ACC: Jordan Leggett

Second-year stars: Clemson

May, 2, 2014
May 2
The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference — the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

Next up: Clemson

Class recap: The Tigers inked the country’s 13th-best class in 2013 and the second-best in the ACC, according to ESPN’s rankings, with 15 four- and five-star players. Several standouts, including Shaq Lawson, Jayron Kearse, Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett, earned regular playing time as true freshmen last year.

Second-year star: CB Mackensie Alexander

Recruiting stock: Alexander was the No. 2 cornerback and the No. 4 overall prospect in the country coming out of high school and was Clemson’s top signee in 2013.

2013 in review: The expectations were high for Alexander entering the year, but his debut was delayed early on when he suffered a groin injury in fall camp. By the time he was ready to return to action, a redshirt was waiting.

2014 potential: Much has been made of Clemson’s ferocious defensive line, but the secondary should be improved in 2014, too. Still, there are questions at corner with Bashaud Breeland off to the NFL and Garry Peters suspended for the opener against Georgia. That meant an opportunity for a healthy Alexander to showcase his skills this spring, and coordinator Brent Venables came away impressed. Alexander figures to have the inside track on starting the opener, and he could easily secure the job for good with an impressive fall camp. And with a pass rush that projects as one of the best in the country, the rewards for Clemson’s secondary could be rich.

Also watch for: There’s ample depth in Clemson’s backfield at the moment, and coaches haven’t given much indication of who’ll get the lion’s share of the carries, but redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman has earned raves. Swinney said he nearly lifted Gallman’s redshirt last year in a pinch, but he’s eager to see what the 6-1, 200-pounder can do in 2014.

ACC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
Well, this rule ought to make games more interesting.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
Here are Ernest Hemingway’s recommended readings for aspiring writers. I’ve never read any of them, but I’ve seen a few of the movies. That counts, right?

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 15, 2013
Two more weeks ...
Clemson freshman tight end Jordan Leggett suffered a knee injury in a situational scrimmage on Wednesday morning, but the injury is not season-ending, according to the school. Leggett does not need surgery and is expected to miss three-to-four weeks, which means he will likely miss the season opener against Georgia. Leggett injured an MCL, not his ACL while making a reception during the workout.

“We are two-for-two in recent injuries that could have been serious,” coach Dabo Swinney said in a prepared statement. “T.J. Green had a knee injury last week that did not end up being serious, and now Jordan Leggett. We are fortunate that we will have Jordan back early in the season.”

Leggett was definitely a first-year player to watch in the ACC. He had a great spring and a chance at a starting role.

The tight end position has been a big part of the Clemson offense the past two seasons under offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Clemson tight ends have caught 119 passes for 1,390 yards and 21 touchdowns over the past two seasons, significantly contributing to Clemson’s 21-6 record. Clemson has had the first-team All-ACC tight end each of the past two years -- Dwayne Allen in 2011 and Brandon Ford in 2012.
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:

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston's intelligence might be as impressive as his physical tools, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
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, 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.

ACC mailblog

May, 10, 2013
AA in the house with a fresh mailbag. Who has questions?

Christopher Koch in Charlottesville, Va., writes: I liked your observations in the Best of the ACC blog. As a Hokie, I enjoyed the mention of Brandon Facyson in your early enrollee section. He really did have a great spring. Not to take away from anyone else's spring, but what do you think of Jonathan McLaughlin as the best early enrollee? He had a great spring also and was not as high (nor sought after) of a recruit as Facyson or Leggett. I even read he took over the starting left tackle position.

Andrea Adelson: Thank you, Chris. I should have included McLaughlin in that group as well for what he was able to accomplish this spring. He is No. 1 on the depth chart right now at his position. Facyson is not. While it is true the Hokies' offensive line is in need of an overhaul, it is extremely impressive for a true freshman to come in and start at one of the most challenging positions on the offensive line, after just 15 practices. Remember, the vast majority of offensive linemen redshirt their freshman seasons. So to see McLaughlin starting the spring game says something about him and his potential. We'll see if he can maintain that position headed into the opener vs. Bama.

