On Monday, the ACC blog listed a handful of players who just narrowly missed inclusion on the postseason list of the 25 best players in the conference.
That look is being extended with an eye to the future, as we’re offering a number of names of players who could be on that same list a year from now. Maybe a player needs a little more seasoning or just an opportunity to see the field. It could be a player expected to be a leader in 2016 or one who missed last season.
Here are five players who should break into the top 25 in 2016:
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson: The Cardinals and coach Bobby Petrino finally appear ready to move forward with a single quarterback after Jackson, a rising sophomore, dashed through the Texas A&M defense in their bowl game. Against the Aggies, Jackson ran for 200 yards and passed for another 200, a feat only matched in a bowl game by Vince Young and Johnny Manziel. What could end up keeping Jackson off this list is his health, however, as he battled nagging injuries during his freshman campaign. When healthy, he is among the conference’s most electric players.
2. Florida State DE Josh Sweat: Most expected the five-star freshman to redshirt last season as he continued rehabbing from major knee reconstruction surgery in October 2014. Sweat enrolled early at Florida State, though, and was able to play in all 13 games. He was fourth on the team in sacks (two) and tackles for loss (five), and he recovered a team-high three fumbles. With standout DeMarcus Walker opposite him at defensive end, Sweat should receive enough one-on-one opportunities against offensive tackles to make his presence felt on passing downs all seasons.
3. Clemson DT Christian Wilkins: Wilkins made a strong case for inclusion on the top 25 this year after catching a wheel route and running down the sideline in the College Football Playoff semifinal as if it were routine for the 315-pound defensive lineman. As a true freshman, Wilkins played in all 15 games and was a pivotal reserve on one of the country’s best defenses. With Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd bolting for the NFL, Wilkins will be asked to provide play similar to Clemson’s former standouts from the defensive line’s interior. Wilkins has the potential to be an All-American in 2016.
4. North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky: Marquise Williams departs Chapel Hill and now the offense is turned over to the redshirt junior who nearly eclipsed Williams for the starting job last season. Trubisky has been in coach Larry Fedora’s offense three full years, and the Tar Heels will give Trubisky plenty of opportunities to pile up numbers as both a passer and rusher. When Trubisky replaced Williams against Delaware last season, he completed 17 of 20 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. Although his appearances were mostly limited to mop-up duty, only once this season did he fail to finish with a QBR of 94 or better, and that came in a game in which he did not throw a pass and rushed once for two yards.
5. Pittsburgh RB James Conner: All of college football hopes Conner, a former ACC player of the year, makes it back on this list. Conner’s status for 2016 is up in the air after he was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma in November. His 2015 season ended prematurely in the opener when he suffered a season-ending knee ligament injury. As an All-American and the ACC player of the year in 2014, Conner rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. Conner is confident he will return to the field after treatment. In December, Conner said, “I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it, and I will win.”
Honorable mentions: Boston College DE Harold Landry; Clemson DE Austin Bryant, WR Deon Cain and CB Cordrea Tankersley; Duke RB Shaun Wilson; Florida State QB Deondre Francois and OT Roderick Johnson; Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas; Louisville S Josh Harvey-Clemons; Miami DE Al-Quadin Muhammad; NC State RB Matthew Dayes; North Carolina DT Nazair Jones; Virginia S Quin Blanding; Virginia Tech OG Wyatt Teller.