Jawon Pass has some big shoes to fill for Louisville at quarterback
Lamar Jackson was obviously spectacular over the last two seasons, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and finishing third in '17. Despite his heroics, the Louisville Cardinals failed to even qualify for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
While getting returning stars to perform at a high level is imperative for success, the development of players that have not reached their maximum potential is equally important. Here is an offensive player and a defender for each ACC team whose play could make a large impact on his team’s success.
Offense: Anthony Brown, Quarterback
Boston College returns a very good offensive line and a running back that should put up massive numbers this season. The key to really revving up their offense will be quarterback play. Brown must first recover from last season’s knee injury, but he showed some promise as a freshman and he has some decent pass catchers coming back.
Defense: Connor Strachan, Linebacker
Strachan missed all but two games with his own knee injury last fall. A return to 2016 form -- when he led the Eagles with 80 tackles -- would soften the blow of losing leading 2017 tackler Ty Schwab.
Offense: Tee Higgins, Wide Receiver
The five-star talent is there and now the opportunity is as well. Higgins’ play in the spring showed that he is more than capable of replacing Deon Cain as the big, outside threat in the Clemson offense.
Defense: Isaiah Simmons, LB/S
He is listed as a starting linebacker, but he will truly be all over the field. He’ll see some time in coverage, he will get after the quarterback on occasion, and he will be a factor in stopping the run. Dorian O’Daniel was the Tigers' Mr. Versatility last year and that title will go to Simmons this fall.
Offense: Offensive Line
It’s impossible to pick just one player off a line that has been terrible for two years. Injuries hit the unit hard this spring and starting tackle Josh Ball is no longer on the roster following a university suspension stemming from a Title IX investigation. The Seminoles are loaded with skill position talent but it won’t matter if the guys up front can’t block.
Defense: Joshua Kaindoh, DE
There were high expectations when Kaindoh arrived in Tallahassee last year and he came through with four sacks as a true freshman. But now he will be counted on in a bigger way and the Baltimore native has the goods to be a star.
Offense: Jawon Pass, QB
He is not the next Lamar Jackson. Who could be? But Pass is a talented thrower of the football that can make some plays with his feet. He is fortunate to have a top receiver in Jaylen Smith to look for in tough situations.
Defense: TreSean Smith, S
If Smith is healthy, everyone expects him to build off his 34-tackle, two-interception freshman season. But he injured his knee in the TaxSlayer Bowl and the rehab is ongoing. A healthy Smith would strengthen a secondary that has suffered significant personnel losses.
Offense: Reggie Gallaspy, RB
Ryan Finley is a very good quarterback and he has some impressive targets, most notably Kelvin Harmon. But the Pack need a running back to replace Nyheim Hines. Gallaspy was solid as the No. 2 option in 2017 but he hopes to perhaps double the 506 rushing yards he produced last year.
Defense: Eurndraus Bryant, DT
When a team loses as much on defense as NC State did following last season, a lot of players have to step up. But it starts on the front line and Bryant has the potential to be a disruptor in the run game.
Offense: Devin Butler, WR
In head coach Dino Babers’ system, a receiver will put up big numbers and this year it may be Butler. Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips combined for 194 catches, 2,251 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2017. That is production that needs to come from other sources. Butler did catch 33 passes of his own, but averaged just 9.9 yards per reception with a single touchdown.
Defense: Ryan Guthrie, LB
Similar to the receiver position, linebacker took a big hit with the departures of Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett. Guthrie saw some action last season after transferring in from Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College. He’ll enter camp as a starter at middle linebacker.
Offense: Kendall Hinton, QB
Even though Hinton has starting experience, it will be a whole new world for the Demon Deacons at quarterback. Though John Wolford could run, it was his passing skills that made Wake Forest go. Hinton is much more explosive running the ball but needs to improve his 54 percent career completion percentage. He'll also need to make an immediate impact when he returns from this three-game suspension to open the season.
Defense: Carlos "Boogie" Basham, DE
Wake Forest said good-bye to ends Duke Ejiofor and Wendall Dunn. Basham may not make Deacon fans forget that pair, but he doesn’t have to. He had a great spring and his pass-rushing skills will be exactly what Wake needs.
