DG’s 2023 Midseason All-ACC Football Team:
Seven Schools Represented On 1st-Team Defense

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

For my approach to selecting these teams and my 2023 midseason All-ACC offense, please click HERE.

Below is my 2023 midseason All-ACC defense, including one defensive-minded special teams standout.

Defensive Tackle (2)

Tyler Davis, Clemson
DeWayne Carter, Duke

Davis, a fifth-year senior who has started more games at defensive tackle than any player in Clemson history, appears to be on his way to a fourth consecutive All-ACC selection, including three straight first-team honors. A dominating run-stuffer, he’s one of the main reasons the Tigers again rank among the league leaders in rushing defense (104 yards per game). Carter, a fifth-year senior, two-time All-ACC selection and the first three-time team captain in Duke football history, is a tremendous leader and perhaps the primary reason the Blue Devils lead the ACC in scoring defense (13.9 points per game; fifth nationally). His impressive athleticism showed on a rare scoop-and-score play against UConn this season.

Additional DT Standouts: Braden Fiske*, FSU; Leonard Taylor III, Miami; Peter Woods, Clemson.

Defensive End (2)

Kaimon Rucker, North Carolina
Ashton Gillotte, Louisville

This is a very deep position in the ACC this year; the top six guys here have been truly phenomenal. According to Pro Football Focus, Rucker (#1) and Gillotte (#5) are among the top defensive players in the nation in quarterback pressures. Through Oct. 21, Rucker (7.5) and Gillotte (6.5) led the ACC in sacks and ranked among the league’s top six players in tackles for loss; Rucker had 11 TFLs, and Gillotte had eight. Rucker, a senior who has a 21 percent pass-rush “win rate,” which is among the best in the nation, is on pace to join gridiron legends Lawrence Taylor and Julius Peppers as the only Tar Heels ever to post 13 or more sacks in a season. Gillotte, a junior who earned honorable mention All-ACC status last year, has been the best player and a clutch playmaker on one of the ACC’s top defenses.

Additional DE Standouts: Jared Verse*, FSU; Antwuan Powell-Ryland*, VT; TJ Parker, Clemson; Reuben Bain Jr., Miami; Davin Vann, NCSU; Kyle Kennard, GT; Donovan Ezeiruaku, BC; Jasheen Davis, WF.

Linebacker (3)

Payton Wilson, NC State
Cedric Gray, North Carolina
Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson

Wilson, Gray and Trotter are aggressive, relentless, alpha-dog-style intimidators and playmakers for their teams. Wilson (11.6) and Gray (10.0) are #1 and #2 in the conference in tackles per game, respectively, and all three players rank among the top four linebackers in the league in tackles for loss. Two of Wilson’s best games (through Oct. 21) came in the Wolfpack’s narrow victories over Virginia (24-21) and Marshall (48-41). PFF rates Gray, who had nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in the Tar Heels’ 31-17 win over South Carolina and 10 tackles and a huge second-half interception in their 41-31 victory over #25 Miami, the #4 linebacker in the entire country. Trotter, whose father played linebacker in the NFL for more than a decade, is rated by PFF the #1 linebacker against the run in all of college football.

Additional LB Standouts: Power Echols, UNC; Barrett Carter, Clemson; Kalen DeLoach, Florida State; TJ Quinn, Louisville; Tre Freeman, Duke; Jacob Roberts*, WF; Francisco Mauigoa*, Miami; Marlowe Wax, Syracuse; Tatum Bethune, FSU; Vinny DePalma, BC; Keli Lawson, VT.

Safety (2)

James Williams, Miami
Shyheim Brown, Florida State

A super-sized college safety at 6-5 and 215 pounds, Williams made huge plays during two of Miami’s closest and most important games of the season. Against Georgia Tech, in a game the Hurricanes would have won but for the monumentally disastrous coaching decision not to kneel and kill the clock in the final minutes of regulation, he made a fourth-quarter interception and 44-yard return that set up the late UM field goal that should have stood as the game-winner. Against Clemson, he forced and recovered a fumble at the Canes’ defensive goal line in their 28-20 double-overtime victory at Death Valley. A redshirt sophomore in his first season as a full-time starter for FSU, Brown had a huge, diving interception in the Seminoles’ comeback victory over Duke and ranks as PFF’s #2 safety.

Additional S Standouts: Brandon Johnson, Duke; Alijah Huzzie*, UNC; Malik Mustapha*, WF; RJ Mickens, Clemson; Clayton Powell-Lee, GT; Jonas Sanker, UVa; LaMiles Brooks, GT; Kamren Kinchens^, Miami; Jalyn Phillips, Clemson; Alijah Clark*, Syracuse; Cam’Ron Kelly*, Louisville; Jaylen Stinson, Duke; Andrew Mukuba^, Clemson.

Cornerback (3)

Nate Wiggins, Clemson
Myles Jones*, Duke
Renardo Green, Florida State

In mid-October, before he gave up some plays against Miami, Wiggins had allowed (according to Pro Football Focus) an opponent passer rating of only 2.8, the best of any player in all of college football. He consistently uses his NFL-caliber size (6-2/185) and athleticism to shut down his side of the Tigers’ secondary. Through Oct. 21, the cutoff for this midseason All-ACC team, PFF rated Jones, a Texas A&M transfer who followed Duke head coach Mike Elko (formerly the Aggies’ defensive coordinator) to Durham, the #1 cornerback in the entire country. Green, a fifth-year senior who was an honorable mention All-ACC selection last season, has played the best football of his college career and has been among the Seminoles’ most consistent performers in big games this season.

Additional CB Standouts: Quincy Riley*, Louisville; Elijah Jones, BC; MJ Devonshire, Pitt; Caelen Carson, WF; Robert Kennedy III*, NCSU: Jaden Davis, Miami.


Porter Wilson, Duke

A fifth-year senior in his fourth season as a starter for the Blue Devils, Wilson leads the ACC in punting average (48.2 yards), and the Devils are fourth nationally in net punting average (44.6 yards), so he’s a legitimate candidate for the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter. You couldn’t go wrong with Florida State veteran Alex Mastromanno, either. The first player to commit to coach Mike Norvell at FSU, Mastromanno — part of Australia’s impressive impact on NCAA football at the punter position — is another four-year starter; his punting average (47.3) is second in the ACC, and the Seminoles are fifth nationally in net punting average (44.3 yards).

Additional P Standouts: Alex Mastromanno, FSU; Jack Stonehouse, Syracuse; Peter Moore, VT; Aidan Swanson, Clemson; David Shanahan, GT.

*-transfer (started college career at another school)
^-missed 25% (or more) of team’s games through Oct. 21

ACC’s Best Defenses Through Oct. 21 (national FPI ranking): Clemson-7, FSU-11, Duke-13, Louisville-20, Miami-23
ACC’s Best Defenses Through Oct. 21 (ppg): Duke-14 ppg, FSU-19 ppg, Miami-19 ppg, Louisville-21 ppg, Clemson-21 ppg

ACC’s Worst Defenses Through Oct. 21 (national FPI ranking): BC-117, GT-90, UVa-70, VT-60
ACC’s Worst Defenses Through Oct. 21 (ppg): UVa-31 ppg, BC-30 ppg, GT-30 ppg, Pitt-25 ppg