Clemson defenders headline top early enrollees in ACC

Last week’s haul of recruits will likely bring about some new stars in the ACC for 2016, but the early enrollees who’ve already arrived on campus certainly have the upper hand in making the leap to the college game.

With that in mind, here are some of the most intriguing early enrollees in the conference this spring.

Malik Henry, QB, Florida State

Sean Maguire enters spring atop the depth chart for good reason, but his four years of experience on campus will be rivaled by the talent of the youngsters pushing him. That probably starts with Deondre Francois, who was the No. 3 quarterback in last year’s class, but the rich got richer this winter when Henry, the No. 2 dual-threat QB in the nation, signed with the Seminoles. Jimbo Fisher has shown he’s not afraid to think outside the box at quarterback, and if Henry proves a quick study, his athleticism could land him some early playing time in what promises to be a competitive and explosive ACC Atlantic. (Of course, virtually every member of FSU’s early enrollee class could make an impact in 2016, too.)

Rahshaun Smith and Tre' Lamar, LBs, Clemson

Yes, Clemson’s top recruit, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, is also enrolled already, and odds are he’ll be a factor on the defensive line. But the Tigers have some depth at tackle to begin with. At linebacker, there’s a much bigger need. The already-thin position loses starter B.J. Goodson, meaning Smith (ESPN’s No. 1-ranked outside linebacker) and Lamar (ESPN’s No. 2-ranked inside linebacker) should get some crucial snaps during spring practice and could see the field a lot when the 2016 season starts.

Joshua Jackson and Jerod Evans, QBs, Virginia Tech

There may not be a more fun position battle to watch this spring in the ACC than quarterback for the Hokies. Brenden Motley has the most experience, but he also showed he was limited as a passer in 2015. Dwayne Lawson has superstar potential, but he didn’t look ready during brief glimpses of work last season. Now add two terrific youngsters entering this spring. Evans, a junior-college transfer who is both big (6-foot-4) and athletic, could be a perfect fit for Justin Fuente’s scheme, while Jackson (No. 8 dual-threat QB, according to ESPN) brings plenty of potential to the table, too. All four will be vying for snaps this spring, with Fuente’s history as a QB whisperer providing the backdrop.

Patrick Bethel, DE, Miami

There will be lots of changes in Miami this spring, with new head coach Mark Richt bringing some much-needed energy to the proceedings. While ample talent on offense remains, the key will be rebuilding the defense, and Miami gets some terrific new pieces with linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Zachary McCloud, along with Bethel, who could make an instant impact on the line. In five years under defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, Miami ranked 79th in sack rate.

Bryce Dixon, WR, NC State

An excellent pass catcher with impressive size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), Dixon fits well into what the Wolfpack are trying to do offensively. And as an early enrollee, he’ll also get a chance to build a rapport with NC State’s new quarterbacks, which could be a big asset in the fall. Exactly what the Wolfpack will look like offensively without former QB Jacoby Brissett or offensive coordinator Matt Canada remains a mystery, but Dixon has the skill set to produce some serious matchup problems.

Others to watch: Juco linebacker J.B. Copeland at North Carolina; linebacker Ethan Tucky at Boston College; juco corner Ronald Walker at Louisville; punter Dom Maggio at Wake Forest; and defensive end Janarius Robinson, defensive tackle Cedric Wood, linebacker Joshua Brown and kicker Ricky Aguayo at Florida State.