Florida State and Clemson are projected to be two of the nation’s best teams this fall, so it should be no surprise these two programs return some of the ACC’s top individual talents. Quarterback Deshaun Watson leads the way in Athlon’s top 40 players returning in the ACC for 2016, followed by Florida State running back Dalvin Cook at No. 2. The first defensive player on the board is Derwin James at No. 3, but Clemson defenders Ben Boulware (LB), Christian Wilkins (DL), Carlos Watkins (DL) and Cordrea Tankersley (CB) also make an appearance in the top 40.
With the season approaching, Athlon Sports is taking a look at some of the best players in the nation within each conference. How did we come up with these rankings? Many factors were considered. Overall talent, production, level of competition, position importance and projected output in 2016 all factored into the rankings. These rankings reflect projection for 2016, not solely what players accomplished in 2015. Here’s a look at the top 40 players in the ACC for 2016:
Ranking the ACC's Top 40 Players for 2016
Just Missed: DeAngelo Brown, DL, Louisville; Matt Dayes, RB, NC State; Jay Guillermo, C, Clemson; Ken Ekanem, DL, Virginia Tech
40. Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
A breakout season should be in order for Trubisky in his first year at the helm for coach Larry Fedora.
39. Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia
Kiser led Virginia's defense with 117 stops in 2015. His presence is critical for a defense returning only two starters in the front seven.
38. Wyatt Teller, OL, Virginia Tech
Teller is a standout run blocker and helped pave the way for running back Travon McMillian to eclipse 1,000 yards in 2015.
37. Harold Landry, DL, Boston College
As a sophomore last year, Landry accumulated 4.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss in 12 games. He’s a rising star to watch for the Eagles in 2016.
36. Al-Quadin Muhmamad, DL, Miami
New line coach Craig Kuligowski is one of the nation’s top defensive assistants. He should help Muhammad take the next step in his development this fall. (Note: Muhammad was dismissed from Miami after this article was published).
35. Matt Milano, LB, Boston College
Steven Daniels will be missed, but Boston College isn’t starting from scratch at linebacker. Milano anchors this unit after a standout 2015 campaign (17.5 tackles for loss).
34. Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech
New coach Justin Fuente returns two of the ACC’s top playmakers in the passing attack, with receiver Isaiah Ford and Hodges (tight end) slated to pick up where they left off in 2015. Hodges grabbed 40 receptions for 530 yards and six touchdowns last fall.
33. Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
Leggett is the first of three Clemson receiving threats to make this list. A strong case could be made for the senior as college football’s top tight end after catching 40 passes for 525 yards and six scores in 2015.
32. Jaylen Samuels, All-Purpose/Tight End, NC State
Few players stuffed the stat sheet like Samuels did in 2015. Not only was Samuels the top target (65 catches for 597 yards and seven scores) in the Wolfpack passing game, he also rushed for 368 yards and nine touchdowns.
31. Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina
In addition to his ability to make an impact on special teams (seven career punt returns), Switzer is also one of the ACC’s top receivers. He grabbed 55 receptions for 697 yards and six touchdowns last year.