Ranking the ACC's Quarterbacks for 2016

Clemson's Deshaun Watson takes the No. 1 spot.

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is the easy pick as the ACC’s best quarterback for 2016, but the conference also features a handful of intriguing names to watch this fall. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Florida State’s Deondre Francois, Syracuse’s Eric Dungey and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky are likely breakout candidates, and Miami’s Brad Kaaya should thrive under new coach Mark Richt. Additionally, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas is expected to rebound after a disappointing 2015 campaign, and Nathan Peterman returns after a solid debut as Pittsburgh’s starter. 


How do the new starters in the ACC project with Heisman Trophy candidate Deshaun Watson and rising star Lamar Jackson? Athlon has ranked all 14 starters for 2016.


To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2016. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2016 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the ACC for 2016.


Ranking the ACC's Quarterbacks for 2016


1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


In his first full season as Clemson’s starter, Watson compiled one of the best individual seasons by a quarterback in recent memory. In 15 games, Watson threw for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns and added 1,105 yards and 12 scores on the ground. Watson finished third in the Heisman voting and was the first player in FBS history to record 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a single season.


Related: ACC's Top Draft Prospects for 2017


2. Brad Kaaya, Miami

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Kaaya already emerged as one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks over the last two seasons, but the junior is poised for a career year with new coach Mark Richt taking over as the play-caller in 2016. Kaaya enters 2016 with 6,436 career passing yards and 42 touchdowns and tossed only five picks on 389 attempts last season. The junior is also generating plenty of buzz among NFL scouts and early draft rankings as a potential first-round pick next April. 


3. Lamar Jackson, Louisville

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Jackson is one of college football’s top quarterbacks on the rise for 2016. As a true freshman last fall, the Florida native started eight games at quarterback last year and finished 2015 with 1,840 yards and 12 passing touchdowns and added 960 yards and 11 scores on the ground. Jackson is still developing as a passer, but he’s a dynamic playmaker with his legs and capable of eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards with a full season of snaps. Additionally, with an offseason to work under coach Bobby Petrino, Jackson should improve as a passer and emerge as one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks for 2016.


Related: College Football's Top 20 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2016


4. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


The Tar Heels must replace second-team All-ACC quarterback Marquise Williams, but the offense won’t miss a beat behind Trubisky. The junior has played well in limited action, completing 40 of 47 passes for 555 yards and six touchdowns last season. Trubisky may not be as elusive as Williams in the running game, but he rushed for 101 yards and three scores on 16 attempts last year. North Carolina’s quarterback position is in good hands with Trubisky.  


5. Deondre Francois, Florida State

2016 Year of Eligibility: Redshirt Freshman


With Sean Maguire sidelined due to an ankle injury, Francois and true freshman Malik Henry staked their claim for the starting job in spring practice. Even though Maguire is technically the returning starter under center, it won't be easy for him to keep the job with two talented passers pushing for the No. 1 spot. Francois ranked as the No. 64 overall prospect in the 2015 signing class and used his first year on campus as a redshirt season. The Florida native concluded spring practice by completing 20 of 33 passes for 246 yards and two scores in the Garnet and Gold Game. If Francois hasn’t already earned the starting nod, he should unseat Maguire for the No. 1 job by the end of fall practice.


6. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Thomas earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2014 but struggled to get on track last season. The Alabama native isn’t solely to blame for Georgia Tech’s regression on offense, as a revamped supporting cast and a shaky offensive line played a big role in limiting the Yellow Jackets to just 23.5 points in ACC contests in 2015. In 12 contests last year, Thomas rushed for 488 yards and six touchdowns and passed for 1,345 yards and 13 scores. While Thomas may not rebound to All-ACC status in 2016, the senior should return closer to his 2014 form – 2,805 total yards and 26 overall scores.


