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25 Redshirt Freshmen to Watch in the ACC in 2017

Dabo Swinney

Dabo Swinney

Redshirt freshmen make an impact for every college football team during the course of a season, and it’s no surprise a handful of talented players are ready to push for time after sitting out the 2016 campaign. A variety of reasons could be pinpointed for the redshirt year, but the extra time could be beneficial to learn a scheme, develop physically in the weight room or help provide some space on the depth chart with a stacked group of upperclassmen departing the following year. With spring practice in the books, all 130 teams have a good foundation on the depth chart for fall practice and an idea of which players will make a major impact next fall. 

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Which redshirt freshmen could make an impact in the ACC in 2017? Here are 25 names to watch:

25 ACC Redshirt Freshmen to Watch in 2017

Josh Ball/Andrew Boselli/Jauan Williams/Baveon Johnson, OL, Florida State

The Seminoles have three returning starters up front, but this group heads into the offseason with some uncertainty and a few jobs could change hands in the fall. Left tackle Roderick Johnson departed early for the NFL, opening the door for Ball to claim the starting job this spring. Williams is also expected to push for snaps at tackle, while Johnson will battle Alec Eberle and Andrew Boselli for the starting center job in fall practice. All four redshirt freshmen offensive linemen could see significant snaps for Florida State’s line in 2017.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: FSU

Scott Bracey, WR, Duke

With quarterback Daniel Jones coming off a promising freshman season, Duke’s offense should be poised to take a step forward with six returning starters in 2017. Adding to the optimism in Durham is Bracey’s emergence after a redshirt year. The Virginia native ranked as the No. 139 recruit in the 2016 signing class and brings a solid frame (6-foot-2) that could be a factor around the end zone.

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Anthony Brown, QB, Boston College

Brown and Darius Wade are locked into a tight battle for the starting job. Wade likely pulled ahead in the race after a strong performance in the spring game, but the fall is another chance for Brown to stake his claim for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. The New Jersey native threw for 4,496 yards and 58 touchdowns during his high school career and ranked as a three-star recruit in the 2016 247Sports Composite.

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Brittain Brown, RB, Duke

Shaun Wilson returns after leading the team with 623 rushing yards last season, but depth is an issue after the departure of Jela Duncan and Joseph Ajeigbe. Brown is an intriguing option for coach David Cutcliffe, and the redshirt freshman capped spring workouts by leading the team with 24 rushing yards on five attempts in the spring game. Brown ranked as the No. 503 recruit in the 2016 signing class.

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Keyshon Camp, DT, Pitt

Rebuilding the interior of Pitt’s defensive line is a top offseason priority for coach Pat Narduzzi. Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto expired their eligibility after the season, while Jeremiah Taleni was dismissed from the team in late April. Camp is a key cog in the rebuilding effort after a redshirt season and is expected claim a starting job in fall practice. The Florida native ranked as a four-star and top 300 recruit in the 2016 signing class.

Zerrick Cooper, QB, Clemson

Clemson’s three-man battle to replace Deshaun Watson is expected to continue deep into fall practice. Junior Kelly Bryant has a slight hold on the No. 1 spot, but true freshman Hunter Johnson and redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper aren’t far behind. Cooper completed 11 of 18 passes for 81 yards and showcased his mobility by rushing for 26 yards and five carries in the spring game. Will Bryant hold onto the top spot or will Cooper – a four-star recruit in the 2016 signing class – finish fall workouts as the starter?

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

Greg Dortch, WR, Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons return their top five statistical receiving options from last season, including leading target Tabari Hines (38 catches) and tight end Cam Serigne (30). While this group has a proven cast of options, Dortch could work his way into the rotation. The Virginia native capped a solid spring by catching three passes for 62 yards in the final scrimmage. He’s also expected to make an impact on returns.

Wake Forest: college football picks against the spread

Dez Fitzpatrick, WR, Louisville

Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast has to be retooled after the departures of receivers James Quick and Jamari Staples, along with standout tight end Cole Hikutini. However, the cupboard is hardly bare for coach Bobby Petrino. In addition to the return of Jaylen Smith, Traveon Samuel and Seth Dawkins, the emergence of Fitzpatrick in spring practice added another weapon in the passing attack. Fitzpatrick caught nine passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game and should factor prominently into the receiving corps this fall.

College football rankings: Louisville

Tomon Fox, DL, North Carolina

Fox ranked as North Carolina’s No. 3 recruit in its 2016 signing class and appeared on track for a significant role in the line rotation. However, after playing in the first two games of last season, he was sidelined for the rest of the year due to a knee injury. Even though standout tackle Nazair Jones left for the NFL, the Tar Heels return ends Malik Carney and Dajaun Drennon, along with tackle Aaron Crawford. Fox’s emergence would add to the solid foundation in place.

