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ACC Football: Wild Card Players in 2020

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ACC Football: Wild Card Players in 2020

ACC Football: Wild Card Players in 2020

Every year for every college football team, a player or two will come out of nowhere to make an impact. There is always a bit of mystery as to which players will jump forward and which will lag behind.

With spring practices scrapped early in the process, determining who the currently unknown contributors will be in 2020 is even more difficult. But here are my picks for offensive and defensive wild card players for each ACC program.

ACC Atlantic

Boston College

Offense: Phil Jurkovec, QB

Perhaps the ultimate wild card for the entire league. Boston College has had a hard time finding a top-notch quarterback and Jurkovec had all the high school accolades. While it didn't work out for him at Notre Dame, a change of scenery may be what he needs. The first step to Jurkovec making a contribution is the NCAA deciding on his eligibility waiver. Without it, the sophomore won't play at all.

Defense: Jason Maitre, CB

Coming out of Everett, Massachusetts, Maitre wasn't a highly sought-after recruit whose only other offers were from FCS programs. But he started a few games last year as a redshirt freshman and though he was picked on often, that experience will prepare him for a bigger role this fall.

Clemson

Offense: Joseph Ngata, WR

With Tee Higgins off to the NFL and Justyn Ross already ruled out for this season, Ngata will be asked to shoulder much more as a sophomore. With Higgins and Ross on the field along with Amari Rodgers, Ngata nor fellow freshman Frank Ladson were not needed in 2019. Things have now changed.

Defense: Landen Zanders, S

Only Derion Kendrick returns as a starter in the Clemson secondary, providing opportunities for some very talented young players. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Zanders is one of those youthful Tigers looking to make an impact. The sophomore had just 14 tackles last year but three resulted in lost yardage including two sacks.

Florida State

Offense: Jashaun Corbin, RB

After two years at Texas A&M, the Rockledge, Florida, product decided to return to the Sunshine State. The Seminoles need to replace Cam Akers at running back and Corbin has the ability to make plays. Of course, a woeful offensive line has to improve for any back to excel.

Defense: Josh Kaindoh, DE

We've been waiting and waiting for Kaindoh to really deliver. Perhaps this will be the year. Injuries hampered his production in 2019, but in three seasons the former top-100 recruit has just 45 total tackles.

Louisville

Offense: Adonis Boone, LT

The Cardinals bring back a wealth of skill position talent and three-fifths of their offensive line. But one of those missing pieces up front, Mekhi Becton, leaves a big hole in many ways. Not a top recruit in high school, Boone played well in last year's Music City Bowl.

Defense: Jared Goldwire, DL

A top-50 recruit per 247Sports coming out of Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College in the class of 2018, Goldwire collected two sacks in 13 games last season. The projected starter at nose tackle, Goldwire's size (6-6, 305) could be critical as Louisville seeks to get more pressure on the quarterback (27 sacks) and shore up a run defense that gave up nearly 206 rushing yards per game in 2019.

NC State

Offense: Devin Leary, QB

The Wolfpack bring back most of their receiving corps, a quality back in Zonovan "Bam" Knight, and four offensive linemen. But if Leary doesn't improve, none of that will matter. The starter for much of the 2019 season, Leary will have to fight off challenges from a couple of promising freshmen to regain his spot.

Defense: Payton Wilson, LB

A top-100 recruit out of high school, Wilson has been head coach Dave Doeren's most acclaimed recruit. After redshirting as a freshman, Wilson saw significant action last fall. This year he has to emerge as a leader – and the best player – on an inexperienced Wolfpack defense.

Syracuse

Offense: Jawhar Jordan, RB

Abdul Adams will be the starter going into the year, but the back with the most exciting upside is Jordan. He played in just four games last year to maintain a year of eligibility, but he averaged seven yards on his 15 carries during his limited playing time.

Defense: Mikel Jones, LB

The Cuse is starting over with three new starting linebackers and Jones is the one with the most experience, so he could have the upper hand when it comes to seizing one of the open spots. A small, speedy athlete, Jones had 38 tackles in eight appearances last season.

Wake Forest

Offense: Donavon Greene, WR

Sage Surratt is back at receiver for the Demon Deacons, but Dave Clawson's team loses a lot of production in Kendall Hinton and Scotty Washington. A four-star prospect from Mount Airy, North Carolina, Greene caught 13 passes for 249 yards and two scores in just four games last year.

