ACC: 2011 summer player rankings

You asked, I answered. Readers (particularly @AsylumGodfather) were calling for more position rankings, so the receivers are up next. This could be the strongest position group in the conference, and one of the more difficult to rank, so I looked back on a few stats to help me separate them, including how some of these guys did against their best competition (i.e. Danny Coale versus FSU, wow). Here’s the final verdict of which teams in the ACC have the best combination of depth and talent:

1. Virginia Tech: With Jarrett Boykin and Coale returning, the Hokies’ passing game has a chance to flourish this fall. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts were the team’s top three receivers last year for the second straight season, combining for 113 catches, 1,882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add to that Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, E.L. Smiling -- it’s a bottomless cup of depth and talent.

2. Duke: Conner Vernon has 128 catches in his first two collegiate seasons and Donovan Varner ranked fourth in the ACC in pass receptions (60) and seventh in yardage (736). Their combined 274 receptions are the most of any active duo in the ACC. They are the top two returning leaders in catches per game, and Vernon is the ACC’s returning leader in receiving yards per game. The Blue Devils also have sophomore Brandon Braxton (14 catches), who could make a name for himself as the third option this year.

3. Florida State: Every Seminole who caught a pass last season returns. Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith return with a combined 50 career starts. Reed ranks second among all returning ACC receivers with 141 career receptions. Willie Haulstead had 38 catches last season, Smith had 31, and there’s plenty of rising talent like Christian Green.

4. North Carolina: Like Florida State, North Carolina returns all of its receivers, including two who redshirted last season. Dwight Jones, who had 946 yards and 62 receptions, leads the group, but Erik Highsmith (25 catches, 348 yards and three touchdowns) must be accounted for as well. Defenses also can’t forget about Jheranie Boyd, who is a deep threat.

5. Miami: The Canes will miss the production of Leonard Hankerson, but they don’t have to if one or two of the other players show more consistency. Travis Benjamin has big-play capabilities and averaged 17.3 yards on his 43 catches last season. There is no shortage of other options with LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns and Kendal Thompkins. Which one will rise to the occasion?

6. Clemson: It was the DeAndre Hopkins show last season, and he should again highlight the Tigers’ passing game. As a true freshman, Hopkins had 52 catches, the most by a first-year player in school history. Jaron Brown returns with 10 career starts, and the Tigers also have Marquan Jones (21 catches) and Bryce McNeal (19).

7. Maryland: The Terps have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago in Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and no clear frontrunners emerged this spring. Quintin McCree leads all returners with 16 catches, followed by Kevin Dorsey (15), Ronnie Tyler (13), Kerry Boykins (10), and Tony Logan.

8. Boston College: True freshman Bobby Swigert led the Eagles last year with 39 catches and four touchdowns in five starts. The Eagles are hoping to get a significant boost from the return of Colin Larmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the young group should be better regardless because of the experience gained last season.

9. Virginia: The Cavaliers will miss Dontrelle Inman, who averaged 16 yards per catch on 51 receptions, but returning starter Kris Burd finished fifth in the ACC last season in pass receptions (58). The group will also get a boost from the return of Tim Smith, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, and Matt Snyder (30 catches) and Ray Keys (three catches).

10. NC State: NC State has to replace its top two receivers from a year ago, and T.J. Graham is the team’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches. Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton all have experience, and redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, Tobias Palmer and Everett Proctor have also been competing for playing time.

11. Wake Forest: Chris Givens (35 catches, 13.7 average), Michael Campanaro (10 catches) and Danny Dembry are the lead candidates to start, but the Deacs are missing a spark like Kenny Moore (2007) and D.J. Boldin (2008) provided. There were too many dropped passes in the spring game, so this group has some work to do in summer camp.

12. Georgia Tech: Yes, Georgia Tech throws the ball, just not often enough or efficiently enough to be anywhere but last place on this list. Stephen Hill led the Jackets last year with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He should show progress this fall now that there’s no pressure on him to be the next Demaryius Thomas. If he doesn’t show more consistency, the Jackets could turn to Daniel McKayhan, Tyler Melton or Jeremy Moore.

ACC's top 10 running backs

June, 20, 2011
6/20/11
5:00
PM ET
The ACC position rankings continue today with the running backs.