Offense: Brittain Brown, RB
Brown finished with 701 rushing yards las season while splitting carries with Shaun Wilson. With Wilson graduated, Brown will the unquestioned feature back and the sophomore could become Duke’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Chris Douglas in 2003.
Defense: Victor Dimukeje, DE
He began the year with a flourish, tallying four and a half tackles for lost yardage in the first six games and closed the regular season with a six-tackle performance against Wake Forest. But while Dimukeje’s freshman year was solid, it could be only the tip of the iceberg as he flashed big-play potential that could blossom this fall.
Offense: Jalen Camp, WR
He won’t catch a ton of passes in this offense. But because the option attack is able to pull up the safeties, his receptions could be long and important. Camp is a big, fast wideout that caught one ball for 49 yards in 2017.
Defense: Jaquan Henderson, LB
Like most everyone else on the Georgia Tech defense, Henderson is undersized. But the sophomore is a perfect fit for new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s attacking scheme and this spring he locked down one of the outside linebacker spots.
Offense: N’Kosi Perry, QB
Malik Rosier is the starter, but his play tailed off at the end of last year and that created a quarterback controversy this spring. Perry possesses a huge skill set but needs to understand the game better. If that clicks this fall, the sophomore could unseat the fifth-year senior at some point in the year.
Defense: Gerald Willis, DT
A five-star prospect that originally signed with Florida out of high school, Willis is in a great situation at Miami. The Hurricanes lose both of their interior defensive linemen and the senior from New Orleans that sat out last season with personal issues has been a star in practice.
Offense: Chazz Surratt, QB
At the end of last season, Nathan Elliott took the starting job away from Surratt. But the sophomore from Denver, North Carolina, has more physical tools and hence a higher upside. It is not certain who starts at quarterback for the Tar Heels this fall. What is certain is that to have a bounce back season Carolina will need their signal-callers to play better.
Defense: Tomon Fox, DE
In a reserve role as a redshirt freshman, Fox showed that he could rush the passer, finishing the year with four sacks. He should improve on that number now that he is in a starting role, but he also must hold up better against the run for a team that has struggled in that area for three years.
Offense: Kenny Pickett, QB
The overall statistics weren’t spectacular. In four games he completed 59 percent of his passes with a touchdown and an interception. But Pickett was solid in the next-to-last game of the regular season in a loss to Virginia Tech and then led the Panthers to an upset of then-unbeaten Miami the next week.
Defense: Paris Ford, CB
Head coach Pat Narduzzi loves to bring defensive pressure and leave his corners on an island. He hasn’t had the personnel to make that work during his time at Pitt but with Damar Hamlin on one side and Ford on the other, perhaps this is the year. The local product was a top 100 prospect in the class of 2017.
Offense: Bryce Perkins, QB
Kurt Benkert is gone and he took his 3,207 yards and 25 touchdowns with him. Perkins -- who began his career at Arizona State -- is a different style of quarterback. While Benkert was a pure pocket passer, Perkins gives head coach Bronco Mendenhall a player that can make things happen with both his arms and legs.
Defense: Tim Harris, CB
Virginia loses Quin Blanding, but the secondary should still be stout. Strong safety Brenton Nelson was named ACC Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2017, Juan Thornhill will shine at free safety, and Harris returns after essentially missing two years with injuries. Now in his sixth year, Harris teams with Thornhill to give UVA a veteran presence on the back end.
Offense: Damon Hazelton, WR
Sean Savoy and Eric Kumah should be better with a year of experience. They will be bolstered by Hazelton, a transfer from Ball State. The 6-foot-2, 217-pounder caught 51 passes during his freshman year with the Cardinals and will get an opportunity now that all-time leading receiver Cam Phillips has used up his eligibility.
Defense: Dax Hollifield, LB
Hollifield is a true freshman, so it’s a lot to ask for him to become a key member of the defense. But none of the linebacker contenders have seen any meaningful action at the position and Hollifield was the highest rated prospect in the Hokies’ 2018 recruiting class.
-- Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.