Ranking the ACC's signal-callers for 2019
The ACC enters 2019 in a state of transition at the quarterback position. Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is the unquestioned No. 1 signal-caller within the conference, followed by Virginia's Bryce Perkins at No. 2. High expectations surround Tommy DeVito in his first year as the starter at Syracuse, with Ryan Willis at Virginia Tech and James Blackman at Florida State rounding out the next tier. While DeVito, Willis and Blackman are all capable options, all three are entering their first full year as the starter at their current program. Additionally, can coaching changes at Miami and Louisville jumpstart sluggish offenses in 2019?
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2019. 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, 2019 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the ACC for 2019.
Ranking the ACC's Quarterbacks for 2019
14. Tobias Oliver, Georgia Tech
Transitioning away from the option to more of a spread scheme will require some growing pains for Georgia Tech in 2019. However, the future of this program is bright under new coach Geoff Collins. Oliver gets the nod in this space as the frontrunner to start, but Lucas Johnson and James Graham will push for the job in the fall. All three quarterbacks were recruited by the previous staff to run the option and have combined for just 17 passes attempts in their career at Georgia Tech. Oliver made one start against Virginia Tech but spent the 2018 season as the backup to TaQuon Marshall. In 12 overall appearances, Oliver completed seven passes for 167 yards and two scores and rushed for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns. Graham played in three games but used a redshirt year, while Johnson did not record a snap in 2018.
13. Sam Howell, North Carolina
Keeping Howell at home was a big win for Mack Brown in his first recruiting class back at North Carolina. Howell was committed to Florida State before flipping to sign with the Tar Heels in the early signing period in December. The North Carolina native was the top prospect in Brown’s 2019 class, ranking as the No. 93 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite. Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder are also in the mix to start, and the battle with Howell is likely to extend deep into fall practice.
12. Quentin Harris, Duke
Quarterback play isn’t likely to be a weakness on a David Cutcliffe-coached offense. While the Blue Devils will miss Daniel Jones, Harris has garnered valuable experience with 22 appearances over the last three years. The Connecticut native received extended playing time when Jones was recovering from a collarbone injury last fall. Harris went 2-0 as a starter, picking up wins against Baylor and N.C. Central. He finished 2018 with 437 passing yards and seven touchdowns to just one pick but completed just 50 percent of his passes. Harris showed good mobility in his limited work, recording 83 rushing yards versus Baylor and 195 overall on just 46 attempts for the season.
11. Jawon Pass, Louisville
Appalachian State never finished below third in the Sun Belt in scoring offense under Scott Satterfield’s watch. Louisville’s offense averaged only 19.8 points a game last season, so Satterfield’s track record should provide some optimism for Louisville this fall. Improved play under center is a must if the Cardinals are going to contend for a bowl in Satterfield’s first year. Pass completed 54 percent of his throws for 1,960 yards and eight touchdowns to 12 picks in 2018. The Georgia native ranked as the No. 204 prospect out of high school, so there’s certainly some talent for Satterfield, coordinator Dwayne Ledford and quarterbacks coach Frank Ponce to mold in 2019.
10. Matt McKay, NC State
NC State’s offense ranked third in the ACC in scoring (33.8 ppg) last season but features a handful of changes for 2019. Des Kitchings and George McDonald were promoted to co-offensive coordinator after Eli Drinkwitz left to be the head coach at Appalachian State. The line has to be retooled, No. 1 running back Reggie Gallaspy and standout quarterback Ryan Finley finished their eligibility, and the receiving corps must replace two 1,000-yard players. The battle to replace Finley is likely to extend deep into fall practice, as four candidates are vying for the No. 1 job. McKay worked as Finley’s backup last season, completing seven of eight passes for 87 yards in five appearances. Freshmen Devin Leary (redshirt), Ty Evans (true) and former Florida State signal-caller Bailey Hockman are battling McKay for the starting nod.
9. N’Kosi Perry, Miami
Miami finished spring practice with uncertainty at quarterback, and the battle is expected to extend into the fall. Perry, Ohio State transfer Tate Martell and redshirt freshman Jarren Williams are vying for the starting job. New coordinator Dan Enos is one of the top assistant coach hires for 2019, and while the Hurricanes may not have an All-ACC quarterback by the end of the year, improvement should be noticeable out of the offense. Perry led the team with 1,091 passing yards and 13 touchdowns and also chipped in 169 yards and a score on the ground last season. However, he completed only 50.8 percent of his throws, tossed six picks and averaged 5.7 yards per attempt. How far will Perry improve this offseason under Enos?
8. Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Pitt’s offense leaned heavily on the run (nearly 65 percent of its plays) last season, but that total could shift with the addition of Mark Whipple as the team’s play-caller. Whipple has a good track record of developing quarterbacks, and his 2018 offense at UMass tied for 10th nationally in yards per pass attempt (8.7). That’s all good news for Pickett and a receiving corps featuring Taysir Mack (22.3 ypc) and Maurice Ffrench (35 catches). After playing in four games (with one start) as a true freshman in 2017, Pickett started all 14 games for the Panthers last season. The New Jersey native completed 58.1 percent of his throws for 1,969 yards and 12 touchdowns to six picks. Pickett also chipped in 220 yards and three scores on the ground and tied for second among ACC quarterbacks with 11 completions of 40 or more yards in 2018. Expect Pickett to take a step forward in his development under Whipple’s direction.
7. Anthony Brown, Boston College
Brown’s freshman season was cut short due to a knee injury, but the New Jersey native showed no rust in his return to the lineup in 2018. He started all 12 games for the Eagles, throwing for 2,121 yards and 20 touchdowns to just nine picks. Brown also connected on 55 percent of his throws, up from 52 percent the previous year. His best performance of the 2018 season came in mid-September against Wake Forest. In a 41-34 win for the Eagles, Brown connected on 16 of 25 throws for 304 yards and five touchdowns. As a junior, Brown should take another step forward in his development in 2019.
6. Jamie Newman, Wake Forest
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has a good problem on his hands entering the 2019 season. The return of Newman and Sam Hartman means the Demon Deacons have two capable quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Hartman was impressive in nine starts as a true freshman last season, throwing for 1,984 yards and 16 touchdowns to eight picks. He also rushed for 275 yards and two scores before suffering a season-ending leg injury against Syracuse. Newman picked up where Hartman left off, recording a 3-1 record over his four starts with 12 overall scores. Counting snaps as a backup, Newman finished 2018 with 1,083 yards and nine touchdown tosses to four picks. Regardless of which quarterback starts, Wake Forest’s offense should average over 30 points a game once again.
5. James Blackman, Florida State
The addition of Kendal Briles as the team’s new play-caller and added competition along the offensive line should help to jumpstart Florida State’s offense in 2019. With Deondre Francois off the team, Blackman is the unquestioned starter in Tallahassee. The sophomore has plenty of experience under his belt. After an injury to Francois in 2017, Blackman started 11 games and threw for 2,230 yards and 19 touchdowns to 11 picks. The Florida native utilized a redshirt year in 2018 but took advantage of the new NCAA rule by playing in four games (with one start). Blackman passed for 421 yards and four scores in a 47-28 loss at NC State last season and completed three passes for 88 yards in a loss against Clemson. If the Seminoles get improved play in the trenches, Blackman could push for All-ACC honors in 2019.
4. Ryan Willis, Virginia Tech
Willis pushed Josh Jackson for the starting role last offseason and was pressed into action early in the 2018 campaign. Jackson suffered a season-ending leg injury versus Old Dominion, opening the door for Willis to start the final 10 games. He was instrumental in helping the Hokies reach bowl eligibility, throwing for 2,716 yards and 24 touchdowns to nine picks last fall. Willis also added 354 yards and four scores on the ground and tied for fourth place among ACC quarterbacks with 10 completions of 40 or more yards. Including his career at Kansas, Willis has passed for 5,246 yards and 36 touchdowns at the FBS level.
3. Tommy DeVito, Syracuse
Eric Dungey is gone, but Syracuse’s quarterback position is in good hands with DeVito. The New Jersey native ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2017 signing class and used a redshirt year in his first season on campus. DeVito played in eight games last fall as Dungey’s backup, completing 44 of 87 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns to three picks. DeVito has a strong supporting cast at his disposal and should emerge as one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks in coach Dino Babers’ high-powered offense.
2. Bryce Perkins, Virginia
Perkins delivered a breakout season in his first year with the Cavaliers. The Arizona native started all 13 games for coach Bronco Mendenhall and finished third in the ACC by averaging 277.2 total yards a game. Perkins passed for 2,680 yards and 25 touchdowns to only nine picks and added 923 yards and nine scores on the ground. Perkins started his career at Arizona State but transferred to the junior college level at Arizona Western Community College for the 2017 season. After one year at the JUCO level and one season in Charlottesville, Perkins has already emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC.
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
After ranking as the No. 1 prospect for the 2018 signing class, it was only a matter of time before Lawrence emerged as a star one of the top quarterbacks in college football. The Georgia native started his freshman campaign sharing the quarterback duties with Kelly Bryant but earned the starting job after a 49-21 victory over Georgia Tech. Lawrence’s emergence as the team’s starter helped Clemson jumpstart its downfield passing attack, which was instrumental in the program’s run to national championship. Lawrence ended 2018 with 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns to just four picks and connected on 65.2 percent of his throws. And here’s a scary thought for the rest of college football: Lawrence can only get better in 2019.