Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer 427d

ACC position rankings: Front seven

With the start of college football season just weeks away, now is as good a time as any to unveil our preseason position rankings.

Today, we rank the front seven.

1. Florida State: Listen to the Seminoles talk about tackles Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas and it's clear the strength isn't only at end, where DeMarcus Walker and his 10.5 sacks return. Sophomore and former five-star Josh Sweat said he is 100 percent from a 2014 knee tear, too. Linebacker is a question mark, but they have experience mixed with a lot of talent.

2. Boston College: Defensive coordinator Don Brown left for Michigan, but five of seven starters from the nation's No. 1 defense in tackles for loss return. Harold Landry is a budding star, and Truman Gutapfel is an underrated tackle. Matt Milano led the team in sacks a season ago and leads the linebackers.

3. Louisville: The Cardinals have two players who could receive conference defensive player of the year votes in Devonte Fields and Keith Kelsey. Fields came into his own at the end of last season and could be poised for a big year. The line lost a first-round pick, but tackle DeAngelo Brown is one of the strongest players on the team.

4. Clemson: After losing so many starters the last two seasons, the Tigers lost another early in camp. Austin Bryant, who filled in admirably for Shaq Lawson in the Orange Bowl, will miss about a month. Christian Wilkins will be a national name soon, and Ben Boulware is one of the country's most physical linebackers. There could be growing pains, however, and depth is a concern.

5. Pittsburgh: The Panthers return ACC sacks per game leader Ejuan Price (0.89; 11.5 total), but the name everyone is buzzing about is Dewayne Hendrix. The Tennessee transfer could give the Panthers the conference's best pass-rush. Linebackers Mike Caprara and Matt Galambos return, and coach Pat Narduzzi said he likes the depth at the position.

6. NC State: The Wolfpack defensive line has been solid recently, and the front returns five starters. Bradley Chubb and tackles Justin Jones and B.J. Hill make for a solid line, but the linebackers need to do a better job making stops in the backfield. The unit was young last season, so the experience should help.

7. Virginia Tech: The Hokies' defense slipped in every facet, but it was most notable in its pass-rush numbers. Their 26 sacks last season was their lowest since 1990. Ken Ekanem needs help along the defensive line, and Andrew Motuapuaka needs to be more consistent at linebacker.

8. Miami: The Hurricanes brought in Craig Kuligowski as defensive line coach, and an experienced group is responding to his methods. Gerald Willis is a name to watch at tackle, and freshman Shaq Quarterman could be star at linebacker.

9. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons defense has overcome suspect offensive play the last two seasons, but can they overcome the loss of Brandon Chubb and Hunter Williams at linebacker? The defense has been underrated under Dave Clawson, and the line returns a lot of experience.

10. North Carolina: Larry Fedora likes what he has at linebacker despite losing two key seniors at the position. Keep an eye on Andre Smith and freshman Jonathan Smith at linebacker. The defensive line needs a big year from tackle Nazair Jones.

11. Virginia: Part of the challenge of switching defensive schemes is finding ways to fit players recruited under the old base defense into the new design. The Cavaliers lack depth in the front seven, but the good news is former five-star Andrew Brown has renewed opportunity to break out, and linebacker Micah Kiser is a piece UVa can build around.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils struggled to rush the quarterback last season, and they brought in D-line coach Ben Albert to find ways to manufacture pressure. Duke likes what it has at tackle, but there are concerns at defensive end. Leading tackler Dwayne Norman also is gone among the linebackers.

13. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets were unable to come up with many big plays defensively as a promising season spiraled out of control. They were last in tackles for loss nationally and No. 120 in sacks. It's hard to get the ball back to Paul Johnson's offense when the front seven cannot generate negative plays for the defense.

14. Syracuse: When Ron Thompson bolted early for the NFL, the issues along the front seven became even more glaring. With Thompson gone, the Orange are lean at defensive end. There is experience at linebacker, but it will be tough for that group to make an impact without an effective front four.

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