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ACC Wild Card Players in 2016

Shaq Wiggins

Shaq Wiggins

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The ACC is loaded with players who are already high on NFL teams’ draft boards and are household names for their respective fan bases. But while those players, like Clemson’s DeShaun Watson or Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, will certainly hold a big key to how their respective teams finish so will the valuable complementary players.

Related: ACC Football 2016 Predictions

Here’s a look at some of the potential wild card players for the ACC heading into the 2016 season.

ACC Atlantic

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Boston College Eagles

Offense: Aaron Monteiro, Tackle

One thing is for certain under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler: the Eagles will throw more than they have in the past few years. Monteiro, the presumed starter at left tackle, has to improve his pass blocking for this new offense to take flight.

Defense: Zach Allen, Defensive End

At one defensive end spot, the Eagles are golden with junior Harold Landry poised for a breakout season after a strong 2015. On the other side, the coaching staff loves the potential of Allen, who could bookend a talented front.

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Clemson Tigers

Offense: Jake Fruhmorgen, Tackle

Fellow sophomore Mitch Hyatt proved to be one of the nation’s best freshman linemen last season at left tackle, but Fruhmorgen only started one game in 2015. He is expected to hold down the right tackle spot on what should be one of the nation’s best offenses.

Defense: Korrin Wiggins, Cornerback

It was not a good offseason for the Tigers’ secondary, which lost Adrian Baker to a torn ACL and Kaleb Chalmers to dismissal over multiple infractions. Wiggins is recovering from a knee injury that kept him off the field last year, but he will be counted on this fall.

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Florida State Seminoles

Offense: Deondre Francois, Quarterback

Although it may be a bit of an obvious choice, this offense returns nine starters and, for the most part, is settled. However, even though Sean Maguire has starting experience, it’s Francois who emerged from the spring looking like the man for the job.

Defense: Tarvarus McFadden, Cornerback

McFadden may have the biggest shoes to fill on this defense, as Jalen Ramsey was a do-it-all talent who was drafted fifth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars this spring. McFadden, a sophomore, had considerable hype coming out of South Florida prep power American Heritage and should take on a much larger role in 2016.

Louisville Cardinals

Offense: Kiola Mahoni, Guard

The skill positions look to be all set for this offense, which took off last season behind quarterback Lamar Jackson. However, the offensive line is in need of patching up, and Mahoni, a returning starter at guard, can provide early leadership.

Defense: Shaq Wiggins, Cornerback

One of the returning starters in the secondary, Wiggins surprisingly did not run with the first team in the Cardinals’ spring game. Although head coach Bobby Petrino downplayed that move afterward, Wiggins’ presence during the season will need to be a steadying force.

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NC State Wolfpack

Offense: Jakobi Meyers, Quarterback

The Wolfpack promise to have another strong ground attack this season, but will be in need of a replacement for quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who was drafted by the New England Patriots. Meyers is in a battle for the starting job with Jalan McClendon and Boise State transfer Ryan Finley, but his mobility could give him the edge.

Defense: Darian Roseboro, Defensive End

Despite not starting last year, Roseboro appeared in 13 games and finished with four sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss. A 4-star recruit coming out of high school, expect him to further live up to his billing in 2016.

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Syracuse Orange

Offense: Moe Neal, Running Back/Wide Receiver

This true freshman was an early enrollee and impressed in the spring. Although the skill positions return with some veteran experience, new head coach Dino Babers’ offense allows for multiple playmakers to get their hands on the ball, and Neal definitely fits the bill.

Defense: Chris Slayton, Defensive Tackle

Overall, Syracuse sports an experienced roster. However, along the defensive line, there is a shortage of bodies that have seen live action. Slayton is the best player along the front right now, and he will need to be the anchor until others step up.

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Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Offense: Cade Carney, Running Back

There are a few veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, but don’t count Carney out when fall rolls around. The true freshman was an early enrollee and impressed all spring.

