Editor’s Note: Chris Cox writes about Clemson recruiting on his site Tiger Talk. You can follow Chris on Twitter at @TigerTalk_CU
Chris Cox gives his view on the top 5 ACC players at the skill positions for 2015.
Gone is the circus act in Jameis Winston, one of the most underrated players in the country in Anthony Boone, and a quarterback who’s career ended just as it started in Tyler Murphy. While those three are gone, every other team in the ACC returns their quarterback, which should make for a interesting conference season.
This may come as a surprise to some, but a player with only 4 collegiate tops my list of ACC quarterbacks. In his appearances Deshaun Watson was easily the most talented player on the field and he will be equipped with a plethora of weapons at Clemson. If Watson can avoid the injury bug in his sophomore campaign, you can expect the Heisman talk to stir.
Behind Watson sits former Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett. The Wolfpack senior showed flashes of greatness at points last year, but missed some action due to injury. When healthy Brissett can be a dynamic playmaker and features the size (6-4 230lbs) to impress scouts come draft time next year.
Justin Thomas, ranked #3 on my list, could easily be at the top based on how important he is to the Yellow Jacket offense. Thomas is the most talented quarterback Paul Johnson has had in Atlanta, and he eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark five times last season along with totaling 26 touchdowns. He doesn’t look too shabby throwing the ball either, but will need to find a reliable option with his top two targets in DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller graduating.
Coming in at number 4 on the list is Al’s “Golden” ticket to staying at Miami for another season. Brad Kayaa is the ACC’s returning leader in passing yards after compiling nearly 3,200 yards in 2014. The rising sophomore settled in down the stretch as he posted a 13:3 touchdown to interception ratio over his last 7 games. The offense will likely be centered around Kayaa this year as his All-American running back Duke Johnson bolted early for the NFL.
Rounding out my top 5 is rising senior Marquise Williams. The numbers are impressive, but Williams needs help from his running backs to ease the pressure on his arm. He reminds me a lot of former Clemson signal caller Tajh Boyd, but Williams lacks the quality of weapons that Boyd had at his disposal. Williams will get a shot to prove his worth right away in 2015 as the Tar Heels open up with the Gamecocks in Charlotte.
You may have noticed there is not a player listed for Bobby Petrino’s squad up in Louisville. Whoever wins the spot between Bolin, Bonnafon, and Gardner will have the potential to vault themselves into the top tier based on the offense they play in. Greyson Lambert is also a player to keep an eye on in Charlottesville. Lambert was a highly touted recruit and is built like an NFL quarterback at 6-5, 235lbs.
All in all these five playmakers listed are going to make watching ACC football a little more interesting this year.
- Deshaun Watson (SO)-Clemson
93-137 67.9% 1466 yards 14 TD 2 INT 188.6 RAT
200 rush yards, 5 TD
- Jacoby Brissett (SR)-NC State
221-370 59.7% 2606 yards 23 TD 5 INT 136.7 RAT
529 rush yards, 3 TD
- Justin Thomas (JR)-GT
96-187 51.3% 1719 yards 18 TD 6 INT 153.9 RAT
1086 rush yards, 8 TD
- Brad Kayaa (SO)-Miami
221-378 58.5% 3198 yards 26 TD 12 INT 145.9 RAT
- Marquise Williams (SR)-UNC
270-428 63.1% 3068 yards 21 TD 9 INT 135.3 RAT
788 rush yards 13 TD
Watch List: Michael Brewer (VT), Chad Voytik (Pitt), Sean McGuire (FSU), Greyson Lambert (UVA)
In 2014 the ACC only featured three running backs who eclipsed the 1000 yard rushing mark, although two quarterbacks also reached the mark. This year the group features two potential Heisman candidates in FSU’s Dalvin Cook and Pitt’s James Conner.
Conner tops my list as he has been a freight train for the Panthers over the last two years. Conner managed a whopping 26 touchdowns last year, which was 13 more than any other back in the conference. I worry about Conner’s durability due to the fact that he has carried the rock 444 times in his two seasons at Pittsburgh. If he stays healthy he will squarely be in the mix for Heisman votes.
