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Wake Forest 2013 season preview


Wake Forest has had a total of five players selected in the past two drafts, but none was selected earlier than the fourth round. And since Calvin Pace was picked in the first round in 2003, only three of Wake's 18 draftees were selected before the fourth round.

(AP Photo/Scott Boehm)
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There doesn't appear to be a high-round choice on this season's roster, but there are some players worth watching. Wake had three consecutive winning seasons from 2006-08 with 28 victories in that span, but the Demon Deacons are riding a streak of four consecutive losing seasons. Coach Jim Grobe has promised a return to a more physical rushing attack, but he also needs his defense to step up and stop the run. The schedule isn't particularly daunting, and a seven-win season is a possibility. But so is a four- or five-victory campaign.

Top senior prospects


WR Michael Campanaro: Campanaro (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) has started each of the past two seasons and had 152 receptions and eight touchdowns in those two campaigns. He should be one of the ACC's top receivers again this season. Campanaro has average speed. He is a possession receiver (the longest catch of his career is 41 yards and his career average is 10.5 yards per catch) who is comfortable lining up on the outside or in the slot. He has soft hands, runs good routes and can find an open spot in a zone. Campanaro has returned punts and kickoffs for the Demon Deacons, too. He seems likely to leave as Wake's career receptions leader but is unlikely to pass Ricky Proehl as the school recordholder in receiving yardage.

OLB Justin Jackson: Last season was his first as a starter and his first as an outside linebacker -- he had been lining up on the inside. Jackson (6-1, 230) lacks ideal size, but he runs well and has a burst off the edge (four sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries last season). He is extremely athletic (he minors in dance -- seriously), and a consistent and productive senior season would push him up some draft boards. He missed all but one game as a redshirt freshman with a torn ACL.

FS A.J. Marshall: He started for the first time last season. It also was his first season at safety (he played corner his first two years). Marshall (6-0, 195) runs well and acclimated quickly to safety last season -- he was third on the team with 76 tackles and added two picks and four pass breakups.

NT Nikita Whitlock: He signed as a linebacker out of Wylie (Texas) High -- near Dallas -- and redshirted as a true freshman in 2009. He moved to nose tackle in the spring of 2010 and has started ever since. While he has been extremely productive for Wake (159 tackles, 30 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles), his size -- he is listed at 5-foot-11 and 250 pounds -- is a big concern. He seems ill-suited for linebacker in the NFL and likely would have to be a defensive end at the next level. But 5-11 defensive ends are extremely rare in the NFL.

Top underclassmen


CB Kevin Johnson: He played a lot as a true freshman in 2010, starting five times, but missed 2011 because of academic ineligibility. He returned last season and started all 12 games, finishing with three picks and 15 pass breakups. Johnson (6-1, 175) has decent speed and isn't afraid to be physical.

CB Merrill Noel: Noel (5-10, 180) was magnificent as a redshirt freshman in 2011, winning freshman All-America honors after turning in a season that included 66 tackles, two interceptions and 19 pass breakups. But he was mediocre last season, missing time with an injury and a suspension and finishing with 33 tackles, zero picks and three pass breakups. He has good speed and was fearless in 2011. Can he return to that form? He is from Pahokee (Fla.) High, the same prep alma mater as former Wake star CB Alphonso Smith, a second-round pick of the Broncos in the 2009 draft who has been a bust.

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Three must-see games of 2013


Sept. 28 at Clemson: Johnson and Noel face Clemson's powerful passing attack, headed by QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins. It would help the secondary's cause if Whitlock has success against a veteran Clemson offensive line. Campanaro will be going against an all-new starting secondary.

Oct. 26 at Miami (Fla.): Another test for Johnson and Noel in that Miami QB Stephen Morris will be looking to throw the deep ball. This will be a homecoming of sorts for Noel, who grew up about 90 miles from Sun Life Stadium. Jackson will be looking to keep Miami TB Duke Johnson under wraps.

Nov. 9 vs. Florida State: Yet another test for Johnson and Noel, as FSU has a deep receiving corps. This one should be personal for Noel in that he once was a FSU commitment. Campanaro could have a tough time against a deep FSU secondary.

Follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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