The ACC's Top 25 Players
Editor’s note: The following list was compiled by Football.com ACC editor Steve Barnes, ACC writers, Clenaure Carter, Ryan Lacey and Eric J. Russell, Lyn Scarbrough of Lindy’s Annuals and Chip Patterson of CBSSports.com.
Which teams will make it to Charlotte, N.C., to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game? That is anyone’s guess. Which 25 players are the best in the league? That is up for debate — heated debate.
With the season less than two months away, here is the list of the ACC’s Top 25 players according to our assembled panel. The roster is composed of the best players regardless of position.
Expect some stout offenses in the conference this season. Our top four players and 14 of our top 25 play on that side of the ball, including a pair of nationally-touted Heisman candidates. Florida State (4), North Carolina (4), Clemson (3), Virginia Tech (3) and Miami (2) placed multiple players on the list. Virginia and Syracuse were the only two teams not represented.
Atlantic Coast Conference Top 25 Players
1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Patterson: The league’s offensive player of the year set new ACC records for touchdowns in a season (46 including the bowl win) thanks to his improved mobility and decision-making. He’s gotten better every season and many believe the senior will have an opportunity to contend for the Heisman Trophy.
2. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Lacey: Johnson is one of the most electrifying players in the country, accounting for more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage and winning ACC freshman of the year in 2012. He, along with Boyd, are the two Heisman hopefuls for the conference.
3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Scarbrough: It’s bounce-back time for Watkins. Remember his 82 receptions, 1,219 yards as a freshman.
4. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Russell: Diggs is a playmaker, plain and simple. He was a part of most of Maryland’s big plays last season. This year he will have an actual quarterback to throw him the ball.
5. Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State
Carter: The best defensive back for the best secondary in college football. Florida State’s defensive secondary could be legendary this season and Joyner is the leading band member.
6. Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Patterson: First-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is bringing a new scheme that will mix up the responsibility for Jones, allowing him to take advantage of his versatility. Jones could have joined the school-record 11-player draft class in April, but his return will make the Noles frontrunners to repeat as ACC champs.
7. Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina
Barnes: In a quarterback-heavy conference, Renner will carry a lot of weight for the Tar Heels. Although he is second to Boyd overall, his strong arm accompanied by plenty of returning weapons could cause UNC to surprise a few teams this season.
8. Jeremy Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech
Carter: Georgia Tech’s explosive linebacker moves to defensive end under defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s 4-3 scheme.
9. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Scarbrough: Jernigan would have started for most college teams in 2012, but FSU had too much depth on the line. Jernigan was still seventh on the team with 46 tackles.
10. Jack Tyler, LB, Virginia Tech
Patterson: Tyler was a first-team Coaches’ All-ACC selection after leading the Hokies with 119 tackles in 2012. After competing for snaps in a crowded front seven, Tyler has become one of the next elite players during the impressive tenure of defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
11. Eric Ebron, WR, North Carolina
Russell: Ebron will be one of Bryn Renner’s favorite targets this season. He can not only be a threat in the passing game, but is a good blocker as well.
12. James Hurst, OT, North Carolina
Lacey: Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 320 pounds, Hurst is a rock on the offensive line. He is entering his fourth year as starting tackle and is one of the main reasons Renner had plenty of time to throw the football.
13. Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
Barnes: Three words — “Wes Welker clone.” All the guy does is get open, catch the ball and then put yards in his rear-view mirror.
14. Antone Exum, DB, Virginia Tech
Scarbrough: There are four returning starters in the secondary, led by senior cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Exum, coming off a knee injury and working hard to be ready for the season opener against Alabama. He might not make it for that game, but Exum, one of the top corners in the ACC, was on pace in his rehab to play the bulk of the season.
15. Tre Boston, S, North Carolina
Carter: Boston is one of the Tar Heels’ most dynamic athletes at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. Boston has the ability to play inside the box on run plays and cover wide receivers and tight ends across the middle.
16. Stephen Morris, QB, Miami
Lacey: Morris thrived in his first season as starter in 2012, throwing for more than 3,300 yards and 21 touchdowns. However, he must improve his completion percentage to become an elite quarterback in the conference.
17. Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB, Boston College
Russell: He has the potential to be one of the top linebackers in the draft next year. He averaged just more than nine tackles a game with 85 total tackles in nine games.
18. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
Lacey: Most of Greene’s 741 years came in crucial matchups in 2012 against the likes of North Carolina State, Miami and Virginia Tech. Expect him to make another significant jump in his production in 2013.
19. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Scarbrough: Thomas, who flirted with the NFL Draft, improved his mechanics during the spring in hopes of becoming a more-efficient passer — he completed 51.3 percent of his passes in 2012 — to compliment his bulldozing running style.
20. Devonta Freeman/James Wilder Jr., RBs, Florida State
Patterson: Freeman ran for 660 yards and eight touchdowns while Wilder added 635 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012. The duo, both juniors, bring different styles to the table, but if both are healthy the Seminoles should have another impressive rushing offense in 2013.
21. Chandler Cantanzaro, K, Clemson
Barnes: The guy is as close to automatic as they come. Last season, he nailed 18-of-19 field goals, including the game-winner against LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
22. Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
Carter: The 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive end could be one of the best in the country. Playing behind Sylvester Williams and Kevin Reddick last season, Martin will now be a physical force on the Tar Heels’ starting defensive line.
23. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke
Russell: Crowder was third in receiving yards per game in 2012. Now that running mate Conner Vernon is gone, his catches will increase. Expect another 1,000-yard season.
24. Shadrach Thornton, RB, North Carolina State
Lacey: Despite not seeing snaps for the first three games of the season, Thornton finished with nearly 700 rushing in his freshman season. He posted three straight 100-yard efforts to close the regular season.
25. Aaron Donald, DL, Pitt
Patterson: Of all the ACC newcomers in 2013, Donald is the player who concerns opposing coaches the most. The 6-foot, 285-pound defensive lineman was an All-Big East selection each of the last two years, finding ways to excel as a 3-4 defensive end (2011) and 4-3 defensive tackle (2012).
Other players who received votes: Ross Cockrell, Duke; Brian Stork, FSU; Devin Street, Pitt; Morgan Moses, Virginia; Vic Beasley, Clemson; Ross Martin, Duke; Tre Jackson, FSU; Asa Watson, N.C. State; Brandon Linder, Miami; Denzel Perryman, Miami; Quinshad Davis, North Carolina; Anthony Chickilo, Miami.