Heisman Watch: Ranking the ACC's Top Candidates for 2019

Trevor Lawrence's Playoff performance has made him a top Heisman contender

The 2018-19 college football season was the year of the quarterback in the ACC. Trevor Lawrence replaced Kelly Bryant and led Clemson to the national championship. Ryan Finley left NC State with passing marks surpassed only by Philip Rivers. Duke's Daniel Jones did enough to be picked sixth overall by the Giants. Deondre Francois disappointed for Florida State but still threw for more than 2,700 yards. And Georgia Tech's Taquon Marshall nearly had his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.

 

With the exception of you-know-who, those guys are gone and the league's offensive balance of power shifts to the tailbacks. That's not to say that there aren't quality quarterbacks in the league; there are. But the depth of running backs in the ACC is very impressive.

 

Here is a list of the Atlantic Coast Conference's 10 best bets to contend for the Heisman, with a heavy emphasis on the guys carrying the ball.

 

10. Cade Carney, RB, Wake Forest

On the surface, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder doesn't look like a big-play threat. His 5.3 yards per carry, 15th in the ACC, suggests that the senior is more of a grind it out, move the chains guy. But Carney found his way to 1,005 rushing yards and eight scores in 2018.

 

9. Deon Jackson, RB, Duke

With Daniel Jones now in New York, more will be asked of the junior running back and he will be ready. Not only a solid runner, but Jackson also is a weapon catching passes out of the backfield and can act as a security blanket for quarterback Quentin Harris on a team that has a very young receiving group.

 

8. Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse

The Orange defensive back tied for the top spot nationally with seven interceptions and broke up nine other passes. But he is more than just a ball-hawking safety, as his 60 tackles show. It was his complete game that earned him first-team All-ACC honors and the award as the conference's Defensive Rookie of the Year.

 

7. Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson

If a true wide receiver is going to win the award, he has to be a big-time home-run hitter and that perfectly describes Ross, giving him the edge over teammate Tee Higgins. Of course, if Ross puts up huge numbers, it is Trevor Lawrence that is getting him the ball and enhancing his own Heisman stock.

 

6. Sean Riley, WR/PR/KR, Syracuse

It's hard for a pure receiver to garner Heisman consideration. Guys like Tim Brown and Desmond Howard combined return skills along with their pass-catching abilities to win the award. A more than solid receiving option for the Orange, Riley also is one of the best return men in the country.

 

5. Bryce Perkins, QB, Virginia

The Virginia faithful had high hopes for Perkins coming into last year, but the transfer from Arizona State by way of Arizona Western College exceeded all expectations. The senior was dangerous with his arm — throwing for 2,680 yards and 25 scores — while running for 923 yards as well. If the Cavaliers can win the Coastal and find a way to knock off that monster in orange, Perkins could find himself in the Heisman mix.

 

4. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

The candidacy of Akers has very little to do with his ability. It's there. Whether or not the junior back can be talked about for Heisman and All-America lists has more to do with the Florida State offensive line. That Akers has 1,731 rushing yards in two years behind those Seminole fronts speaks to his talents.

 

3. AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College

The 6-foot, 250-pounder was banged up for most of last season and still ran for more than 1,100 yards. Now fully healthy, the junior could get back to the form that saw him go for 1,256 yards over the final seven games of the 2017 season.

 

2. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

The guy that lines up behind Trevor Lawrence put up his own eye-popping numbers last fall — 1,658 yards and 24 touchdowns for the nation's best team thrust him into the conversation for the big award. He won't have the hype that his quarterback will have, but Etienne will contend for All-American honors.

 

1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Of course, the Clemson quarterback is a notch above all these quality backs when it comes to Heisman chatter. The stats were sensational: 65 percent completion rate, 3,280 yards, 30 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. But it was his play late in the year and in the postseason that makes him one of the nation's top contenders for the trophy.

 

— 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.

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