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Defense: Jessie Bates, Safety

After redshirting his freshman year in 2015, Bates emerged in the spring as a potential starter in the secondary. Don’t be surprised to also see him make an impact as a return specialist on special teams as well.

ACC Coastal

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Duke Blue Devils

Offense: Parker Boehme, Quarterback

The status of returning starting quarterback Thomas Sirk is up in the air after he tore his Achilles in February. Boehme, who saw limited time as a backup last season, played well in the spring and should hold down the spot if Sirk can’t play.

Defense: Tinashe Bere, Weak-side Linebacker

Overall, Duke is fairly young, and Bere, heading into his redshirt sophomore season, is one of the more promising fresh faces on defense. Head coach David Cutcliffe singled out Bere in the spring as one of the most improved players on that side of the ball.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Offense: Qua Searcy, A-Back

A year ago, Searcy’s season ended with a broken ankle against Notre Dame when he was hit as he tried to take a bad option pitch from quarterback Justin Thomas. If Searcy can make a full return from the injury, he’ll give a boost to an offense that needs its skill to overcome uncertainty up front.

Defense: P.J. Davis, Linebacker

The Yellow Jackets lost six starters off last year’s unit, which did reasonably well considering how much of a dip the offense took. Davis led the team in tackles last year with 77, including 6.5 for a loss, and should again anchor that side of the ball.

College Football Top 25: Miami

Miami Hurricanes

Offense: Trevor Darling, Tackle

The strength of the offensive line should be on the interior, as the return of center Nick Linder from injury should provide stability there. However, if the Hurricanes’ offense wants to be effective in head coach Mark Richt’s first year, it needs Darling, the left tackle, to hold his own, as well.

Defense: Shaq Quarterman, Linebacker

A true freshman who got a leg up by arriving in time for spring practice, Quarterman, a 4-star recruit out of Orange Park, Fla., did well enough to grab a starting spot in the middle of new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s defense.

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North Carolina Tar Heels

Offense: Mack Hollins, Wide Receiver

All eyes will be on quarterback Mitch Trubisky as he takes over for Marquise Williams as the starter. During the spring game, Hollins was Trubisky’s favorite target, grabbing seven passes for 111 yards.

Defense: Andre Smith, Linebacker

The memory from the Russell Athletic Bowl loss to Baylor when the Bears rang up 645 yards in a 49-38 win over the Tar Heels still remains fresh. Smith will have to anchor a run defense that lost linebacker Shakeel Rashad, who made 126 tackles in 2015.

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Pittsburgh Panthers

Offense: Quadree Henderson, Wide Receiver

Tyler Boyd left a massive void at wide receiver, as he led the team with 78 catches for 1,261 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The next closest receiver caught 21 passes. Henderson played mostly special teams as a true freshman but has explosive ability.

Defense: Dewayne Hendrix, Defensive End

A transfer from Tennessee, Hendrix was a 4-star recruit who sat out the 2015. At 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, he can potentially be an impact pass rusher for the Panthers, which already have a solid nucleus returning on defense.

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Virginia Cavaliers

Offense: Olamide Zaccheaus, Running Back

As a true freshman in 2015, Zaccheaus rushed for 275 yards and added another 216 receiving, but with new head coach Bronco Mendenhall installing a more up-tempo offense, look for the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Zaccheaus to get even more touches.

Defense: Juan Thornhill, Cornerback

Last year as a true freshman, Thornhill got limited experience, but under Mendenhall, expect his role to increase significantly. After making the change from safety to cornerback, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is expected to start in a secondary that includes All-American safety Quin Blanding.

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Virginia Tech Hokies

Offense: Jerod Evans, Quarterback

Although new head coach Justin Fuente has not named a starting quarterback yet, the feeling here is that Evans, who was the top-rated JUCO signal-caller in 2015, will win the job after he shined during the Hokies’ spring game.

Defense: Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker

As a true freshman last season, Edmunds did not see a ton of time, but look for that to change this fall for the 6-foot-5, 236-pounder. In the spring, things seemed to click for Edmunds in defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s defense, making the former 4-star recruit a potential impact player.

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.