Brad in Charlotte writes: In reference to your blog post on the Best of ACC's Spring, how can Jameis Winston's spring game performance be better than Cole Stoudt's 304-yard and four-touchdown passing performance, all of which was in the first half? I realize Winston is the talk of the town in Tallahassee, but let's face it he is essentially the default starter after (Clint) Trickett left. Even though Stoudt is a backup, he killed it against the first team defense with (Tajh) Boyd watching on the sidelines. Let's give credit where it is due.

Adelson: Stoudt did have a good game; you are not going to get an argument from me there. But he is the backup. He has no shot of winning the starting job. Winston was in the middle of a competition to win the starting job -- with Trickett -- in that spring game. The importance of that performance, with the starting job hanging in the balance, made Winston the selection in that category.

Ron Davis in Lexington, Ky., writes: So, with the 2014 mock-draft having Teddy Bridgewater in the Top 2, do you think the pull of playing in the ACC as a senior against stronger competition might compel Teddy to return for his final year?

Adelson: Highly doubt that, but it really all depends on what type of season he has. If he is a surefire Top 2 pick, there is no compelling reason to turn down millions upon millions of dollars.

Tim in Blacksburg writes: RE: Top ACC prospects for 2014 draft. Umm.. No mention of LT? Not even in the players who may rise in those rankings? Funny stuff!!

Alan James in South Boston, Va., writes: Logan Thomas will be drafted higher than any of those mentioned in your "top draft prospects for 2014" blog.

Adelson writes: So the quarterback everybody loves to hate is all of a sudden a first-round NFL draft pick after a junior season in which he was roundly and soundly criticized as being unable to throw the ball? I think I am living in a bizarro world right now. The bottom line is this -- Thomas has a lot of work to do if he is going to get his name back into the first-round conversation. Last season did a number on his stock. Big reason why he came back.

B in NYC writes: Hi Andrea, Where does Stephen Morris fall on your 2014 NFL draft list? Considering the Canes will have the best OL in years, have a talented receiving core, and not to mention Duke (Johnson) to keep D's honest, he's in a great position to improve upon his already record breaking year last year. It's still QB U until somebody says it ain't. Was he an oversight?

Adelson: Is it still QB U? Because last I checked, Miami had two quarterbacks drafted since 1999, and both were seventh-round picks. As for Morris, he certainly is in a position to improve his draft stock, but I'm not sure he's a first-round selection at this point. Guys like Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, Aaron Murray, Derek Carr and AJ McCarron are rated higher than him right now.

Mike Lawrence in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Winning championships is also about coaching and attitude. Good teams believe they can win every game; great teams expect to. Players at FSU did not improve during the final decade of (Bobby) Bowden's tenure, but that seems to be improving. But the attitude has to develop, and that is a work in progress. It seems to be better than it was - these teams are winning games that we used to find a way to lose. But we ain't there yet. Thanks for your article!

Adelson: Florida State is such a fascinating program to me. People expect greatness year in and year out. When it doesn't happen, well, something must clearly be wrong. But as you pointed out, this program was a long way away from being a winning program when Bowden left. Jimbo Fisher has needed all the time he has had to get the ship headed in the right direction.

Cody in Syracuse writes: Andrea,I have a bit of a rivalry with one of my current friends who is a student at Virginia Tech and I attend Syracuse University. Him and his roommates like to talk a lot of smack about how much better Virginia Tech is in football than S.U. and in recent times they have had some more successful years. The recent NFL draft I think is a strong indicator of where both of these programs currently stand. Three S.U. players and two V.T. players were selected in this year's draft. Not only did S.U. have one more player taken in the draft than V.T., but S.U.'s players were selected in the first and fourth rounds, meanwhile both V.T.'s players were both selected in the 6th round. I'm glad that S.U. and V.T. belong to the same conference again. My greatest memory at the Dome was the 2002 triple overtime win over V.T. and who could forget the 1998 classic that the game winning touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb? Aside from having a better draft this year than the Hokies, I always remind them that S.U. actually has a national championship in football, basketball and 15 national championships in men's lacrosse. Number of V.T. national championships in any sport: bass fishing.

Adelson: I think the performance on the field this year will be a much more accurate assessment of where both programs stand. I wouldn't just look at last season and say Syracuse all of a sudden is in better shape than Virginia Tech. The Hokies just had a string of eight straight 10-win seasons snapped. Syracuse hasn't won 10 games since 2001. In fact, the Orange have lost 10 games more recently than they won 10 games (and they did it twice). One year does not make a trend. Gotta wait on the results from this season.

