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Heisman Watch: Ranking the ACC’s Top Candidates for 2017

Outside of reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, the pickings are slim

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner resides in the ACC. However, most of the other candidates for this coming season do not.

 

Lamar Jackson of Louisville proved to be a one-man wrecking crew as a sophomore, as the quarterback took the college football landscape by storm and won the sport's most prestigious award despite his team falling apart down the stretch.

 

Projecting forth into this fall, not many other players look to be in that same conversation. Basically, most Heisman winners tend to be offensive skill position players on teams that are good enough to capture major exposure over the course of the season. Jackson excelled at the most important position on the field for a team that stayed in the top 10 for the greater portion of 2016.

 

The deeper you look through that lens in the ACC, there aren't many that stick out, but here's a preliminary list.

 

10. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

Players like Clemson's Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence were also considered for this final spot, but the fact that they will likely split up the type of stats voters are drawn to pushes them out of the picture. Enter Chubb, who is basically Harold Landry-lite (see below). Chubb's team projects to be better than Landry’s Boston College Eagles, but his stats a year ago weren't quite as good. He finished with 10 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss in 2016, so he would need to significantly boost those totals to pry his way into contender status. It would also help if the Wolfpack leapt into the ACC's first rung.

 

9. Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse

You're not going to see the Orange bust out as some sort of national contender this year. However, Dungey has the potential to light it up statistically so long as he steers clear of the head injury problems that have popped up throughout his career. In head coach Dino Babers' sped-up offense, Dungey passed for 2,679 yards and 15 touchdowns in just nine games last season. If he can boost those numbers with the extra possessions this offense provides, individual accolades will come. A Heisman run though is still unlikely, but that's the state of the league in 2017.

 

8. Kelly Bryant/Hunter Johnson/Zerrick Cooper, QB, Clemson

OK, so we're cheating a bit by mentioning three players, but there's a reason why they're all on this list. Deshaun Watson needs to be replaced, and while Bryant is the leader to get the job, it hasn't been won yet. Johnson, a true freshman, may be the most intriguing option, but he would need to have a lights-out camp to overtake two older players. Whoever ends up with the keys to the Ferrari will be a probable candidate just for the simple fact that the entire team is so talented and likely going to be a College Football Playoff candidate. The signal-caller will reap the rewards.

 

7. Mark Walton, RB, Miami

If Miami figures out its quarterback situation, it has the defense and skill position talent to make noise in a way that it hasn't quite done in years. If that happens, look for someone like Walton to be in the middle of the Hurricanes' offensive success. The local product out of Dade County powerhouse Booker T. Washington enters his junior year following a breakout 2016 season where he rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns on 5.3 yards per carry. But he would need to significantly increase those yardage numbers to have any sort of hope here.

 

6. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson

This one is a long shot, but the fact that Clemson, coming off its national title-winning season, has been so successful in recent years will help the cause. With the graduation of quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Tigers' passing game might take a hit. But after a year in Mike Williams' shadow, Cain should shine as the No. 1 target, and he averaged 19.1 yards per reception a year ago to go along with nine touchdowns. Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991 was the last time a wide receiver won the award, though, so those numbers would have to shoot up significantly for Cain to be a serious contender.

 

5. Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

You will not see Boston College anywhere near the playoff discussion unless something truly unforeseen happens, and there is always that bias against defensive players who aren't defensive backs or don't see snaps on offense or in the return game. That said, a player who can rack up crazy statistics from any position will have a shot, and Landry led the nation in sacks last season with 16.5 and added 22.0 tackles for a loss. IF he can get those numbers in the 20s and 30s, respectively, he will at least deserve mention.

 

4. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

The arguments against this one coming to fruition are obvious. Akers is a true freshman and although Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston both won the awards as redshirt freshman, no one has stepped right in and taken the Heisman right out of high school. The other is Akers will probably split carries with Jacques Patrick, which should limit Akers' numbers. That said, Akers is a terrific back out of Mississippi who, if he busts out in the mega-showdown with Alabama on the first weekend, will be impossible for voters to ignore.

 

3. Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State

Like teammates Cam Akers and Derwin James (see below), Francois plays for a Seminoles team that will be in the middle of every spotlight that exists. The difference is he's not quite the dynamic player at this stage as either Lamar Jackson or James, who even as a defensive player already has more excitement around him. Still, Francois threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman a year ago, so there is potential for a breakout performance.

 

2. Derwin James, S, Florida State

Last year, a knee injury wiped out this brilliant defensive back's season, but he has several things going for him this fall. For one, he's healthy. Two, he already has the attention as one of the best all-around talents in the nation. Three, he plays on a team that should be in the College Football Playoff discussion all year. Finally, he reportedly might play some offense, too, which gives him a Jabrill Peppers-like shot at attracting votes.

 

1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

The junior will be under the microscope from the beginning, which will be both a good and a bad thing. He will already have the requisite attention, but the expectations will be otherworldly after he accounted for 30 passing touchdowns and 21 on the ground last year. If the Cardinals get out to a fast start like last year but don't falter late, he will be right in the mix again.

 

— 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.

Event Date: 
Friday, August 4, 2017 - 14:26

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