Defense: Isaiah Essissima, CB

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Wake's front seven should be very strong, but how good their defense will be rests in the hands of the defensive backfield. Essissima will get his shot at corner on the side opposite veteran Ja'Sir Taylor.

ACC Coastal

Duke

Offense: Chase Brice, QB

In reality, we don't know what the Clemson transfer really is. He did engineer the big comeback over Syracuse in 2018, without which Clemson probably doesn't win the national title. But with Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence in front of him, he wasn't going to play at Clemson. Duke needs more out of the quarterback position and Brice will have some nice receiving targets in Jalon Clahoun, Eli Pancol, and Noah Gray.

Defense: Mark Gilbert, CB

Gilbert has missed much of the past two years due to injuries and has only played one full season at Duke. But what a season that was. In 2017, he had six interceptions and 15 passes defended, earning All-ACC honors. It's unlikely he can return to that level after all he has been through, but his talent and experience enhance an already deep secondary.

Georgia Tech

Offense: Jalen Camp, WR

He never really seemed like a fit in Paul Johnson's option system. Then last year, finally free to actually catch passes, he was injured early in the season. This is his last chance to make some noise as a real receiver.

Defense: Antonneous Clayton, DE

Clayton was denied eligibility in 2019 after transferring from Florida. He only had 11 tackles during his time in Gainesville, but he was a consensus top-50 recruit out of Dooly County (Ga.) High School.

Miami

Offense: Jarrid Williams, OT

D'Eriq King was the big-name transfer from Houston, but he was not the only Cougar to make his way to Coral Gables. Miami's offensive line has been a train wreck the past couple of seasons and the hope is that Williams will provide some stability. He played on both the right and left sides of the line for Houston and he could line up at either spot for the Hurricanes.

Defense: Gilbert Frierson, Striker

In Gregory Rousseau and Quincy Roche, Miami has two guys that can get to the quarterback. The back end, however, suffered some heavy personnel losses and will require some new blood. Frierson will man the hybrid linebacker/safety position and showed flashes last year with a couple of tackles for lost yardage and an interception.

North Carolina

Offense: Asim Richards, OT

The Tar Heels bring back 10 offensive starters, but the one vacant spot is a big one, especially in this offense. Left tackle Richards will be expected to protect Sam Howell's blindside, giving the sophomore signal-caller time to find Dazz Newsome, Dyami Brown, and Beau Corrales downfield.

Defense: Jahlil Taylor, DT

Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman has to rebuild the defensive line and Taylor needs to hold up in the middle. This unit made a huge leap forward against the run and for that to stick, Taylor has to do his part.

Pittsburgh

Offense: Shocky Jacques-Louis, WR

Jacques-Louis was a weapon as the third receiver last season. But with Maurice Ffrench gone, the junior needs to take his game to another level to ease the burden off All-ACC contender Taysir Mack. Jacques-Louis also will be the primary kick returner.

Defense: Chase Pine, LB

The Pitt defensive line is loaded. The Panthers' secondary is experienced. The only questions are on the second level. Pine has seen limited action during his three years at Pittsburgh but he now appears ready for a leading role.

Virginia

Offense: Mike Hollins, RB

Wayne Taulapapa is the lead back, but Virginia fans would like something a little more exciting in the running game. The Baton Rouge product ran for over 3,400 yards in his last two years of high school and could be more of a home-run hitter than Taulapapa.

Defense: Heskin Smith, CB

An injury to All-American Bryce Hall led to a bigger role for Smith, who got the first three starts of his career last season. With Hall now off to the NFL, the Cavaliers need Smith to emerge as a capable starter as cornerback is one of the few question marks on an otherwise experienced and talented defense.

Virginia Tech

Offense: Keshawn King, RB

Much was made about the Hokies landing two transfer running backs, Khalil Herbert from Kansas and Raheem Blackshear from Rutgers. But King showed promise as a freshman and while he may be the future at running back, he could also be the present.

Defense: Devon Hunter, S

Much like Josh Kaindoh at Florida State, everyone has been waiting for the former top-50 prospect to explode. He is now in his fourth year in Blacksburg and the strong safety spot is his if he wants it.

— 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.