Clemson, Florida State and Miami are projected by most to be the ACC’s top teams in 2018. However, all three programs opened fall practice with some uncertainty at quarterback. While uncertainty in quarterback battles can be a bad thing, none of the three teams are hurting for talent under center. It’s just a matter of settling the competition and picking a No. 1 option. The battles at those programs will be worth monitoring in fall camp, but the league’s top signal-caller for 2018 should be NC State’s Ryan Finley. Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson is Athlon’s No. 2 ranked quarterback in the ACC for 2018. The winner of Clemson's (Trevor Lawrence or Kelly Bryant) and Florida State's (Deondre Francois or James Blackman) battle is likely to finish much higher on this list by December.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2018. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2018 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the ACC for 2018.
Ranking the ACC's Quarterbacks for 2018
14. Bryce Perkins, Virginia
Kurt Benkert finished his eligibility in Charlottesville by throwing for 3,207 yards and 25 touchdowns last fall. Coach Bronco Mendenhall heads into 2018 with uncertainty at this position, as only one quarterback (Lindell Stone) has attempted a pass in a Virginia uniform. Stone and freshman Brennan Armstrong are in the mix, but junior college transfer (and former Arizona State) quarterback Bryce Perkins is expected to start this fall. Perkins used a redshirt year in 2015 with the Sun Devils and did not play due to injury in 2016. During his only season at the junior college level, Perkins threw for 1,311 yards and seven scores and added 353 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Arizona native ranked as a three-star prospect coming out of high school.
13. Nathan Elliott, North Carolina
In order for North Carolina to rebound from last year’s disappointing 3-9 record, coach Larry Fedora has to find answers on an offense that averaged only 19.3 points in ACC games. The Tar Heels had three different quarterbacks make starts last fall, with Chazz Surratt ending 2017 with the team lead in passing yards (1,342). Elliott wasn’t far behind Surratt, as he threw for 925 yards and 10 touchdowns in five appearances. Surratt seems to have the edge in overall talent but is suspended for the first four games of 2018. With Surratt sidelined for a chunk of the first half of the season, Elliott is now at the controls for Fedora's attack and has a chance to build a comfortable lead as the No. 1 QB during that stretch.
12. Kendall Hinton, Wake Forest
Hinton drops a spot going into fall practice. The junior was suspended for the first three games of 2018, opening the door for Jamie Newman or Sam Hartman to stake a claim for the starting job. Wake Forest finished second in the ACC by averaging 35.3 points a game last season, and coach Dave Clawson’s team returns plenty of firepower for 2018. Receiver Greg Dortch is one of the ACC’s top targets, and the Demon Deacons’ line ranks among the best in the league. However, maintaining last year’s production is likely to rest on how well Hinton (or Newman/Hartman) replaces John Wolford under center. Hinton isn’t short on experience, as he’s started four games under center over the last three years. The North Carolina native played in four games (and started one) in 2017 and threw for 399 yards and four scores. Additionally, he added 190 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Hinton has flashed potential but needs to be more consistent in the passing game and has to navigate the early-season suspension.
11. Anthony Brown, Boston College
Brown edged Darius Wade for the starting job last fall and was on track for a solid season. However, he suffered a leg injury against NC State and missed the team’s final three games. Despite missing three contests, Brown still ended the year with 1,367 passing yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 210 yards. The New Jersey native did not participate in spring ball as he continues to recover from the 2017 injury. Sophomore EJ Perry worked as the No. 1 quarterback in the spring, garnering valuable experience for 2018. Brown is expected to be at full strength for the 2018 opener.
10. Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Pitt missed out on a bowl for the first time since 2007 last fall. However, last year’s record and finish to the season provided optimism for coach Pat Narduzzi. After throwing for 242 yards in a 20-14 loss to Virginia Tech in late November, Pickett earned his first start for the season finale against Miami. The New Jersey native guided the Panthers to an upset victory over the Hurricanes by throwing for 193 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 60 yards and two scores. The sample size on Pickett is limited. However, the impressive finish to 2017 should propel the sophomore to a breakout year in 2018.
9. Jawon Pass, Louisville
Lamar Jackson leaves big shoes to fill, but Louisville should be fine at quarterback. Pass – a four-star recruit in the 2016 signing class – is ready to step in as the No. 1 quarterback for coach Bobby Petrino. Pass redshirted in 2016 and played in six contests last year, throwing for 238 yards and two scores on 23 attempts. The Georgia native won’t be as prolific as Jackson was on the ground, but Pass is more than capable of making plays outside of the pocket. With a big-time arm and a lot of raw talent, Pass will be a breakout candidate for 2018.