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Ben Frazier, DL, NC State

NC State has quietly assembled one of the ACC’s top defensive lines for 2017. End Bradley Chubb should be a preseason All-American, and the interior is in good shape with the return of Justin Jones and B.J. Hill. While Frazier isn’t likely to start, he should contribute as a rotational player. The Georgia native was NC State’s top recruit in the 2016 signing class.

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Jovani Haskins, TE, Miami

Coach Mark Richt wasted no time getting his first class at Miami into game action. The Hurricanes had only four freshmen use a redshirt season in 2016. Haskins was one of those players after arriving in Coral Gables as a three-star recruit from New Jersey. Haskins is expected to see time as a rotational player behind starting tight end Chris Herndon.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Miami

Josh Jackson, QB, Virginia Tech

After developing Paxton Lynch into a first-round pick at Memphis and helping Jerod Evans make the jump from junior college transfer to one of the ACC’s top signal-callers last season, it’s clear Justin Fuente is one of college football’s top quarterback gurus. Is Jackson his next star pupil under center? After a redshirt year in 2016, Jackson competed with junior college recruit A.J. Bush and true freshman Hendon Hooker for the starting job in spring ball. Jackson closed the session by completing four of eight passes for 67 yards in the spring game. The dual-threat quarterback was a three-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Virginia Tech

Jay Jones/Lucas Johnson, QB, Georgia Tech

It’s a longshot Jones or Johnson sees significant time in 2017. Matthew Jordan is the favorite to replace Justin Thomas under center, but a spring foot injury slowed his progression into the starting role. With Jordan sidelined, TaQuon Marshall worked as the No. 1 quarterback. However, Jones and Johnson made an impression in the spring game by combining for 140 rushing yards and two scores. Johnson also completed 7 of 13 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. If Jordan or Marshall struggles this season, coach Paul Johnson appears to have two capable options waiting in the wings.

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Xavier Kelly, DE, Clemson

The Tigers are loaded once again on the defensive line. In addition to likely first-team All-Americans Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, coordinator Brent Venables also returns rising star Clelin Ferrell at end, along with Albert Huggins and redshirt freshman Nyles Pinckney on the interior. Kelly ranked as the No. 99 recruit in the 2016 signing class and recorded one quarterback hurry in the spring game. He may not start, but Kelly should be another solid rotational player off the edge.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

Ben Knutson/Dillon Reinkensmeyer, OL, Virginia

Virginia doesn’t list freshmen as redshirts anymore, but Knutson and Reinkensmeyer did not record a snap of game action in 2016. The offensive line is a point of focus this offseason for coach Bronco Mendenhall, as the Cavaliers allowed 36 sacks and struggled to establish a consistent ground game last year. Can Knutson and Reinkensmeyer help the offensive line take a step forward?

Virginia: college football picks against the spread

Phil Patterson, WR, Virginia Tech

The Hokies have one of the ACC’s top returning receivers in Cam Phillips (76 catches), but the departure of Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges leaves a void in the secondary targets. Which receivers will step up this offseason? Patterson and true freshmen Caleb Farley and Kalil Pimpleton are three potential contributors for coach Justin Fuente in the passing game. Patterson was a three-star recruit in the 2016 signing class.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Virginia Tech

Janarius Robinson/Cedric Wood, DL, Florida State

Considering the depth and talent in place on the front line for Florida State, Wood and Robinson are likely headed for a rotational role in 2017. However, if Wood and Robinson end up as third team options on the depth chart this fall, that’s a strong statement about the depth assembled by coach Jimbo Fisher. Robinson ranked as a four-star recruit and was the No. 86 player, while Wood wasn’t far behind (No. 201) in the 247Sports Composite.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: FSU

Airon Servais, OL, Syracuse

There’s room for improvement on a Syracuse offensive line that surrendered 38 sacks last season. Servais worked with the starting unit in the spring game and made a case to earn the No. 1 spot at center. Fellow redshirt freshman Sam Heckel is another name to remember in the trenches as the Orange look to solidify their starting five in fall workouts.

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Shaq Smith, LB, Clemson

Ben Boulware leaves big shoes to fill at linebacker for Clemson’s defense this offseason, but coordinator Brent Venables already has a strong foundation in place with the return of Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel. Smith is another rising star to watch this season, as the former four-star recruit could push for snaps on the strong side or weak side.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson