Every college football team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts.
Florida State hopes to win its fourth consecutive ACC title in 2015. However, the Seminoles are reloading – just like the rest of the conference. Clemson suffered heavy losses on defense, but the offense should be solid despite the departure of coordinator Chad Morris and the concerns up front. Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech are the frontrunners to win the ACC, but the personnel departures from each of those programs could open the door for a surprise team to emerge.
With the 2015 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 10 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.
ACC's 10 Most Underrated Players for 2015
Sherman Alston, WR, Boston College
Alston quietly emerged as a promising all-purpose threat in 2014, and the New York native is only going to see his snap count increase in 2015. In 12 games, Alston rushed for 352 yards and two scores and caught 15 passes for 169 yards. Alston isn’t the biggest receiver (5-foot-6), but his speed and quickness will be an asset for taking handoffs in the spread or making plays in space as a receiver.
Related: ACC 2015 All-Conference Team
Artie Burns, CB, Miami
Burns is coming off his first full season as a starter for the Hurricanes and registered 40 tackles and six pass breakups. The Miami native was considered a four-star recruit coming out of Miami Northwestern and played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2013. Burns was a key cog in a secondary that limited ACC quarterbacks to just six touchdown passes in 2014. The junior is not only a breakout candidate, but he’s also one of the ACC’s underrated cover men.
David Dean, DT, Virginia
Run-stuffing defensive tackles are often overlooked because they won’t produce huge tackle or sack totals. Dean fits that mold, as the 295-pound senior recorded only 40 stops in 12 games last year. Eight of Dean’s tackles went for a loss, and he also recorded a forced fumble. The senior should be the anchor for Virginia’s front seven in 2015.
DeVon Edwards, S, Duke
Duke’s secondary returns all five starters from a unit that held ACC opponents to 12 passing scores in 2014. Safety Jeremy Cash is the headliner for coach David Cutcliffe, but Edwards and cornerbacks Breon Borders and Bryon Fields are also under-the-radar performers. Edwards recorded 133 tackles (7.5 for a loss), 4.5 sacks and nine pass breakups last season. The junior is also a weapon for Duke on special teams, and his active all-around ability on defense is a huge asset.
Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson
Most of the offseason attention for Clemson’s offense has revolved around the health of quarterback Deshaun Watson and the new co-coordinator setup (Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott) to replace Chad Morris. While Watson and the Tigers’ receiving corps should have no trouble moving the ball in 2015, the rushing attack has been overlooked. Gallman finished 2014 with 769 yards and four touchdowns on 161 attempts, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He also closed out the season playing at a high level, gashing South Carolina for 191 yards and Wake Forest for 106 yards.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
Keith Kelsey, LB, Louisville
The clear strength of Louisville’s defense will be its front seven in 2015. End Sheldon Rankins – a second-team All-ACC selection by Athlon Sports for 2015 – anchors the 3-4 line for coordinator Todd Grantham. And the Cardinals should have the best linebacker unit in the ACC this season, as Kelsey and James Burgess could both finish 2015 with first-team all-conference honors. Kelsey started all 13 games for the Cardinals last year and recorded with 87 tackles.
Nile Lawrence-Stample, DT, Florida State
Lawrence-Stample was also mentioned in this list of key ACC players returning from injury. The Florida native was expected to be a key cog on the interior of Florida State’s defense last season, but a pectoral injury in September sidelined him until the Rose Bowl. The four-star recruit recorded six starts and played in 13 games in 2013, finishing the year with 15 tackles (1.5 for a loss). The Seminoles will miss Eddie Goldman’s presence on the interior, but Lawrence-Stample’s return should be a boost for coordinator Charles Kelly.
Marquel Lee, LB, Wake Forest
Either Lee or fellow linebacker Brandon Chubb deserves a mention in this space. The Demon Deacons quietly have one of the ACC’s top linebacker groups, as Lee, Chubb and Hunter Williams are in the mix for all-conference honors in 2015. In 12 games last season, Lee recorded 101 stops (12 for a loss), four sacks and one forced fumble. The Maryland native was a third-team All-ACC selection for 2015 by Athlon Sports.
Jack Tocho, CB, NC State
Tocho has been a key defender in coach Dave Doeren’s rebuilding effort in Raleigh. The North Carolina native played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2013 and recorded 25 tackles and two interceptions. Tocho played even better as a sophomore, starting all 13 games for the Wolfpack and recording with 41 tackles and 11 pass breakups. The ACC has three potential All-Americans returning at cornerback with Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller. However, Tocho should not be overlooked when filling out preseason all-conference ballots.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
Chad Voytik, QB, Pittsburgh
The ACC has a solid group of quarterbacks returning, headlined by Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Florida State’s Everett Golson, Miami’s Brad Kaaya and two passers from the state of North Carolina in Marquise Williams (UNC) and Jacoby Brissett (NC State). Could Voytik join that tier as one of the top quarterbacks in 2015? In 13 games last year, Voytik threw for 2,233 yards and 16 scores and added 466 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The Tennessee native closed 2014 by playing his best ball of the season, throwing only one interception over the last six games. New coordinator Jim Chaney is tasked with elevating Voytik’s performance, and the veteran play-caller should make a difference for Pittsburgh’s offense in 2015.