The ACC schedule finally began on Thursday night for Boston College, as they won at Wake Forest 41-34. It was the first game on a national level for the Eagles, and the first opportunity for a lot of the players to get in front of the eyes of NFL talent evaluators.
This is probably the best, most talented Boston College team since Matt Ryan’s senior season in 2007. Though their depth is not yet recognized on the national scale, the Eagles are rich with talent and boast multiple NFL draft prospects.
A.J. Dillon is known as one of the best running back prospects in the country, but the 6’0 and 245 pound Heisman hopeful is only a true sophomore and won’t be eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft.
The biggest draft-eligible names on the Eagles include Chris Lindstrom, Zach Allen, Lukas Denis, and Tommy Sweeney. Lindstrom is a potential first round offensive guard, while defensive end Zach Allen and free safety Lukas Denis currently project as day 2 picks. Sweeney is a high effort, refined yet physically limited tight end who should be in the mix during the middle rounds.
Looking past those four, multiple Eagles stood out on Thursday night and put themselves in position for NFL looks. Offensively, Jeff Smith has been a dynamic piece for the Eagles in recent years but is beginning to show signs of consistent domination. On the defensive side, EDGE Wyatt Ray broke out with 4 sacks, and linebacker Connor Strachan accumulated 13 solo tackles.
Jeff Smith is a former quarterback who was used as a running threat in his true freshman season, breaking out for 6 rushing touchdowns. Since then, the Senior made the move to wide receiver while still being involved in the running game. The 6’1 and 195 pounder has dynamic ability with the ball in his hands, and solid enough size for the next level.
His development as a route runner and pass catcher were evident on Thursday night. Smith beat a defensive back with a stutter and go double move for a touchdown. Smith would later catch a pass along the sideline that required a toe tap, and stab at a ball over the middle to convert a third down, showing natural hands and body control. Smith’s athleticism will warrant NFL looks, and if he continues to improve on the small details of the position, he could find himself on Draft boards next Spring.
Wyatt Ray has been a contributor on the Eagles defense for the last two seasons, pitching in 7.5 sacks while splitting time with Zach Allen and Harold Landry. Now a Senior and full-time starter, Ray showed off tools that could put him in the conversation alongside Allen. At 6’3 and 255 pounds, Ray has solid size for a pure pass rusher. Last night, he got after the quarterback using active hand swipes. Additionally he showed the ability to counter and cycle through moves, as he went from bull rush to long-arm and forklift.
With solid bend and burst, Ray’s pass rushing ability is his strength, but he is no slouch against the run either. Multiple times, Ray was able to set the edge and fight to stay square and his outside arm free. He does an excellent job of forcing runners back inside, the shedding blocks and falling in to make the tackle for minimal gains.
Lastly, redshirt senior Connor Strachan racked up 15 total and 13 solo tackles on Thursday night, benefiting from Wake Forest’s 105 offensive snaps. Strachan suffered an injury early last season that limited him to two games, but he entered the season already with 186 career tackles. With a true nose for the ball, Strachan consistently finds himself around the play with proper angles. On Thursday, he diagnosed plays quickly, but matched the patience of the Wake Forest backfield and reacted with pace.
At just 6’0 and 230 pounds, Strachan will need to prove his ability in coverage to warrant legitimate NFL looks. He was able to drop into his zones with ease last night, but was occasionally a step slow reacting to passes over the middle. Something of note with Strachan was as Wake Forest’s tempo began to slow down BC’s defense, he was the defender with the most juice in his legs, highlighting his conditioning.
While the most prominent NFL prospects on Boston College were well-known before last night, the game against Wake Forest showed that the Eagles are deeper than expected. With a late season stretch of games against Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State, players like Smith, Ray, and Strachan will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves against elite competition. If they are able to do so, Boston College could see five players drafted for the first time since 1985.