Best of the ACC's spring

May, 7, 2013

Best spring game performance: That belongs to none other than "Famous" Jameis Winston, whose performance sent Clint Trickett packing his bags less than a week later. While coach Jimbo Fisher did not proclaim Winston his starter, Trickett probably knew what was coming after being outplayed in the spring game. Winston went 12-of-15 for 205 yards and two touchdowns -- one of them a long score on his first throw. This, by the way, while he moonlights for the baseball team. Talk about taking advantage when the spotlight is on.

Best overall spring: Nobody had a better spring than commissioner John Swofford. Nobody. A league many believed to be teetering on the brink of another raid solidified itself well into the future with a grant of rights agreement that makes it next to impossible for any school to leave without incurring major financial debt for a lifetime. While all these football teams worked on their techniques, Swofford was mastering his. That's all that matters right now in the ACC.

Best addition: Syracuse has been enmeshed in a quarterback controversy all spring, but it's not going to let up until the fall, not with Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen coming onboard later this summer. Allen sat behind Sam Bradford and Landry Jones and is hoping to find his way into the starting lineup. He gives Syracuse a high-quality transfer from a high-quality program, but he's going to have to fight off hard-charging Terrel Hunt and Charley Loeb for the starting job.

Best performance by an early enrollee: Two-way tie here between Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson and Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett. Facyson turned heads when spring practice opened, so much so that he has given himself an opportunity to be on the field when the season opens against Alabama. Leggett, meanwhile, has got a terrific opportunity to start at tight end when the season opens against Georgia because of a knee injury to Sam Cooper. Leggett had a great spring game, with seven receptions for 97 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

Best underdog story: Take a look at the spring Virginia center Jackson Matteo had. The walk-on opened practice as the backup behind senior Luke Bowanko, who started every game last year. By the end of spring, Bowanko was moved to left guard and Matteo was listed as the starting center. Matteo, a redshirt freshman, turned down a scholarship offer from Temple to be a preferred walk-on for the Hoos last year. And yes, he remains walk-on, though he has an opportunity to earn a scholarship in the fall.

Clemson Tigers spring wrap

May, 7, 2013
2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (Atlantic Division co-champs)
Returning starters: offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners:

QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins, T Brandon Thomas, WR Charone Peake, WR Martavis Bryant, DE Vic Beasley, DE Corey Crawford, LB Stephone Anthony, S Travis Blanks, LB Spencer Shuey; K Chandler Catanzaro

Key losses:

WR DeAndre Hopkins, RB Andre Ellington, TE Brandon Ford, C Dalton Freeman, WR Jaron Brown, DE Malliciah Goodman, CB Xavier Brewer, CB Rashard Hall, SS Jonathan Meeks, LB Tig Willard, P Spencer Benton

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ellington (1,081 yards)
Passing: Boyd* (3,896 yards)
Receiving: Hopkins (1,405 yards)
Tackles: Willard (95)
Sacks: Beasley* (8)
Interceptions: Hall (4)

Spring answers

1. Freshman phenom at tight end: Jordan Leggett enrolled in January, and not a moment too soon. Sam Cooper tore his ACL, an injury that opened the door for Leggett, who had a fantastic spring. He had seven catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, and he was impressive in the last two scrimmages. He’s not listed as the starter yet, but he is good enough to get there by the opener against Georgia.

2. Beasley’s a beast. He led the team with eight sacks last year, but really showed consistency in the spring. Twice had interceptions of Boyd where he made athletic plays, and he had 10 sacks in the three scrimmages. Clemson is in need of a big-play guy on defense, and Beasley could be it.

3. Solid behind Boyd. Clemson has found a No. 2 quarterback in Cole Stoudt, who threw for 304 yards in the first half of the Tigers’ spring game. He hardly played in the second half. The depth of the position took a hit when Chad Kelly was injured, but now the backup quarterback question has an answer.

Fall questions

1. Unsettled secondary. The cornerback position is a particular area of concern, but with eight true freshmen joining the team this August, the entire group could look different this summer. It wouldn’t be surprising to see at least four of those rookies earn playing time this fall, especially prized recruit Mackensie Alexander, who was the program’s highest-rated signee since former defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.

