Heisman Watch: Ranking the ACC's Top Candidates for 2018

Can AJ Dillon run his way to New York City?

NC State Wolfpack QB Ryan FinleyWhen handicapping the Heisman race, top ACC candidates are hard to find. Athlon Sports does not list an ACC player in its top 10 (found in this year's preview magazine) with the first league representative checking in at No. 15.

 

But there are several good returning quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference and two outstanding running backs coming off big freshman seasons. So if you want long odds on quality players, look at the ACC for your selections.

 

10. Anthony Ratliff-Williams, WR, North Carolina

Ratliff-Williams is the type of athlete that is dangerous in many ways. He can beat you catching the ball, threw for a couple of touchdowns, returned two kicks for scores last year, and also may bring back punts in 2018. He’ll put up quality numbers, but North Carolina winning enough games to keep Ratliff-Williams in contention is doubtful.

 

9. Josh Jackson, QB, Virginia Tech

After an offseason filled with doubts about his eligibility, Jackson is back as the Hokies quarterback. Virginia Tech's all-time leading receiver, Cam Phillips, is gone, but Sean Savoy and Eric Kumah are developing players that can emerge with increased opportunity. Jackson’s play dipped as the 2017 season went on, but at the end of the year he did have 20 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 passing yards as a freshman.

 

8. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

The only way a defensive player can get Heisman consideration is to make impact plays in big moments. On a line that features several next-level talents, Ferrell is the one that can put up the most disruptive numbers. As a sophomore, he was second in the conference to NC State’s Bradley Chubb in both sacks and tackles for a loss.

 

7. Taquon Marshall, QB, Georgia Tech

No, a player with a  38 percent completion rate is not going to win the Heisman. But if that number gets north of 50 percent, the quarterback in Paul Johnson’s system becomes a dynamic threat. Last year, Marshall ran for 1,146 yards and 17 touchdowns and those numbers could spike if there’s the threat of any type of passing attack.

 

6. Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami

Miami Hurricanes WR Ahmmon RichardsThe junior from Wellington, Florida, (right) missed much of last season with an injury, but his time on the field has proven that he is one of the best receivers in America. Malik Rosier (or whoever wins the Miami quarterback job) must show improved accuracy to get Richards’ stats to Heisman level. But from a talent perspective, there are few better than the Hurricanes' top receiver.

 

5. Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State

Or maybe James Blackmon. Francois is the riskier pick because he hasn’t actually been cleared for action and many believe Blackmon will be the starter. But Francois has the higher upside, especially in a Willie Taggart offense that likes to move the quarterback around. Whoever wins the job will get attention because that is always the case for the Seminoles' quarterback.

 

4. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Similar to Francois, Lawrence isn’t even the starting quarterback right now. If Kelly Bryant keeps the job for the duration of the season, he would have a place on this list because Clemson is going to win a lot of games regardless of the quarterback. But Lawrence is unquestionably more of a downfield passing threat and could fill the stat sheet for the defending ACC champs.

 

3. Ryan Finley, QB, NC State

Going into last season, most expected the Wolfpack to ride their defense to wins in the ACC. While that unit wasn’t bad, it was really the offense -- led by Finley -- that was the more consistent side of the ball. This year, with just three returning starters on defense, Finley (above, right) will shoulder even more responsibility and he has the luxury of a top-shelf receiving corps led by Kelvin Harmon.

 

2. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

Akers came to FSU as the top running back recruit in America and had 1,000 yards as a true freshman. But he needs to get more consistent, as 63 percent of his yardage came in just five games. He also needs help from an offensive line that was shaky at best for much of 2017. The Clinton, Mississippi, product has the skills and will get the chance to showcase his talents in a lot of big games.

 

1. AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College

Dillon had a Heisman moment as a freshman, throwing Louisville safety Chucky Williams aside on his way to a 75-yard touchdown run. He also had the production over the second half of the year, rushing for 1,256 yards and 12 touchdowns in the Eagles' last seven games. With Boston College's entire offensive line returning, 2,000 yards is in play this fall.

 

-- 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.

Event Date: 
Thursday, August 2, 2018 - 11:08
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