Although the ACC had a down year last year, it’s placed itself as a football factor since conference realignment.
Teams such as Clemson and Louisville became offensive powers over the years. But, the flip side is, the ACC is one of the best defensive conferences of the 2010s.
Now in a new decade, the prominence of the linebacker position has become even more important. Schools such as Virginia Tech, Miami, and Florida State have stamped themselves as Linebacker U.
The ACC has three linebackers who’ve set themselves apart from the rest of the pack entering 2020. Here they are:
Rayshard Ashby, Virginia Tech
Frank Beamer’s style of play still resonates throughout the program. Beamer ball and Bud Foster was a match made in heaven for Rayshard Ashby. Va. Tech has mostly always relied on defense first throughout the years.
Ashby has thrived for the past two seasons in Bud Foster’s system. He’s one of the best linebackers at filling the hole and shedding blocks. While he lacks ideal height, the 5-foot-10, 237-pounder is a tackling machine, having 18 total tackles against UNC. He led the league in tackles, with 120 total stops.
Five times Ashby was named ACC Linebacker of the Week last season. He earned second-team All-ACC and has totaled 225 tackles the past two seasons. This year, he seems like a sure-fire, first-team, All-ACC player. He does need to improve attacking lineman at the point of attack in pass rush for more sacks.
Additionally, he lacks the height to high point the ball for interceptions against taller tight ends. But, if you choose to run the ball against Ashby, think again.
Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
Mack Brown appears to be leading a renaissance at UNC. It has started on defense. Chazz Surratt has one of the most unique stories in college football. He arrived at UNC as a four-star, dual-threat quarterback.
Surratt started seven games at quarterback in 2017 and scored 13 total touchdowns. Somehow he became even better at linebacker. His time as a QB helps him break down an offensive play better than any other linebacker in the conference. He shows the natural ability to read a play.
His best skill is reading formations and knowing if a play fake or run play has been called. Standing at six-foot-three, 230-pounds, he finished second in the conference in tackles with 115 and fourth in stops behind the line of scrimmage.
His size allows him to brace for impact against offensive lineman when attacking the line of scrimmage. He was fourth in tackles last year. Surratt earned first-team All-ACC honors.
Max Richardson, Boston College
Fifth-year senior Max Richardson has set the tone for the Eagles’ defense for the past 2 years. Last season, he led the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks. The former three-star prospect finished fourth in the league in tackles with 107.
While he is not a flashy linebacker, he makes plays all over the field and uses his football IQ more than his athletic ability. He gets to the point of attack quicker than other linebackers based on his experience.
Richardson has the most playing experience of any linebacker in the ACC. As a six-foot, 230-pounder, he had four, straight games with double-digit tackles. Coming into his final season at Boston College, this linebacker can climb the Eagles’ record books.