2. Center of attention: The Tigers will miss Dalton Freeman, who started 49 straight games at center. Ryan Norton is the new starter, but there’s no replacing the experience Freeman had with making all of the blocking calls and the chemistry he developed with Boyd.

3. Spotlight on Sammy: Watkins is moving to Hopkins’ old position, and all eyes will be watching to see if he looks like the same player who caught the nation’s attention as a true freshman in 2011. So far, so good. Watkins had 156 receiving yards in the spring game and looked like old Sammy.

Heather Dinich predicts which true freshman in the ACC will have an immediate impact this fall.
Clemson took a big hit when it lost starting tight end Sam Cooper with a knee injury in the spring game, most especially from an experience standpoint.

Without him, the Tigers are pretty green at the position.

On the post-spring depth chart released Wednesday, the Tigers had sophomore Stanton Seckinger listed with the first team. He is the only tight end on the depth chart with any game experience, having played in eight contests last season as a freshman. Jordan Leggett, who had an outstanding spring game with seven catches for 97 yards and a score, just enrolled in January. Jay Jay McCullough is a redshirt freshman.

Neither one can match Cooper's size, either. Leggett is the biggest one, at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. Seckinger is listed at 210 pounds.

"The biggest loss with Coop is just that veteran leadership, that savviness that comes with playing," coach Dabo Swinney said on the ACC coaches call Thursday. "And then also, he’s a 250-something pound thumper at the point of attack. So we’ve got to develop those guys in a hurry. We’ve got to ramp their development up. We were bringing them along because we had the luxury of doing that with a guy like Coop, but now their development is going to have to speed up and we’ve got to force feed them a little more than we would have. Athletically, they’re talented and capable of making plays, but we’re going to have to challenge them and grow them up in the run game."

Here are a few other quick notes from the post-spring depth chart:
The news got worse for Clemson on Monday, as the school announced starting tight end Sam Cooper and backup quarterback Chad Kelly had each torn their anterior crucial ligaments in the spring game this past weekend.

While the news on Kelly was expected, the news on Cooper came as more of a surprise. Following the game Saturday, coach Dabo Swinney did not believe the Cooper injury to be as serious. But further tests revealed the tear. Now, the Tigers go into 2013 short at both positions.

There is no timetable yet for their return.

“This is very difficult for both players," Swinney said in a statement. "Both had really worked hard and done well this spring. As far as Sam Cooper is concerned, this was certainly going to be his time at tight end. We have had quite a run of production at tight end the last few years with Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford."

Cooper was injured after making a 5-yard yard reception from Kelly on the 11th play of the scrimmage. Kelly, who was competing for the backup quarterback job with Cole Stoudt, was hurt nine plays later at the end of a 17-yard run. Kelly finished the day 6-of-7 for 43 yards and a touchdown, and had four carries for 23 yards.

Clemson now has two scholarship quarterbacks for 2013 -- starter Tajh Boyd and Stoudt. Without Cooper, all eyes turn to true freshman Jordan Leggett, an early enrollee who turned some heads this spring. Leggett had seven catches for 97 yards and the game-winning touchdown catch in the spring game.

Other options include Darrell Smith, Stanton Seckinger and redshirt freshman Jay Jay McCullough.

Clemson tight ends have caught 218 passes for 2,474 yards and 32 touchdowns over the past four years. Clemson has had the first-team All-ACC tight end three of the last four years. Dwayne Allen won the John Mackey Award in 2011 as the nation’s top tight end.

"Sam is the most experienced tight end we have and this is a tough loss," Swinney said. "He was coming into his own. We have some young, talented tight ends who are now going to have to step up."

