Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is the ACC player seemingly on the cover of every magazine and the preseason pick to win conference player of the year honors. Watson also leads a pool of ACC players getting various degrees of Heisman Trophy hype.
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya and North Carolina wide receiver/return specialist Ryan Switzer are among those joining Watson as preseason Heisman candidates. However, plenty of others around the ACC might not be getting as much preseason attention … but could break out with huge seasons in 2016.
Here’s a look at a few:
LOUISVILLE QB LAMAR JACKSON
The sophomore dual-threat quarterback enters this season as the clear leader of the Cardinals’ offense after sharing snaps last year. Because he split time with Kyle Bolin, his overall stats from 2015 don’t necessarily stand out, but he was electrifying down the stretch last season. He threw for 153 yards per game and rushed for 80 more. Both numbers should increase this season. He’s no Deshaun Watson yet, but fans will see similarities as Jackson matures.
VIRGINIA RB TAQUAN MIZZELL
The Cavalier speedster was impressive last season, finishing among the ACC leaders in both rushing and receiving, but with a new coach, quarterback and offense to work with in Charlottesville, this might be the year to really see what Mizzell can do. He averaged more than 110 yards of total offense as a junior, but rushed for just 56 per game. He could improve those rushing numbers while still playing a huge role in the passing game.
VIRGINIA TECH WR ISAIAH FORD
New Hokies coach Justin Fuente will have Tech throwing the ball all over the field, and plenty of quality targets exist for quarterback Jerod Evans, but Ford will most likely put up huge numbers. He grabbed 75 receptions for 1,164 yards last year and should be able to at least replicate those numbers while potentially adding to his 11 touchdown catches.
PITT DE EJUAN PRICE
Along with Louisville’s Devonte Fields, Price is perhaps the ACC’s most fearsome pass rusher — he lived in opponents’ backfields last season. Price had 19.5 tackles for a loss and led all returning players in the conference with 11.5 sacks. Linebacker Mike Caprara is also a solid pass rusher, which should prevent Price from seeing as many double teams. This should mean lots more sacks and plenty of awards could be in his future.
MIAMI RB JOSEPH YEARBY
Though he doesn’t get as much attention as Sunshine State rival Dalvin Cook, Yearby emerged as a 1,000-yard rusher last season, as well as a solid receiver out of the backfield. New Miami coach Mark Richt is a former Hurricane quarterback, and many are wondering what that will mean for Kaaya, but it’s important to remember Richt had a steady stream of superstar running backs coming through Georgia. Now that he’s in Miami, it will be interesting to see if Yearby takes the next step.
WAKE FOREST CB BRAD WATSON
Watson flew under the radar among ACC defensive backs, in part because Wake Forest won just three games and also because he recorded just two interceptions. However, Watson led the ACC in pass breakups with 16 and was second on the Demon Deacons with 72 tackles. If Watson hangs on to a couple more of the passes he’s great at getting his hands on, he’ll earn plenty of attention and postseason recognition.