The 2016 ACC Football Kickoff is less than a week away, and as media fill out their preseason All-ACC ballots, many of the usual suspects are sure to garner a great deal of hype.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook are among the bigger names, and both will be receiving preseason player of the year votes. But while it’s easy to pick out many of the stars who could be in line for All-American honors, identifying potential breakout players is a tougher task.
Here are five ACC players who could surprise in 2016:
5. CB Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State
A former top-15 prospect, McFadden was on the radar of just about anyone who follows FSU before he even arrived in Tallahassee. To the rest of the league, though, he was just another freshman reserve in 2015.
McFadden played in only seven games as a rookie and registered four tackles. The 6-foot-2, 201-pound cornerback is looking to do more this season as he prepares to fill the spot left behind by No. 5 overall NFL Draft pick Jalen Ramsey.
With a year of experience under his belt and a series of spring practices out of the way, McFadden should be in better position to make significant contributions as a sophomore. He’ll be surrounded by elite-level talent on the Seminoles’ defense, too, which will also work to his benefit.
4. WR Braxton Berrios, Miami
An already thin Miami receiving corps took another hit this week when projected starter Lawrence Cager suffered a season-ending knee injury. That makes Berrios’ role even more important going into the fall.
Stacy Coley is back as quarterback Brad Kaaya’s favorite returning target, but Berrios is expected to start in the slot. The Raleigh, N.C., native would have been a bigger part of the offense last year had injuries not factored into the equation.
Berrios’ career to date includes 33 receptions for 318 yards and three touchdowns. He could come close to doubling all of those figures as a junior.
3. QB Eric Dungey, Syracuse
Despite showing flashes of an electrifying quarterback as a true freshman in 2015, Dungey is often left out of the All-ACC conversation for a couple of reasons. One is because he plays for Syracuse, which might be the worst team in the league. He also left himself exposed to big hits last season, which kept him sidelined for nearly half the year.
In an attempt to keep Dungey from leaving himself vulnerable to injury, new Orange head coach Dino Babers has made the sophomore signal-caller watch film of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the offseason. In terms of escapability and keeping plays alive, Dungey’s playing style is similar to that of Wilson, but again, he needs to learn how to stay on the field.
Make no mistake: Syracuse is a bad football team. But Dungey should be fun to watch, especially in a fast-paced spread offense.
2. QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
Trubisky has seen meaningful action throughout his career at UNC, so he’s not a total unknown. He even impressed so much in the spring that Larry Fedora, who rarely declares starters before fall practice, named him the first-team quarterback in April.
It’s impossible to sleep on a player who completed 85.1 percent of his passes for 555 yards and six touchdowns (with no interceptions) as a sophomore. With four starters back on the offensive line and two All-ACC performers in the receiving corps, he has a chance to be the league’s second-best quarterback behind Deshaun Watson.
1. DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
Clemson’s other starter at defensive end, Austin Bryant, could also be on this list, but he’d hardly be a surprise after becoming a regular contributor on an outstanding Tigers defensive line by the end of last season. The other bookend on the line is a name that isn’t nearly as well-known right now but will be spoken regularly in the coming months.
Ferrell, who, like Bryant, was a member of Clemson’s 2015 signing class, sat out his senior season at the high school level with a torn ACL and redshirted last year after injuries hampered him in the preseason. But following the departures of ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd to the NFL, he emerged as one of the more dominant players on the team’s defense in the spring, earning a starting spot.
Lawson and Dodd had enormous shoes to fill last season in replacing Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford, and they succeeded. Expect Bryant and Ferrell to do the same.