2012 Top 25 player countdown: No. 25

Let the arguments begin. The ACC’s countdown to kickoff starts today with No. 25 in a ranking of the league’s top players heading into 2012. A reminder that this list is not based on pro potential. Rather it is a ranking based on past performances and expectations for this fall. This list can and will change at the end of the season, as players will play their way both on and off of it. For now, though, let’s have a little fun as we debate who the best 25 players are in the ACC in 2012. Why not get the conversation started with a Demon Deacon?

No. 25: Nikita Whitlock, NG, Wake Forest

2011 stats: He started all 13 games in 2011 and finished the season fourth on the team with 64 tackles, including 26 solo and a team-best 14 tackles for loss. He was fifth in the ACC in tackles for loss and tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks for 34 yards. He also had three quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.

Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case for Whitlock: He’s a bit undersized for an interior defensive lineman, but he compensates for it with his speed and athleticism. Whitlock had a breakout season last year and proved to be a playmaker. He enters this season ranked second among active ACC players in career tackles for loss with 24.5, trailing only Florida State’s Brandon Jenkins.