ACC Football: 10 Toughest Players to Replace in 2021

North Carolina and Clemson will be among the teams with huge holes to fill in 2021

It wasn't the best of bowl seasons for the ACC. Six conference teams played in the postseason and all six ended the year with a loss, including two blowout defeats in the College Football Playoff.

 

Still, with North Carolina making the Orange Bowl, three ACC programs made the New Year's Six, though Notre Dame will go back to being an independent in 2021. Those results cannot be accomplished without quality personnel and many of the league's top players will be heading to the NFL and their respective schools will be looking to fill very large shoes.

 

Here are the 10 players (in alphabetical order) whose departures will hurt the most.

 

Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina

It is hard to separate Carter and Javonte Williams. In reality, we don't have to. Carter gained All-ACC first-team honors so his name will be on the bill, but losing the 2,385 rushing yards and 33 total touchdowns that the two amassed will be a problem. As well as Mack Brown has recruited, there's not high level prospect ready to roll, so much may fall on Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler.

 

Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech suffered a couple of surprising transfers along the offensive line, but the big jolt came when Darrisaw announced his intention to enter the draft. Projected as a sure-fire first-rounder, no one can blame him. But his loss — combined with the defections of Doug Nester and Bryan Hudson — puts the Hokies in a tough spot up front.

 

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Not only is Etienne far and away Clemson's all-time leader in rushing yardage and touchdowns, he also is the career ACC leader in those categories. Plus, as a weapon as a receiver, Etienne was on the field in every situation. Lyn-J Dixon, Chez Mellusi, and freshman Will Shipley have potential, but it is highly unlikely any of them will reach No. 9's level.

 

Khalil Herbert, RB, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech fans hoped that the Kansas transfer could ignite what had been a stagnant Hokie running game. Well, he certainly did. Herbert rushed for nearly 1,200 yards on 7.8 yards per carry. The question now becomes, can Virginia Tech build off what Herbert started in 2020 or do they slip back to running game mediocrity next fall?

 

Patrick Jones II, DE, Pittsburgh

And Rashad Weaver. Over the past couple of seasons, the soul of Pat Narduzzi's Panthers were their defensive line. It will look completely different in 2021 as Jalen Twyman declared for the draft before the 2020 season even started and Jones and Weaver are on their way to the league as well.

 

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

D.J. Uiagalelei is going to be outstanding. But there is only one Trevor Lawrence. His presence was noticeable as soon as he returned from his COVID-19 absence in November and though the season did not end the way Clemson would have liked, no ACC player will be missed as much as Lawrence.

 

Hunter Long, TE, Boston College

Jeff Hafley's Eagles will have Zay Flowers, C.J. Lewis, and Jaelen Gill back at wide receiver, but he will have to replace Long, who led the team with 57 catches. While the wideouts were big-play threats, Long did the dirty work and made the clutch catches to move the chains. Spencer Witter, a 2019 under-the-radar signee, is next up at tight end after catching six passes this fall.

 

Alim McNeill, DT, NC State

His stats don't jump out at you. One sack and 25 total tackles look rather pedestrian. But McNeill was the guy opposing offenses keyed on and was a versatile player that could move up and down the line. C.J. Clark is another big body but he has to prove he can be as forceful as McNeill.

 

Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

He spent just one year in Coral Gables, but it was quite the season. After totaling eight tackles for lost yardage in two years at UCLA, Phillips had 15.5 for the Canes. His 4.5 sacks in the Pac-12 ballooned to eight in his lone ACC season. Much will be expected of Miami next year, but with Phillips and fellow ends Gregory Rousseau and Quincy Roche moving on, Manny Diaz will have to rebuild his defensive front.

 

Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina

Along with Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, the Heels will say good-bye to receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown. But the loss of Surratt is a bigger deal. After switching over from quarterback, Surratt made 206 tackles from his linebacker position over two years.

 

— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

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