No. 8. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
2011 stats: He had 85 tackles, a team-high 17 tackles for loss, a team-high 10.5 sacks, and 17 quarterback pressures in 755 snaps over 14 games (14 starts). He was second on the team in tackles, and had a team-high 64 first hits. He tied for fourth in school history in sacks and was 15th in the nation in sacks per game (0.75). He was first in the ACC in sacks per game and third in tackles for loss per game (1.2).
Previously ranked: Not ranked.
Making the case for Branch: He emerged as one of the top defensive ends in the country as a senior, and was one of six finalists for the Ted Hendricks Award. He had a team-high 11 tackles, a caused fumble, and tied the school record for both tackles for loss (6) and sacks (4) in 57 snaps at No. 10 Virginia Tech on Oct. 1 in his home state. All four sacks came in the second half, and he was a big reason Clemson held the Hokies without a touchdown in their home stadium for the first time since 1995. He’s disciplined, has good awareness as a pass-rusher, and executes his assignments consistently.
No. 9 Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
No. 10 Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
No. 11 Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
No. 12 Blake DeChristopher, OT, Virginia Tech