Stardom seems inevitable for some of the ACC’s emerging players, like North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Florida State’s Deondre Francois and Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence. But there are plenty of other breakout candidates floating a bit beneath the radar. We asked the league’s coaches to name their favorites, and here’s our list of potential breakout performers on offense.
NC State wide receiver Nyheim Hines
Hines might be one of the fastest players in the ACC, and he showed off that speed with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown against Clemson. But consistency was a bit tougher to find. Hines played all over the field -- tailback, wideout, return man -- but his versatility also made it tougher to adjust to the college level. “The first half of the season, like most freshmen, he didn’t have total confidence,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “After you make that first big play like he did against Clemson, you start playing different because it’s like, 'Hey, I’m better than these guys.'” Hines earned raves from Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher, and he finished with 208 all-purpose yards against Syracuse. For the year, he racked up 1,419 all-purpose yards, but the bulk came as a kick returner. This year he promises to emerge as a scrimmage-down star in new coordinator Eli Drinkwitz’s fast-paced system.
Duke wide receiver T.J. Rahming
The highlight reel for Rahming, even as a true freshman last season, was impressive. It was just all the plays that didn’t make the cut that kept him from emerging as a true star. Rahming was among the ACC’s most productive receivers down the stretch, with 302 yards in his final three games, but his drop rate of 8.3 percent was the third-highest of any ACC receiver with at least 40 targets. “Some of our games we may have struggled in, T.J. struggled a little bit with consistency,” David Cutcliffe said. “But there were also spectacular things he did.” Cutcliffe compared Ramming’s short-space quickness to Jamison Crowder, the ACC’s all-time leading pass catcher, and said the sophomore’s ability to mix speed with leaping ability should provide Duke with an exceptional big-play threat.
Miami running back Gus Edwards
Edwards missed all of last season, but his return to Miami’s running back corps comes at the perfect time. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Edwards fits the mold of a bruising, SEC-style tailback, and that’s exactly what new head coach Mark Richt is looking for. The Hurricanes struggled to run the ball last season, particularly between the tackles, and Richt won’t tolerate that in his new offense. And as Richt said, Edwards “is pretty dang good.” Indeed, Edwards ran for six touchdowns on just 61 carries in 2014, and his role figures to be a good bit bigger this time around as he shares space with Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton.
Boston College offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom
A year ago, Lindstrom was forced into action well before he was ready. He was a true freshman weighing in at just 265 pounds, and he was on the wrong end of a pass rush that ended his quarterback’s season when Darius Wade was demolished by a Florida State defender. But those early growing pains should start to pay dividends in 2016, Steve Addazio believes. Lindstrom has added 40 pounds to his frame and is far stronger than he was a year ago. “He’s an animal,” Addazio said. Add to that an improved offense that should finally have a healthy QB and depth in the backfield, and the BC line has a shot to develop into an asset, with Lindstrom’s future awfully bright. “He’s going to be a top-round draft pick,” Addazio said.
Pitt wide receiver Jester Weah
How do you replace the production of Tyler Boyd? It’s an impossible task, and Pat Narduzzi isn’t expecting any one receiver to fill the void. But as Pitt ponders its depth at the position -- Dontez Ford, Zach Challingsworth, Quadree Henderson -- perhaps no player stands out quite like Weah. “He’s big, tall, can run,” Narduzzi said. “He’s maybe the fastest guy on our football team.” Weah saw just six targets last season, but they averaged 16 air yards each, setting him up as a stellar deep threat -- an asset Narduzzi said they saw plenty of on the practice field last season. The problem was game days. “In the past, he struggled a little bit catching the ball, but our new offensive coordinator [Matt Canada] has done a great job mentoring him through that and developing better ball skills for him,” Narduzzi said. “In practice, he always had the skills, but it didn’t translate to the game, so it’s really been the confidence part.”
Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert
Benkert is just one of three QBs competing for the starting job at Virginia right now, but read a bit between the lines with new head coach Bronco Mendenhall and it’s easy to see why the ECU transfer might be the favorite. “Usually a team can improve faster with a quarterback who can create because it doesn’t require the execution from all 10 other members of the offense,” Mendenhall said. Benkert can create, and Mendenhall compared him favorably to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. That’s high praise, and it correlates well with the questions on the rest of the offensive unit, including an inexperienced receiving corps and an offensive line that lacks depth. “With that, having mobility at quarterback is a bigger factor,” Mendenhall said. Benkert probably would’ve been ECU’s starter a year ago had it not been for injuries, and if he locks up the job at UVA in 2016, he could be the backbone of Mendenhall’s game plan.