Related: College Football's Top 30 Running Backs on the Rise for 2016


7. Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Chad Voytik opened 2015 atop the quarterback depth chart for coach Pat Narduzzi, but the job changed hands early in the year, as Peterman emerged as Pittsburgh’s No. 1 quarterback after transferring from Tennessee. Peterman started the final 11 games for the Panthers and ended the season with 2,287 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. The Florida native also ranked second among ACC quarterbacks by completing 61.5 percent of his passes. Peterman should be better in his second year as Pittsburgh’s starter, but the senior must find a new go-to receiver after Tyler Boyd left for the NFL. 


8. Eric Dungey, Syracuse

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


New coach Dino Babers should make an immediate impact on Syracuse’s offense. Babers was regarded as one of the top Group of 5 coaches over the last two seasons and produced high-scoring attacks at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. The pairing of Babers and Dungey should be a good match for the Orange over the next couple of years. Dungey showed promise in eight games last season, throwing for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns. Transitioning to a new offense isn’t easy, but Dungey has the talent and coaching behind him to produce big numbers in Babers’ high-powered attack.


9. Matt Johns, Virginia

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Even though Johns started all 12 games for Virginia last season, the senior will have to fight for the starting job in the fall. At the conclusion of spring ball, East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert announced his intention to transfer as a graduate student to Virginia for the 2016 season. With Benkert eligible immediately, Johns will face competition for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Johns threw for 2,810 yards and 20 scores for the Cavaliers last year.


Related: Ranking and Grading the New Coach Hires for 2016


10. Patrick Towles, Boston College

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior


The final statistics on Boston College’s 2015 offensive production wasn’t pretty. The Eagles managed only 9.1 points in ACC contests and averaged 4.4 yards per play over 12 games. Injuries were largely to blame for the lackluster production, but with a healthy depth chart returning, expect this unit to rebound in 2016. Towles transferred to Boston College as a graduate student and is eligible to play immediately. Towles threw for 5,099 yards and 24 scores in three seasons at Kentucky and also showcased his mobility by adding 305 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2014.


11. Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Even though Virginia Tech enters the season with uncertainty at quarterback, it’s safe to assume new coach Justin Fuente will find the right answer early in the year. Fuente played a key role in developing Andy Dalton at TCU and also transformed Memphis’ Paxton Lynch into a first-round selection in the 2016 draft. Evans was regarded as one of the top junior college quarterbacks in the 2016 signing class and was recruited by Fuente to Blacksburg. He’s the favorite to take the first snap in 2016, with Brenden Motley No. 2 on the depth chart exiting spring ball.


12. Jalan McClendon, NC State

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Jacoby Brissett leaves big shoes to fill in Raleigh, but the Wolfpack have an intriguing option in McClendon waiting to take over in 2016. McClendon was regarded as a four-star recruit in the 2014 signing class and used his first year on campus as a redshirt season. The Charlotte native worked as Brissett’s backup in 2015 and received only a handful of snaps. In seven games, McClendon completed 8 of 14 throws for 69 yards. McClendon could be one of the ACC’s breakout candidates at quarterback for 2016.


13. John Wolford, Wake Forest

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Wolford gets the nod as the starter here, but sophomore Kendall Hinton is also in the mix. Regardless of which quarterback earns the top spot, coach Dave Clawson has two proven options that can help Wake Forest take a step forward in the win column for 2016. Wolford was tossed into the fire as a true freshman in 2014 and has passed for 3,828 yards and 21 scores over the last two years. Hinton brings more mobility to the offense but completed only 52.2 percent of his throws in 10 appearances last season.


14. Parker Boehme, Duke

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Let’s put an asterisk by this selection. Duke’s quarterback situation is a mystery going into the summer, as starter Thomas Sirk is recovering from an Achilles injury and may not return in time for the start of the 2016 season. If Sirk doesn’t return, Boehme is slated to become the No. 1 quarterback for coach David Cutcliffe. Boehme played in 10 games last year, throwing for 579 yards and two scores on 43 completions. He also added 181 yards and five rushing touchdowns in 2015. 

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