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ACC's Top Players Returning from Injury in 2015

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

Injuries are a big part of any college football season. Whether it’s a starting quarterback, a No. 2 receiver or a defensive lineman part of a deep rotation, injuries will always have an impact on a team.

To help preview the season, Athlon is taking a look at some of the injured players from 2014 and their return in 2015.

Players with a season-ending injury or ones that missed a major chunk of the 2014 campaign were considered for the article. Players that just missed a few games because of injuries and returned were not considered for this article.

Here’s a look at a handful of key players returning from injuries from the ACC in 2015:

ACC's Top Players Returning from Injury

Braxton Deaver, TE, Duke

Deaver was one of the ACC’s top tight ends in 2013 and is a key weapon back in the mix for new quarterback Thomas Sirk. The Charlotte native caught 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns in 2013 and is expected to be at full strength from a torn ACL by the fall.

Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech

After a standout freshman campaign in 2013, big things were expected from Facyson in 2014. However, a shin injury suffered in the spring was aggravated in September, and the Georgia native sat out the rest of the season. Facyson was considered one of college football’s top freshmen in 2013, as he recorded 27 tackles and five interceptions in 12 games. If Facyson is at full strength, the Hokies could have the best secondary in the nation.

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Related: College Football's Top Cornerback Tandems for 2015

Terrel Hunt, QB, Syracuse

The return of Hunt should provide a boost for a Syracuse offense that managed just 17.1 points per game in 2014. The Orange never got their offense on track last season and switched coordinators five games into the year. In five appearances last season, Hunt completed 83 of 145 passes for 983 yards and one score. However, the numbers for Hunt were better in 2013, as he completed 61.2 percent of his throws for 1,632 yards and 10 scores.

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Related: ACC All-Conference Team for 2015

Nile Lawrence-Stample, DT, Florida State

Lawrence-Stample was expected to be a key piece of Florida State’s defensive line, but the Fort Lauderdale native suffered a pectoral muscle injury against Clemson and played in only four games. In limited action, Lawrence-Stample finished the year with 10 tackles. With Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman off to the NFL, Lawrence-Stample needs to be a force on the interior for coordinator Charles Kelly.

Related: ACC Predictions for 2015

Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech’s defense should be among the nation’s best in 2015. Eight starters are back for coordinator Bud Foster, and two key players – Maddy and cornerback Brandon Facyson – are back from injury. Maddy started all 13 games for the Hokies in 2013 and earned All-ACC honors after recording 13.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. Maddy suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game of 2014 and finished the year with nine tackles. He could be a candidate for All-America honors this season.

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Kc McDermott, OT, Miami

The development of Miami’s offensive line is critical to its hopes of contending for the Coastal Division title. The Hurricanes return only one starter (Danny Isidora) and Taylor Gadbois (a projected starter) was dismissed in June. McDermott suffered a season-ending knee injury against Duke on Sept. 27 in 2014 but is expected to anchor one of the tackle positions for coach Al Golden.

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Related: College Football's Bowl Projections for 2015

Demetrious Nicholson, CB, Virginia

When healthy, Nicholson is among the ACC’s top cornerbacks. However, the Virginia Beach native has played in only six games over the last two seasons. As a freshman in 2011, Nicholson recorded 60 tackles and two interceptions. In 2012, Nicholson picked up 56 tackles and 15 pass breakups. The senior played in only one game last season and missed 11 contests with a toe injury. If Nicholson can stay healthy, Virginia should have a solid cornerback tandem with fellow senior Maurice Canady returning in 2015.

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Ejuan Price, DE, Pittsburgh

Price has bounced between linebacker and defensive end during his four seasons with the Panthers. Additionally, Price has experienced some bad luck with injuries, as he’s played in only one full year (2011) and has only six appearances in the last three seasons. In 2011, Price recorded 27 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and four sacks. New coach Pat Narduzzi needs difference makers on defense. Having Price’s ability off the edge should help the Panthers in 2015.

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Artie Rowell, C/G, Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s line was critical in clearing the way for running back James Conner to rush for 1,765 yards last season, and this unit should be a strength for new coach Pat Narduzzi in 2015. Three starters are back, but this unit suffered a setback when projected right tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith was ruled out for 2015 with a season-ending knee injury. But the offensive line should receive a boost with Rowell returning to the lineup. The Pennsylvania native started all 13 games for the Panthers in 2013 and the first two contests in 2014 before a season-ending knee injury.

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Related: ACC Predictions for 2015

Broderick Snoddy, RB, Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech’s rushing attack was hit hard by departures in the backfield, as only three of the top 10 statistical rushers are back in 2015. And two of those players – Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly – are quarterbacks. Snoddy is Georgia Tech’s top returner at running back after suffering a season-ending leg injury against Clemson in 2014. In 10 games last year, Snoddy recorded 283 yards and three scores on 28 attempts.

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Related: 14 Position Groups on the Hot Seat in the ACC

Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State

Thomas was a big-time, five-star pickup for Florida State on the recruiting trail, but the Miami native has been limited by injuries and served a six-game suspension to start 2014. Thomas played in eight games last year and recorded 26 tackles (2.5 for a loss). However, the sophomore had shoulder surgery in the spring and may not be ready by the opener. Getting Thomas back to full strength is critical for Florida State, as depth and proven options in the linebacking corps are a concern.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Watson made only eight appearances as a true freshman last season, but the touted quarterback showed why he is already among the nation’s best at quarterback. Watson threw for 1,466 yards and 14 scores and completed 67.9 percent of his passes. The Georgia native torched North Carolina for 435 yards and six touchdowns and led Clemson to a 35-17 win over rival South Carolina by completing 14 of 19 passes for 269 yards. Watson’s ACL injury is expected to be fully healed by the opener. And the sophomore is Athlon’s pick to be the ACC’s top quarterback in 2015.

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Related: College Football's All-Sophomore Team for 2015

Harris Williams, C, Boston College

Offensive line play has been a strength for Boston College under coach Steve Addazio, but the Eagles are essentially starting from scratch in the trenches. All five starters from last season are gone, including standout center Andy Gallik and tackle Seth Betancourt. Williams was expected to anchor one of the guard spots in 2014 but suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the opener against UMass. His return should give Addazio a potential All-ACC building block to starting the rebuilding effort in 2015.

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Others to Watch

Travis Blanks, S, Clemson

Blanks missed 2014 due to a knee injury and did not participate in spring practice after aggravating the injury in bowl workouts. Can Blanks return to full strength by fall camp?

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Ashton Broyld, WR, Syracuse
In addition to missing quarterback Terrel Hunt, Syracuse played most of 2014 without one of its top receivers. Broyld played in only five games and caught 15 passes for 174 yards. Coordinator Tim Lester plans on using Broyld in a hybrid H-back role in 2015.

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Will Gardner, QB, Louisville

Gardner opened 2014 as Louisville’s starter and finished with 1,669 passing yards and 12 scores after a season-ending knee injury against Boston College. The junior has some ground to make up in the fall, as Reggie Bonnafon is considered the favorite to start under center.