Behind Conner comes the one-time Clemson and Miami commitment in Dalvin Cook. Cook emerged as FSU’s best option at running back as the season progressed, but struggled in the CFB semifinal game against Oregon. With Winston gone, you can expect a lofty workload for the dynamic Cook this coming season.
Behind those two it’s a tossup between several players. Shadrach Thorton, Jon Hilliman, and Brandon Radcliffe round out my top 5, but you can substitute any of those guys with players on the watch list.
Wayne Gallman of Clemson would easily make the list if he didn’t have to split carries with a loaded backfield and Deshaun Watson. Miami’s Joseph Yearby will also get his chance to shine now that Duke Johnson is gone, and he could easily vault himself on to the national scene in a hurry.
No Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket on the list you say? Paul Johnson lost both Days and Laskey to graduation, but whoever steps into those shoes will likely put up big numbers based on Johnson’s system.
- James Conner (JR)-Pitt
298 att, 1765 yards, 26 TD
5 rec, 70 yards
- Dalvin Cook (SO)-FSU
170 att, 1008 yards, 8 TD
22 rec, 203 yards
- Shadrach Thorton (SR)-NC State
164 att, 907 yards, 9 TD
15 rec, 133 yards, 1 TD
- Jon Hilliman (SO)-BC
210 att, 860 yards, 13 TD
1 rec, 5 yards
- Brandon Radcliffe (JR)-Louisville
144 att, 737 yards, 12 TD
6 rec, 84 yards
Watch List: Wayne Gallman (Clemson), Shaquille Powell (Duke), TJ Logan (UNC), Joseph Yearby (Miami)
The 2014 group of ACC wideouts was an impressive one. Future draft picks DeVante Parker, Rashad Greene, Phillip Dorsett, Jamison Crowder, and DeAndre Smelter are all gone. While the returning group may not produce as much NFL talent, they will still be pretty stout.
Tyler Boyd has been lights out for the Pitt Panthers and has folks up there reminiscing of the Larry Fitzgerald days. Boyd features a long frame and is virtually unstoppable when the ball is within his grasps. Over the last 6 games of the season, Boyd amassed five games with over 100 yards receiving including three games over 130 yards.
Following Boyd are a pair of uber talented Tigers. Artavis Scott burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season, displaying sticky hands and an uncanny ability to navigate through secondaries. Scott also proved to be a valuable weapon on the jet sweep and almost single handedly defeated in state rival South Carolina with that play. You can bet that new offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott will find numerous ways to put the ball in their playmaker’s hands.
Opposite of Scott is the big-bodied Mike Williams. Once a skinny beanstalk, Williams has added the necessary size to go along with his dynamic skill set. Williams averaged over 18 yards per catch as a sophomore and provides Deshaun Watson with a legitimate deep threat.
There’s a drop off after those three, but UNC’s Ryan Switzer is likely the best slot receiver in the conference. He is also a factor in the return game and his elusiveness was displayed by averaging over 20 yards on punt returns. Fedora loves to toss the pigskin around and Switzer was the number one target last season with 61 receptions in 2014.
Number 5 on my list was tough, but I ultimately went with Isaiah Ford from Virginia Tech. Ford quietly put together an impressive freshmen campaign in Blacksburg and despite having only had one +100 yard receiving game proved to be Mr. Reliable in a stagnant Hokie offense.
As for the watch list, Travis Rudolph is one to keep an eye on down in Tallahassee and Quinshad Davis hopes to finally put together a complete year up in Chapel Hill.
- Tyler Boyd (JR)-Pitt
78 rec, 1261 yards, 8 TD
- Artavis Scott (SO)-Clemson
76 rec, 965 yards, 8 TD
- Mike Williams (JR)-Clemson
57 rec, 1030 yards, 6 TD
- Ryan Switzer (JR)-UNC
61 rec, 757 yards, 4 TD
- Isaiah Ford (SO)-VT
56 rec, 709 yards, 6 TD
Watch List: Quinshad Davis (UNC), Travis Rudolph (FSU), James Quick (Louisville), Canaan Severin (UVA)