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2018
8. Malik Rosier, Miami
Even though Rosier guided Miami to 11 wins and set a new school record with 31 total touchdowns last year, he wasn't guaranteed the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at the start of spring practice. The senior was pushed by redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry and true freshman Jarren Williams for the starting job, but coach Mark Richt indicated Rosier had an edge on the No. 1 spot at ACC Media Days. Two areas of concern for Rosier: Completion percentage and turnovers. In 13 games last year, Rosier completed only 54 percent of his throws and tossed 14 picks.
7. Daniel Jones, Duke
Jones experienced his share of ups and downs in his second year as Duke’s starter. After throwing for 2,836 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016, Jones’ totals dipped to 2,691 yards and 14 passing scores. Additionally, the North Carolina native’s completion percentage fell to 56.7 after connecting on 62.8 percent as a freshman in 2016. Coach David Cutcliffe has to rebuild the offensive line, but the receiving corps and running back Brittain Brown provide a good foundation at the skill spots. Jones should rebound to a solid junior campaign in 2018.
6. TaQuon Marshall, Georgia Tech
Marshall began his career at Georgia Tech as an A-back but shifted to quarterback prior to the 2016 season. After working as a backup that year, Marshall earned the starting job for 2017. The Georgia native had a prolific debut for the Yellow Jackets, accumulating 1,146 yards and 17 rushing scores. He recorded six games of at least 100 rushing yards and threw 10 touchdowns to five interceptions. Marshall won’t be asked to throw too often, but he needs to raise his completion percentage (37.1 percent last year) and connect on a few more big plays through the air. When Marshall is the No. 8 quarterback on this list, it's a pretty good indicator of how deep the ACC is under center for 2018.
5. Deondre Francois, Florida State
With Francois on the mend from a season-ending leg injury, along with the arrival of a new coach (Willie Taggart) and scheme on offense, Florida State’s quarterback battle between Francois, Blackman and Bailey Hockman wasn't settled in the spring. And there's a good chance this battle will extend deep into fall camp or even into the season. While Taggart will take his time in selecting a starter, the Seminoles are in good shape at this position. Francois threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2016, and Blackman performed well after he took over the starting job due to injury as a true freshman last fall. Over 12 appearances, Blackman threw for 2,230 yards and 19 touchdowns and connected on four passes of 50 yards or more. Assuming Francois is 100 percent healthy, he has the best all-around skill set to lead Taggart's offense.
4. Eric Dungey, Syracuse
Syracuse has to retool its receiving corps after the departures of Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips, but the path to a bowl game hinges on keeping Dungey healthy. The Oregon native has missed the final three contests in each of the last three years due to injury. When healthy, Dungey is among the ACC’s top quarterbacks. In nine appearances last season, he threw for 2,495 yards and 14 scores and rushed for 595 yards and nine touchdowns. If Dungey is limited at any point in 2018, Syracuse will turn to intriguing redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito – a four-star recruit in the 2017 signing class.
3. Kelly Bryant, Clemson
If we knew Bryant or Trevor Lawrence was going to take a clear hold on the No. 1 position (and start every game), Clemson's starter would climb on this list. However, going into fall practice, it's a tossup between Bryant and Lawrence for the starting gig. Replacing Deshaun Watson was no easy task for Bryant, but he threw for 13 touchdowns and 2,802 yards and added 665 yards and 11 scores on the ground last season. Lawrence ranked as the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the 2018 signing class and made an immediate impression in spring ball. Lawrence is a better passer than Bryant, which is an area for the Tigers to improve upon after connecting on just four passes of 40 or more yards in ACC games in 2017.
2. Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech
High expectations surround Jackson going into the 2018 season. With Jerod Evans entrenched as the starter in 2016, Jackson took a redshirt year in his first season on campus. Last fall, Jackson emerged as the team’s No. 1 quarterback in offseason practices and guided the Hokies to a 9-4 record. The Michigan native started all 13 games, throwing for 2,991 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushing for 324 yards and six scores last fall. The sophomore will be working with a young supporting cast, but Virginia Tech's offensive line should rank among the best in the conference. With another offseason to work under coach Justin Fuente, look for Jackson to take another step forward in his development and challenge for All-ACC honors.
1. Ryan Finley, NC State
Finley has posted back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and should easily reach three in a row in 2018. The Arizona native threw for 3,200 yards and 16 scores and connected on 65.1 percent of his throws in 2017. Additionally, he recorded nine passing plays of 40 yards or more and did not throw an interception in NC State’s first seven games. Finley has completed 63 percent of his passes since coming to Raleigh, which ranks second in school history behind Philip Rivers. Finley has one of the ACC’s top receiving corps at his disposal, which should allow him to have a strong senior year and make a case to be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in the 2019 NFL Draft.