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Best ACC Safety: Boston vs. Johnson

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Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.

Last time out we saw that the spot for best cornerback in the ACC was up for grabs. Because seniors graduate and most of the talented juniors bolt for the NFL, predicting the best at a particular position can be difficult.

The title for best safety in the ACC is up for grabs as well. As it stands now, North Carolina’s Tre Boston and Georgia Tech’s Isaiah Johnson are the two leading contenders heading into the fall.

This probably would have been Lamarcus Joyner if he hadn’t moved from safety to corner in the spring. Joyner was one of the best safeties in the country last season and has played in every game at that position since he arrived as a freshman. How he makes the transition to corner will be an interesting storyline for the Seminoles in 2013. I didn’t include him in the cornerback debate largely because he is unproven at that position.

The Case For Tre Boston

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 210 pounds

Boston is a hybrid athlete that has seen plenty of snaps at both corner and free safety during his time at Chapel Hill. He has settled into the latter nicely and become one of the best defensive backs in the conference during the last two seasons. What stands out on film is his play recognition: He knows where he has to be on nearly every play. This particularly helps in zone coverage, where the senior makes most of his plays. He registered an impressive 86 tackles and recorded four interceptions in 2012.

Boston came up with a huge play to help his Tar Heels defeat Miami last year, and notched his first pick-six of his career in 2012 as well. The ability to play both corner and safety will help him be drafted to the NFL in 2014, somewhere in the middle rounds.

The Case For Isaiah Johnson

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 210 pounds

The strong safety has a nose for the ball — and the ball-carrier. Johnson recorded 87 tackles in 2012 to lead the the Yellow Jackets and added an interception. He is often the smartest player on the field and has the size and speed to make plays in the box. Johnson was one of the biggest reasons Georgia Tech came home fifth in the ACC in total defense last year.

Expectations are particularly high for Johnson this year to see if he realizes all of his untapped potential. He improved immensely during the second half of the season and that should springboard to an excellent 2013. Johnson missed the Yellow Jackets’ bowl win over USC as well as spring practice with a knee injury. He should be good to go in the fall, but his health will have to be monitored.

The Winner

Boston and Johnson are very different players, which makes it difficult to judge who is better. Boston is more of a flashy playmaker, while Johnson is a solid tackler that is usually at the right place at the right time. That’s not to say Boston can’t stop the run and Johnson can’t be a playmaker. They are both elite players and are capable of affecting the game in different ways.

Both were three-star recruits and were not heavily recruited by the big schools, which makes their rise all the more impressive. Johnson has more of an upside to his skill set, but Boston is the more finished product. I won’t call it a draw for the sake of finality. I will give the slight edge to Boston.