David M. Hale 142d

Ervin Philips, Darian Roseboro top list of ACC's breakout stars

It's June, which means it's time to dust off those depth charts, dig deep into the stats and start making some bold predictions for the year ahead. In other words, it's time to start guessing which players are on the verge of breaking out big. Or, as one reader put it: Who's being overlooked right now?

It’s an interesting question, and hard to argue with Ervin Philips' inclusion. In fact, here's the list of returning Power 5 receivers and tight ends who've posted back-to-back seasons of 500 yards and seven touchdowns:

Calvin Ridley

Jaylen Samuels

James Washington

Ervin Philips

Those first three are, by any metric, All-American candidates. Philips, despite 90 receptions last season, is barely known outside Syracuse. In fact, he wasn't even the biggest name on offense on his own team a year ago, but with Dino Babers' offense now a year more refined, Eric Dungey back at QB and Amba Etta-Tawo's targets up for grabs, a 100-catch, 1,000-yard season seems a reasonable starting point for Philips.

But let's look around the rest of the league. Who else has a bit of experience, an opportunity to blossom -- but very little hype heading into the fall?

Darian Roseboro, NC State

There are just six returning defenders in the ACC who racked up at least five sacks, five QB hurries and 10 tackles for loss last season. Roseboro's name is on that list, despite the fact he's not technically a first-team defender for the Wolfpack. Chalk that up to the host of talent NC State has on the line, but Roseboro figures to benefit even more this season from Kentavius Street, Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill and others who command attention. Double-digit sack totals are within reach, and it's possible that, given the double teams Chubb will command on one side of the line, Roseboro could end up with numbers good enough to lead the league.

Lance Austin, Georgia Tech

Here's a fun fact: Despite having a defensive front that created among the fewest pressures in the country last season, Georgia Tech ranked in the top half of ACC defenses in receiving touchdowns, interceptions and yards-per-attempt. Credit goes to an incredibly under-appreciated secondary, led by Austin. As a junior last season, Austin picked off three passes, broke up 12 more, had 50 tackles and, according to STATS LLC, was second only to Miami's Corn Elder among ACC DBs in yards-per-catch allowed.

Reggie Bonnafon, Louisville

After two years at QB, Bonnafon tried his hand at receiver last season and -- well, it was a mixed bag. His drop rate (12.5 percent) was the sixth-worst in the Power 5 (minimum 30 targets), as was his overall reception percentage (40.6). But keep in mind, it was his first real crack at the position, and while he showcased his flaws, he also showcased his strengths. Bonnafon had just 13 catches last season, but five went for touchdowns. He caught all six passes thrown his way in the red zone last season, with only Alabama's O.J. Howard collecting more red-zone targets without a misfire among Power 5 players. Now add in that Bonnafon is a Bobby Petrino favorite and one of the hardest workers in the league, and it's easy to see how his second season at receiver might be far better than the first.

Chanwtez Moss, Pittsburgh

Clemson's Tavien Feaster is getting plenty of love this offseason from Tigers fans eager to see him in a bigger role, but there’s another 5-foot-11, 210-pound sophomore tailback who posted a virtually identical stat line as a true freshman in 2016 and could be in for a big boost in carries, too. Moss saw some early action last season, averaging better than 6.3 yards per carry on 34 rushes from Sept. 24 through Oct. 15 -- three games vs. ACC foes and a 12-carry performance against Marshall -- but saw only limited action thereafter. But with James Conner gone and Pitt figuring to run the ball often, Moss could blossom into an intriguing figure in the Panthers' backfield. It's a crowded depth chart at the position, but Moss' upside combined with the right amount of touches should have him matching Feaster's hype.

Malik Carney, North Carolina

It's been a slow burn for the Tar Heels' defensive front. In 2015, the focus was on avoiding catastrophe, and that meant a relatively safe approach. In 2016, a slew of injuries across the line stifled progress. But in 2017, with new coordinator Jon Papuchis at the helm, this feels like a turning point. On a line that finally has some respectable talent, Carney stands out as the best mix of experience and upside. While Tomon Fox's recruiting pedigree makes him an intriguing option on the other side of the line, Carney quietly put together a strong sophomore campaign last year, racking up 5.5 sacks and 8.5 TFL with three QB hurries and two forced fumbles. He finished on a high note with a stellar game against Stanford in UNC's bowl. Now as a junior in 2017, he could develop into a steadying force on a line that could be one of the ACC's surprise success stories.

A few other under-appreciated players to watch: NC State's Nyheim Hines, Louisville's Jeremy Smith, BC's Zach Allen, Pitt's Dewayne Hendrix, Virginia Tech's Ricky Walker, Florida State's Demarcus Christmas, Clemson's Van Smith, Duke's Jeremy McDuffie.

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