconsistency. For each game Rocco would have like the 41-40 upset of Miami (in which he threw for four scores), he’d have another like the 27-7 loss to TCU (126 passing yards, 2 INTs). And with so much riding on quarterback play, the ground game suffered as well. Regularly faced with dire straits, or simply two quarterbacks splitting snaps for the same job, their strong run game was suddenly pass-first. UVA was 98th in the country in both overall carries (417) and yards per game (128.5), and this with two highly skilled backs in Kevin Parks and Perry Jones. While no one would call them a high-flying group in 2011 (23.8 points per game), 2012 was absolutely dreadful from a scoring standpoint (22.8 points per game) — especially without a strong defense to bail them out.

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ACC Football Top 25 Players of 2012: #2, Giovani Bernard

Giovani Bernard Was One of the Country's Most Exciting Players Week-In and Week-Out

Giovani Bernard Was One of the Country’s Most Exciting Players Week-In and Week-Out

As part of our 2012 season review, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC this season, from no. 25 to no. 1. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof, obviously — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 2, Giovani Bernard, RB/North Carolina (Preseason Rank: 6)

Giovani Bernard was not the conference’s leader in all-purpose yards. He missed out on that honor by about 80 to Miami‘s Duke Johnson. But considering he played in two less games than Johnson, and yet still managed 1,981 yards (198.1 per game), I’d say Bernard’s still pretty pleased with his accomplishment.

Slated to be among the ACC’s best running backs — if not the outright best — in 2012, it’s no surprise that the UNC sophomore was able to perform well. And while his two- (nearly three-) week hiatus due to injury may have glossed over his success early on this past season, his presence was realized by everyone by the time his record-setting performance (23 carries, 262 rushing yards) against Virginia Tech wrapped up on October 6. Bernard was a one-man wrecking crew from the get-go though; the problem was his team was playing too well to keep him on the field. In three of his first four contests, he averaged 10 or more yards per carry (including 35 per carry on just two touches against Idaho). And in a season full of bright spots (four games of 140 or more yards rushing, six games of two or more scores from scrimmage), perhaps none sticks out more than the effort he put together against NC State: 304 all-purpose yards (182 of which were in the fourth quarter) and three score, plus this game-winning punt return for a touchdown that was among the best things I saw in college football last year.

Next year, he’s headed to the NFL, but that won’t allow us to forget what a truly impressive 2012 Bernard put together.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: North Carolina Tar Heels

In Its First Year Under Larry Fedora, North Carolina's Offense Exploded to New Heights

In Its First Year Under Larry Fedora, North Carolina’s Offense Exploded to New Heights

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

W-L: 8-4 (5-3)

Postseason: N/A

Top Offensive Performer: Giovani Bernard, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Kevin Reddick, LB

After a very encouraging 2011 season, 2012 was supposed to be the year that UNC put it all together and finally won the Coastal division. And technically, they did. But due to a postseason ban, the school was not allowed to play for the ACC title, nor win the Coastal division. When looking at head coach Larry Fedora’s first year on the job though, it’s tough to argue that the Heels’ season was anything but a success — and another step toward the team’s goal of playing for a league championship.

When Fedora showed up at Chapel Hill, there appeared to be trepidation surrounding his spread offense. Quarterback Bryn Renner had always played in a pro-style attack, while running back Giovani Bernard was unsure how he’d continue to play a key role for an offense that appeared to be moving away from the running game. As evidenced by the team’s 14th-ranked offense this year, everything actually turned out just fine. Renner was a natural for the spread, and grew my leaps and bounds in comparison to his sophomore campaign. While attempting 72 more passes than 2011 (in one less game), the now-junior only saw a slight dip in accuracy, while throwing for more TDs (28 versus 26) with less sacks and interceptions. And Bernard actually thrived as both part of the passing game, and as a result of its importance in the offense. As a receiving option out of the backfield, Bernard caught 47 passes for 490 yards and five scores (in just 10 games). Plus, because of the spread’s emphasis on the passing game, the slashing sophomore back also saw more holes between the tackles as defenses feared Renner throwing the ball. The result? A campaign that should’ve gotten more Heisman buzz, as Bernard racked up another 1,228 yards on the ground with 12 TDs — again, in 10 games and on 55 less carries compared to last season. Not to be completely outdone, backup (and 2013 starter) A.J. Blue even got in on the act, rushing his way to 433 yards and nine scores on top of that. Overall, the UNC offense averaged 92 yards per game more than they did last year; a phenomenal jump in just one season.

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ACC Football Top 25 Players of 2012: #12, Jonathan Cooper

After Paving the Way for Giovani Bernard, Jonathan Cooper's Now Headed to the NFL

After Paving the Way for Giovani Bernard, Jonathan Cooper’s Now Headed to the NFL

As part of our 2012 season review, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC this season, from no. 25 to no. 1. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof, obviously — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 12, Jonathan Cooper, G/North Carolina (Preseason Rank: NR)

Giovani Bernard and Bryn Renner will likely be tossed the majority of the praise for North Carolina’s offense this year. But of course, that ignores the integral role that Cooper played in all this. Whether in run or pass protection, the 6’3″ 295-pound senior was a force this year. He graded out at 90-percent on the season, and registered 10 or more knockdowns in 75-percent of his games. Behind Cooper, not only did Bernard run up a career year, but he also set the stage for the unsung success of Bernard’s backup, A.J. Blue (433 yards, nine scores) as well. North Carolina’s 11 sacks allowed (largely due in part to Cooper’s efforts) were tied for ninth in the entire FBS, and tied for seventh when discounting teams option-based offenses. It’s numbers like that that have NFL scouts salivating, and there’s now a pretty good likelihood he’ll hear his name called within the first 20 or so picks during the NFL Draft.

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