Offensive lineman Kalon Davis also suffered a knee injury in the first quarter, but his injury is not serious.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 15, 2013
Spring ball is winding down ...
With half of the conference playing spring games this weekend, here’s a look at what to watch if you’re keeping an eye on the ACC as spring ball comes to a close:


When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • Quarterbacks of the future. You know Tajh Boyd is good. Expect Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly to take most of the snaps. Boyd played just four snaps in the last scrimmage. Let's see his backups.
  • The tight ends. Clemson tight ends Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford have been the first team All-ACC tight ends the past two years. Clemson tight ends have 118 receptions and 21 touchdowns the past two years, perhaps the most underrated area in Chad Morris’ offense. So who moves in there this year? Sam Cooper is the most experienced, but freshman Jordan Leggett has been impressive this spring.
  • How much better is the defense? All eyes will be on Brent Venables' group to see how much progress it has made this spring. If the D gets better, it could be a special season in Death Valley.

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. It's been one of the hottest topics this spring in the ACC and arguably the biggest position battle in the conference. Check out Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston as they all battle to replace starter EJ Manuel.
  • The defensive line. The competition is on to replace Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine. Mario Edwards Jr. is ready to jump in, along with Giorgio Newberry.
  • Don't forget the kicker. It's big at FSU. The Noles have to replace Dustin Hopkins, the ACC's all-time leading scorer and the NCAA's all-time kick scorer. It's your chance to see Roberto Aguayo, who was one of the nation's top kickers coming out of high school.

When: 7 p.m. on Friday in Byrd Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The running backs. Both Brandon Ross and Albert Reid have had strong springs and will be competing for playing time come the fall.
  • The receivers. This group should be a strong point for the team this year, as Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Nigel King are a talented trio.
  • New faces on defense. The Terps have to replace six starters on defense, including some of their best leaders in Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis.

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3) in Wallace Wade Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Booooooone. Anthony Boone takes over at quarterback, and there have been rave reviews about him from within the program all spring. He's got a strong arm and is mobile.
  • New faces at safety. Some big names are gone, as Duke has to replace graduates Jordon Byas and Walt Canty, and Brandon Braxton, who moved back to receiver. Jeremy Cash, eligible now after transferring from Ohio State and sitting out last fall, headlines the group that includes sophomore Dwayne Norman (60 tackles in 2012 as true freshman) and redshirt freshman Corbin McCarthy.
  • Front and center: There is one hole to fill on the offensive line and Matt Skura takes over at center for Brian Moore.

When: 3 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium (ESPN3)

Gates open: 12:30 p.m.

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Defensive improvement. Is there any? The Canes were one of the worst in the country last year, but they return every starter up front.
  • The No. 2 QB. Who is it? Gray Crow started the last scrimmage as the backup to Stephen Morris and completed 8 of 13 passes for 73 yards, with a touchdown and interception. Ryan Williams, who entered the spring as the expected No. 2, completed only six of his 12 passes with a touchdown and an interception. The coaches will be watching these guys closely on Saturday, so should you.
  • Running back Dallas Crawford. You know Duke Johnson. It's time to get to know this guy. Those within the program have said Crawford has had a great spring and could be a rising star this fall. He scored two touchdowns in a scrimmage in Naples earlier this month.

When: 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at Kenan Stadium (ESPN3)

Admission: Free

Parking: $5/vehicle

What to watch:
  • Gio's replacement(s). A.J. Blue and Romar Morris have been working to ease the loss of leading rusher Giovani Bernard. Can they be as effective as he was, how much progress have they made and who will replace Bernard in the return game?
  • The O-line. Former guard Jonathan Cooper should be a first-round draft pick later this month, and it won't matter how good Blue and Morris are if they can't find anyone to help block for them. A total of three starters have to be replaced on the offensive line.
  • Replacing big names on D. Cooper and Bernard aren't the only big names that will be missing. The defense is going to miss tackle Sylvester Williams, who could be another first-round draft pick, and linebacker Kevin Reddick (85 tackles, 8.5 for loss). How does the D look without them?

When: 7 p.m. ET on Friday at Bethel Park High School (ESPN3)

Gates open: 5:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Fifth-year senior Tom Savage has taken most of the reps with the first team, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik appears to be the backup, but coach Paul Chryst has yet to name a starter.
  • The running backs. Earlier this month, it was announced that Rushel Shell has decided to transfer. Since then, the bulk of the carries have gone to junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett and senior Desmond Brown. How they fare will go a long way in determining how Pitt fares in its first season in the ACC.
  • The offensive line. It's been problematic for the Panthers in each of the past two seasons, and Pitt now has to break in two new starters in Gabe Roberts and Adam Bisnowaty.