ACC superlatives: MVP, biggest gamebreaker and more
The ACC may not be the deepest conference in the FBS, but there are quality players spread throughout the 14 teams. Just some of that talent is highlighted below, in the next instalment of our “Superlatives” series.
Most valuable player: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Clemson have produced some outstanding players in the past, but national success did not arrive until Deshaun Watson burst onto the scene. The Tigers’ signal caller came within a whisker of carrying the team to the ultimate prize. Freakishly, he did all that as a sophomore. Although far from consistent, Watson was outstanding when called upon. He ranked as our third overall quarterback (seventh in pure passing grade), racking up a QB rating of 105.4. No single player was more important to their team than Watson in 2015.
Runner Up: S Derwin James, Florida State
Biggest matchup nightmare: TE Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
Samuels’ position is almost impossible to define. “Playmaker” better defines his skillset. Of 542 offensive snaps in 2015, 156 came in the slot, 33 out wide, 185 at tightend, 99 at halfback and 65 at fullback. Few players would be capable of handling both the blocking and ball-carrying responsibilities. Samuels is a rare breed. He managed a combined 26 broken tackles from 120 touches, while also ranking second in the ACC amongst tightends with a +4.6 blocking grade. The Wolfpack weapon is a serious headache for opposing defensive coordinators.
Runner Up: WR Jamari Staples, Louisville
Most complete receiver: Jamari Staples, Louisville
Louisville’s top wideout is a freak. His combination of size and speed must terrify opposing defensive backs. Despite running only 248 routes last season due to injury, Staples earned a +12.2 receiving grade, good for second amongst returning ACC receivers. At 6 foot 4, he has the height to elevate over defensive backs, as illustrated by the grab below. Staples also has strong hands, an exceptional catch radius and the speed to get deep. Watch out if he stays healthy in 2016.
Runner Up: Isiah Ford, Virginia Tech
Most dominant road grader: Wyatt Teller, Virginia Tech
Teller has put two impressive seasons as a run blocker on tape. He must have hit the weight room extensively during his redshirt season, earning grades of +16.7 and +25.3 in his two full seasons with the Hokies. In that span he has managed an impressive 14 green graded (minimum +1.0) games as a run blocker. Virginia Tech averaged a team-high 5.3 yards per attempt over left guard last season. Teller is owed most of the credit.
Runner Up: Adam Bisnowaty, Pittsburgh
Best kick slide: John Heck, North Carolina
Redshirt senior John Heck formed a key part of North Carolina’s excellent offensive line a year ago. He can play on either edge, and plays both well. Overall he allowed just 17 combined pressures a year ago, and only five knockdowns. Heck’s pass blocking efficiency of 97.0 was fourth amongst returning ACC tackles. Pass blocking proved a strength his junior year also, where he allowed only 14 combined pressures (three knockdowns).
Runner Up: Adam Bisnowaty, Pittsburgh
Best receiver from the slot: Stacy Coley, Miami (FL)
No ACC receiver offers more of a threat from the slot than the Canes’ Coley. He caught an impressive 72 percent of targets lined up inside, for 618 yards and four touchdowns. The 2.81 yards he managed per snap were third-most amongst returning FBS players. He also dropped just a single pass despite the traffic over the middle of the field.
Runner Up: Kermit Whitfield, FSU
Biggest gamebreaker: HB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Dalvin Cook has multiple deficiencies – especially holding onto the ball – but he is also the most dangerous single-play threat in the ACC. The Seminoles’ star running back is a threat to take it the distance on every touch. He generated 62.9 percent of his yardage of runs of longer than 15 yards (second in FBS), totalling a ridiculous 19 touchdowns in 2015, with 56 broken tackles. In addition, he managed 1.24 yards per route run (eighth in the conference), and a further 12 broken tackles in the passing game.
Runner Up: HB Elijah Hood, North Carolina
Most explosive pass rusher: Devonte Fields, Louisville
The Cardinals lost a dominant lineman in Sheldon Rankins, but are fortunately blessed with excellent depth on their defensive front. Senior outside linebacker Devonte Fields has frightening potential coming off the edge. He topped our list of all returning ACC edge rushers with a +20.5 grade. Fields racked up 13 sacks, seven hits and a further 29 hurries in 339 snaps a year ago. Watch out for an even bigger season in 2016.
Runner Up: DeMarcus Walker, Florida Stat
Most complete defender: LB Matt Milano, Boston College
Boston College’s tradition of producing exceptional linebackers looks set to continue. Luke Kuechly might be in a class of his own, but senior strongside linebacker Milano is a fine player in his own right. He possesses the athleticism to drop into coverage, the strength to shed blocks and the instincts to find the ball in traffic. Milano earnt grades of at least +4.2 in each of the three facets of play, dominating against the run in particular. The BC ‘backer also allowed a QB rating of only 78.8, as well as generating 29 combined pressures. The Eagles can be confident of excellent play at the second level once again next season.
Runner Up: DE Harold Landry, Boston College
Shutdown corner: MJ Stewart, North Carolina
Stewart has received relatively little buzz compared with some of the nation’s other top corners. That’ll change soon. He gave up a QB rating of only 39.8 in 2015, which bettered both Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis and Iowa’s Desmond King. Overall receivers caught only 31 of 69 targets (44.9 percent) for 325 yards and one touchdown. Stewart picked off four passes and added a further 12 pass deflections to earn a +15.1 coverage grade. Shutdown corners of Stewart’s quality are invaluable.
Runner Up: Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson