Who are the new youngsters to watch in the ACC this fall?
The ACC gets knocked for its poor BCS bowl record (3-13) and for not being able to compete with the SEC on a regular basis. While this is true, John Swofford has this league heading in the right direction with team stability and plenty of room for growth.
One thing the ACC has done extremely well of late, however, is produce elite impact freshmen. Russell Wilson, Ryan Williams, Sammy Watkins and Duke Johnson are four of the last five ACC Offensive Rookies of the Year. Luke Kuechly, Xavier Rhodes, Merrill Noel and Ronald Darby are the last four ACC Defensive Rookies of the Year. Toss in other first-year stars like Stefon Diggs and Giovani Bernard from the last two seasons and the league has loads of elite young talent to lean on.
The 2013 season will be no different as a host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.
Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The last name should say it all. As the fourth Fuller brother to play at Virginia Tech, Kendall has five-star expectations to match his five-star talent. He is earning his way into the starting lineup in place of the injured Antone Exum. He has elite speed, quickness and football IQ and it could mean a huge first season in Blacksburg for what could be the best of the four Fuller brothers.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Few first-year players will enter play with as much hype and expectations as the Seminoles' starting quarterback. He has been given the reins to Jimbo Fisher’s offense with eyes on a second straight ACC title. He has a huge arm, big-time intangibles, great size and has already played on a big postseason stage for the Florida State baseball team. The 'Noles will go as far as Winston can take them.
Taquan Mizzell, RB, Virginia
The speedy tailback should provide a much-needed spark to the Cavaliers' ground attack. Kevin Parks is an undersized, underrated running back but “Smoke” Mizzell should complement him perfectly. The freshman can score from anywhere on the field and makes defenders look silly in the open field. Look for 100-120 touches for the star first-year back.
Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
The second-fastest player on the team already, Coley has a chance to make a big impact in his first year. With a stable quarterback situation, the handsy wideout appears to be the most talented pass-catcher on the roster already. There will be growing pains, but the up-tempo offense could mean big numbers for the speedy freshman.
Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
He has dealt with a nagging groin issue this camp, but Alexander’s overall talent and a need in the secondary should force the freshman cornerback into action early. Any missed time will hurt the ever-important first month of practice for a first-year player but Mac’s raw upside and cover skills should get him on the field plenty this fall.
Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
Through graduation and injury, Leggett appears poised to snag the starting tight end role in one of the nation’s elite offenses. Dwayne Allen was a Mackey Award winner for this team two years ago, and while no one should compare Leggett to Allen just yet, the system has clearly proven to be TE-friendly. Look for big things from the 6-foot-6, 240-pound frosh. Leggett was injured in practice on Wednesday and is expected to miss a couple of weeks.
Jonathan McLaughlin, OL, Virginia Tech
He wasn’t a five-star prospect like some other names on this list, but McLaughlin should have a similar impact. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder should be the starter at left tackle protecting Logan Thomas in what is a critical year for all parties involved with Hokies football.
Alex Figueroa, LB, Miami
A Fork Union Military Academy product, Figueroa burst onto the scene in spring ball, earning himself a starting spot at outside linebacker. He has excellent athletic ability, toughness and rarely misreads a play. This defense was atrocious last year and Figueroa should be a big part of why it should be better in 2013.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt
The big-play, in-state wide receiver prospect is being counted on by Pitt faithful to fill a major void opposite No. 1 wideout Devin Street. Boyd is competing for starting time but will undoubtedly see the field early and often for Paul Chryst’s high-powered scheme.
Caleb Peterson, OL, North Carolina
It is no easy job to replace an All-American and top-10 NFL Draft pick but that is what Peterson is going to try to do for the Tar Heels. A highly-touted prospect from Alabama, he is slotted into the starting lineup at guard. He will need to prove his understanding of Larry Fedora's complex system to stick.
Johnell Barnes, WR, Duke
David Cutcliffe has praised his young wide receiver in fall camp.
Adam Bisnowaty, OL, Pitt
Not as highly-touted as Dorian Johnson but is no slouch in his own right.
Artie Burns, CB, Miami
Speedy coverman needs to step in and contribute immediately for a secondary that needs big improvements.
Joel Caleb, RB/WR, Virginia Tech
Do-everyting playmaker could bolster both the passing and running game in Blacksburg.
Chris Casher, DE, Florida State
Elite prospect is finally looking to crack the lineup on a team with ACC title hopes.
Bra’Lon Cherry, WR, NC State
Early enrollee has a leg up on fellow young pass-catchers in Dave Doeren's fast-paced offense.
Tyshon Dye, RB, Clemson
The Tigers need to find ball carriers for Chad Morris’ offense and Dye should get some looks.
Trey Edmunds, RB, Virginia Tech
Will battle with J.C. Coleman for starting carries in an offense that must improve in 2013.
Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech
Is competing with Fuller for starting time in Exum’s absence. Will play plenty either way.
Khris Francis, RB, North Carolina
Early enrollee made a quick name for himself this spring/summer in the race to replace Gio Bernard.
Mark Hall, LB, Virginia
Redshirt 250-pound linebacker could bring toughness to the middle of the Wahoos’ defense.
Dorian Johnson, OL, Pitt
Elite, five-star prospect comes to campus with sky-high expectations.
T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina
Bernard is gone and finding a suitable replacement is atop Fedora’s to-do list.
Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami
Big-time prospect from the Northeast brings a great motor and toughness to terrible defense.
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Elite athlete could play all over the secondary for a team stacked with defensive talent.
Gabe Roberts, C, Pitt
Yet another first-year Panthers lineman who could see important snaps.
Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State
A hesitant marriage between player and school could result in a huge freshman season for playmaking backer.
Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson
Everett Edwards, CB, Duke
Brisly Estime, HB, Syracuse
Holland Fisher, LB, Virginia Tech
Dominique Gibson, Joshua Wilhite, Dezmond Wortham, RB, Wake Forest
Jay Guillermo, OL, Clemson
Tim Harris, CB, Virginia
Jonathan Howard, WR, North Carolina
Abner Logan, LB, Maryland
Josh Manley, DE, Syracuse
C.J. Moore, CB, Virginia
Yannick Ngakoue, LB, Maryland
Josh Stanford, WR, Virginia Tech
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Demarcus Walker, DE, Florida State
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Myles Willis and Tyler Brouse, RB, Boston College
Harrison Butker, K, Georgia Tech
Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State
Chris Blewitt, K, Pitt
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