Montel Harris
Sean Meyers/Icon SMIMontel Harris is the ACC's leading returning rusher, coming off a 1,243-yard season.
1. Montel Harris, Boston College: Until proven otherwise, this record-setter is tops in the ACC. He’s currently the league’s most accomplished back, and has topped the 100-yard mark 21 times.

2. David Wilson, Virginia Tech: He was the team’s third-leading rusher a year ago with 619 yards and 5.5 yards per carry. Now he’s got the spotlight to himself, and has a chance to become an All-American in both track and football.

3. Lamar Miller, Miami: He had one of the best spring games in the conference, and averaged six yards per carry last year with only 108 carries for 646 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 11 catches for 96 yards.

4. Chris Thompson, Florida State: He led FSU with 845 yards and 6.3 yards per carry last year. He also had 19 catches for 155 yards.

5. Andre Ellington, Clemson: He could break 1,000 yards if he stays healthy, but a nagging toe injury has kept him from reaching his potential. He ran for 686 yards, (5.8 ypc), and 10 touchdowns in less than nine full games.

6. Josh Harris, Wake Forest: He ranked fifth in the ACC last year with 65.5 yard per game and finished with 720 yards on 126 carries and seven touchdowns. He made a name for himself with 241 rushing yards against ACC champ Virginia Tech.

7. Davin Meggett, Maryland: He was the Terps’ leading rusher with 720 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, and four touchdowns. He also has 29 career pass receptions for 313 yards and a touchdown.

8. Mustafa Greene, NC State: He led the team in rushing as a freshman with 597 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 30 catches for 272 yards.

9. Ryan Houston, North Carolina: He has broken out of the mold of the Tar Heels’ short-yardage back and is ready to be the every-down guy. Houston sat out last year because of a suspension, but he led UNC in rushing in 2009 with 713 yards and nine touchdowns.

10. Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech: He's an A-back, which is more of a slot back, but he was Tech's third-leading rusher last year with 516 yards and 9.7 yards per carry with four touchdowns. He was also the second-leading receiver on the team with 12 catches for 195 yards and a 16.2 yards-per-play average.
Last week we looked at how the quarterbacks stacked up in the ACC. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the running backs. Again, the position rankings by team put heavy weight on the depth of the position -– hence the team ranking, not individual. Just because Virginia Tech has one of the best running backs in the ACC doesn’t mean that collectively, as a group, Virginia Tech is the best team in the league at the position. Florida State? Loaded. Wake Forest? Not. These are based on the best combination of talent, experience and depth.

Here’s a look at how each team ranks in the position:

[+] EnlargeChris Thompson
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIChris Thompson averaged 6.4 yards per carry for the Seminoles last season.
1. Florida State: Chris Thompson, Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas combined for 1,862 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, and 17 touchdowns last year. Thompson had 1,000 yards combined from both rushing and receiving last year, and Thomas enters his senior season with 1,084 career yards -- the second most of any active ACC runner, behind only Montel Harris (3,600).

2. Boston College: Montel Harris could break a 33-year-old ACC rushing record this fall, and his backup, Andre Williams, is a bigger back who has proven more than capable of shouldering the load himself. Together they’re one of the best one-two combos in the league.

3. Miami: The transfer of Storm Johnson hurt, but Lamar Miller should be one of the best in the ACC, and Mike James was ahead of Johnson on the depth chart. The Canes also have Darion Hall, Maurice Hagens and incoming freshman Kevin Grooms.

4. Clemson: Andre Ellington will be the leader of the pack, but true freshman Mike Bellamy could also make an immediate impact, and the group runs deep with Roderick McDowell, D.J. Howard and Demont Buice.

5. Virginia Tech: Had Ryan Williams and Darren Evans returned, this would have been one of the premier groups of running backs in the country. Instead, it will be the David Wilson show (and Josh Oglesby). Not that the Hokies will have any problem with that.

6. Maryland: Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams are a talented duo, but depth should be a concern. Meggett posted a team-high 720 rushing yards in 2010, while Adams had a freshman school-record 11 rushing touchdowns.

