- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Few if any coaches will tell you point-blank this time of year which first-year players are likely to see the field and get a chance to contribute immediately, but there were a few hints across the ACC this spring. For some players, like Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the spotlight was unavoidable. For others, like Miami freshman linebacker Alex Figueroa, their success was more under the radar. Based on what we learned this spring, here are five first-year players worth watching this fall in the ACC in no particular order:
Clemson TE Jordan Leggett: He enrolled in January and wasted no time impressing the coaching staff. When Sam Cooper tore his ACL, the door opened for Leggett, who had seven catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, and he played well in the last two scrimmages. He’s not listed as the starter yet, but he is good enough to earn the job by the opener against Georgia.
UNC RB Khris Francis: Another early enrollee, Francis opened some eyes with a stellar performance in the spring game. With the early departure of standout Giovani Bernard to the NFL, the Tar Heels are in need of a running back to step up. While A.J. Blue and Romar Morris are the leading candidates to do that, Francis showed some big-time potential this spring. He had a game-high 101 yards on 20 carries in the spring game.
Miami LB Alex Figueroa: Figueroa also enrolled in January, and Miami’s coaches have praised his progress -- evidenced by his spot at the top of the post-spring depth chart at outside linebacker. The son of two U.S. Marines, Figueroa has been lauded by those within the program for his tireless work ethic. According to hurricanesports.com, coach Al Golden said that Figueroa earned the No. 1 Sam linebacker spot in the spring because he outworked everyone during Miami's UTough program.
Florida State QB Jameis Winston: The hype has grown larger than the 6-foot-4, 218-pound two-sport phenom, but he hasn’t even officially been named the starter. Following the transfer of former quarterback Clint Trickett, though, and an outstanding performance in the spring game, many FSU fans have already anointed Winston the starter, even if coach Jimbo Fisher hasn’t. At the very least, Winston’s 12-for-15, 205-yard passing performance in the spring game made him the clear front-runner.
(tie) Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson and tackle Jonathan McLaughlin: They were both early enrollees and played well enough this spring to work their way into the two-deep. McLaughlin played his way to first-team left tackle, ahead of junior Mark Shuman, and Facyson spent time with the second-team defense behind starter Kyle Fuller.
Few if any coaches will tell you point-blank this time of year which first-year players are likely to see the field and get a chance to contribute immediately, but there were a few hints across the ACC this spring.