7. NC State: The Wolfpack are in a much better position at running back than they were a year ago, when nobody with starting experience returned. Mustafa Greene, James Washington and Brandon Barnes should make NC State’s running game a bigger factor this fall.

8. Georgia Tech: Coach Paul Johnson isn’t concerned about his B-back position because it’s one of the deepest on the team. There isn’t one superstar like in recent years, but Richard Watson, Charles Perkins and Preston Lyons will work together to keep the Jackets one of the top rushing teams in the country.

9. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace three tailbacks who accounted for 96 percent of their rushing last year. Ryan Houston is back for his sixth season of eligibility, but he is the only one who has seen significant playing time. Giovani Bernard, Hunter Furr and Travis Riley help the depth.

10. Wake Forest: Josh Harris could crack the 1,000-yard mark if he stays healthy, and Brandon Pendergrass is a capable backup. There are three true freshmen at the position, and it’s one area coach Jim Grobe can’t afford any injuries.

11. Virginia: Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are talented, but the Cavaliers will miss the production of Keith Payne, who accounted for 14 of the team’s 17 rushing touchdowns. Jones started all but one game last year, but only scored one touchdown.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils’ running game is starting to show progress, but last year it still ranked 104th in the country. Depth isn’t a problem, as Desmond Scott, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson should help make it a more productive group this year.

Stay tuned for the top 10 ACC running backs for 2011 ...

Ranking the ACC quarterbacks

June, 16, 2011
6/16/11
10:30
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In addition to the position rankings, this year I’ll also rank the players 1-10 at each position in the ACC.

These will be the top 10 players overall, so if Florida State happens to have two of the best running backs in the league, it will be reflected in the ranking. If Duke doesn’t have any players who have proven worthy of the list, you won’t find any Blue Devils. The players will be judged on past performances, but also on how they are expected to fare this fall.

Bottom line: Who would you choose at each position if you had to line up tomorrow against Oklahoma?

Following up on this morning’s quarterbacks ranking, we’ll start there.

This will be the most impossible and most unfair assessment since over half of the quarterbacks in the conference will be first-year, full-time starters this season. While experience is a factor, so is how they fared this spring and what their coaches and teammates have been saying about them.

[+] EnlargeO'Brien
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaMaryland quarterback Danny O'Brien threw for 2,428 yards and 22 touchdowns as a freshman.
Here are your top ACC QBs:

1. Danny O'Brien, Maryland: He was the ACC’s 2010 Rookie of the Year after he completed 57 percent of his passes and threw only eight interceptions. He had a 7-3 record as a starter, threw for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns. And that was only his freshman season.

2. EJ Manuel, Florida State: He’s 4-2 as a starter, including bowl wins over two ranked teams. He completed 67.3 percent of his passes and totaled 2,044 yards of offense.

3. Sean Renfree, Duke: He threw for 3,131 yards and only had two interceptions in his final 188 pass attempts. He completed 61.4 percent of his passes and finished second in the ACC in total offense (257 yards per game).

4. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech: He had an outstanding spring, and quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said Thomas was ahead of schedule. His teammates raved about how far he has come, and his leadership on and off the field. Overall, the Hokies couldn’t have asked for a better transition after losing the winningest quarterback in school history.

5. Jacory Harris, Miami: His experience can’t be ignored, and when he’s healthy and confident, he’s good. Harris enters his final season with 6,340 career yards and has thrown 50 touchdown passes. There’s no guarantee he’ll be Miami’s starter this fall, but he is a proven veteran.

6. Mike Glennon, NC State: He completed 9 of 13 pass attempts last year and could be one of the most accurate rookies in the league this year. Those within the program have said Glennon can make a throw just about anywhere on the field, and the receivers know if they’re on time, they’re going to get the ball.

7. Bryn Renner, North Carolina: He’s only thrown two collegiate passes, but he had one of the better spring games of the rookie quarterbacks in the league. He completed 9 of 13 pass attempts for 123 yards and a touchdown.

8. Tanner Price, Wake Forest: He started nine games as a true freshman and completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 1,349 yards and seven touchdowns. He also ran 75 times for 120 yards and four more touchdowns.

9. Chase Rettig, Boston College: He should take a major step forward in his second season as starter, and should also flourish under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers. He completed 51.3 percent of his passes for 1,238 yards and six touchdowns last year.

10. Tajh Boyd, Clemson: He had an inconsistent spring, but overall, the coaches were pleased with the progress he made in the new offense under first-year coordinator Chad Morris. He played in seven games last year and threw four touchdowns and three interceptions in 63 pass attempts. He completed 52.4 percent of his passes for 329 yards.
We’ve already taken a look at the ACC’s Dream Team, which was comprised of the top position groups across the league. Now it’s time to go a little bit deeper and rank every position group for each team. We’ll start with the most difficult position -- the quarterbacks. More than half of the teams in the conference will usher in quarterbacks who are in their first season as a full-time starter, and many of the teams in the ACC are struggling with depth and experience at the position. This is not solely a ranking of the best quarterbacks in the ACC (stay tuned for that, it will look different), so backups are an important part of the equation.

Bottom line: Who's got the depth and talent to make it through a full season -- and win -- if more than one quarterback is needed?

Here’s a look at who’s stocked and who’s not at quarterback this year:

1. Miami: The Hurricanes have a proven albeit embattled option in Jacory Harris, and Stephen Morris also has significant starting experience. Whoever doesn’t win the job will be a more than capable backup. The Canes still need to add depth to the position, but they landed transfer Ryan Williams from Memphis.

2. Boston College: Starter Chase Rettig should be better in his second season as starter, but he’s not the only one on the roster with playing experience. Dave Shinskie has started 13 games, and Mike Marscovetra should be a familiar name to BC fans by now.

3. Duke: It’s possible coach David Cutcliffe could use three quarterbacks this year. He’s got one of the best in the league in starter Sean Renfree, backup Brandon Connette has seen significant playing time, and the emergence of redshirt freshman Anthony Boone this offseason could give the offense yet another option.

4. Wake Forest: Tanner Price is the undisputed starter, but Ted Stachitas had a better spring than coach Jim Grobe had anticipated, and Brendan Cross has always been in the mix to earn some playing time.

5. Florida State: The Seminoles haven’t settled yet on a backup to EJ Manuel, but depth isn’t a problem with both Clint Trickett and Will Secord competing for the No. 2 spot. It’s not like it was last year, though, when there was a Gator Bowl MVP sitting on the bench.

6. North Carolina: Not only is Bryn Renner unproven, so are his backups. Renner clearly distanced himself from the rest of the competition this spring. True freshman Marquise Williams will continue to compete with Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue, who was injured two years ago and redshirted last season, for the No. 2 spot.

7. Virginia Tech: Logan Thomas had an impressive spring and drew rave reviews from those within the program, but the backup situation remains a question. Redshirt freshman Mark Leal really pushed Ju-Ju Clayton for the No. 2 job and that competition will continue this summer.

8. Georgia Tech: It’s Tevin Washington’s job to lose, but Synjyn Days had the better spring game and made the competition a bit more interesting heading into fall camp. True freshmen Vad Lee and Demontevious Smith would have to have stellar performances in camp to make a move, but there’s definitely talent in the wings.

9. Clemson: Tajh Boyd was the only scholarship quarterback even on the roster until the early enrollees, Cole Stoudt and Tony McNeal, joined the team. The good news for Clemson fans is that Cole Stoudt, the son of former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt, had a productive spring and earned the No. 2 job.

10. Virginia: If there’s one problem the Hoos don’t have, it’s depth at the quarterback position. Mike London has yet to name a starter, and all of them lack significant game experience. Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco, Michael Strauss and David Watford all have a shot. Since they’re all preparing as starters now, they should all have a good grasp of the offense if needed.

11. Maryland: First-year coach Randy Edsall had five quarterbacks to work with when he was hired, and now he’s down to two. He’s got one of the best quarterbacks in the league to work with in Danny O'Brien, but he’s got to keep him healthy. C.J. Brown and walk-on Troy Jones are the only other quarterbacks on the roster.

12. NC State: If Mike Glennon gets hurt, the Wolfpack is in trouble. Redshirt freshman Tyler Brosius has a strong arm but no experience, and he’s not ready for prime time yet. The departure of Russell Wilson might not affect the win-loss record, but it definitely hurt the depth.

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