10. RB KirVonte Benson – Georgia Tech
KirVonte Benson is a key component to a potent Georgia Tech option attack that gives everybody headaches. All the motion, chop-blocks and misdirection for four quarters drives fans and defensive coordinators wild. As a freshman in 2017, Benson ran the ball 204 times for 1053 yards – good for 5.2 yards per carry. Against Miami, Benson ran the ball just 7 times for 40 yards, but you never know when the Yellow Jacket offense can pop off. Going into his sophomore year, we should expect his production to increase, especially alongside his quarterback, Taquon Marshall, who will also be featured on this list….NOW
9. QB/RB TaQuon Marshall – Georgia Tech
TaQuon Marshall went from virtually no playing time in 2016 to becoming the focal point of the Georgia Tech offense in 2017. Marshall ran for a clean 1146 yards on 247 attempts with 17 TDs (4th most for a single season in GT history), which leads the team in every category. He is not the best passer (37%) but we all know that doesn’t really matter when you play this team. Like Benson, Marshall did not have a strong showing against Miami. The Hurricanes were just one of two teams (Georgia) to keep Marshall out of the end-zone on the ground. However, Marshall had six games rushing for over 110 yards, including a 249 yard game in a double OT loss to Tennessee to open the season.
8. QB Josh Jackson – Virginia Tech
Josh Jackson absolutely shattered Michael Vick’s record for passing yards as a freshman by throwing for 2991 yards. As a measuring stick, Vick threw for 1,840 yards as a frosh. This kid can play. Flat out play. He also set the record for touchdown passes by a freshman (20) and 200+ yard passing games as a freshman (9). The only reason I have him this high is probably because I watched him play live and in person at Hard Rock this past year and came away unimpressed by the way Miami made him look. I am not going to let one game deceive me into thinking he is not good. The numbers do not lie.
7. CB Levonta Taylor – Florida State
Levonta Taylor was extremely highly recruited out of Virginia Beach, Virginia and has lived up to the hype. According to PFF, Taylor ranked 1st among returning ACC cornerbacks with 145+ coverage snaps: Passer Rating when targeted (28.5), yards after the catch allowed (43), yards per snap in coverage (0.41) and coverage snaps per reception allowed (30.6). Going to be pretty transparent here and say I am not sure what “yards per snap in coverage” means, but it does sound impressive. Taylor is listed at 5’10 and 181 pounds on Seminoles.com. Taylor had one pass deflection against Miami in 2017.
6. CB Mark Gilbert – Duke
Mark Gilbert was first team All-ACC and the leading vote-getter among ACC cornerbacks in 2017 and started all 13 games for the Blue Devils. Gilbert was first in the ACC in total passes defended with 21 (which is also a school record) and finished second in the ACC in interceptions with six as a sophomore. Gilbert is a 6’1 175 Ilb corner that will create a matchup nightmare for any teams WR1. Want to hear a fun stat? Good. Gilbert allowed a passer rating of just 2.8 (!!!!!) on slant routes in 2017, which is 89.9 points (!!!!!) lower than the average QB passer rating on slant routes (PFF College).
Duke CB Mark Gilbert along the route tree last year pic.twitter.com/aKY5VsgnxJ— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 19, 2018
In the 2017 matchup with Miami, Gilbert had two passes deflected and four tackles.
5. LB Joe Giles-Harris – Duke
Joe Giles-Harris may be one of the most underrated players in the ACC. In his two years playing at Duke, Giles-Harris has accumulated 232 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Last year as a redshirt sophomore, he had 125 tackles and 16 tackles for loss in what turned into a first team All-ACC campaign for the Blue Devils linebacker. Giles-Harris could potentially be one of the top linebackers off the board in the 2019 draft because of his abilities to find the football and make plays in the backfield. Being at Duke makes it harder for him to become a household name, but he absolutely should be. Against Miami, he had nine tackles and a sack.
4. DE Brian Burns – Florida State
Brian Burns earned freshman All-American status in 2016 by accumulating 9.5 sacks, the most by a Seminole freshman since 1977. He had a slight drop back in 2017, totaling just 4.5 sacks, but had 13.5 tackles for loss. Florida State had a down year as a program in 2017 so I am giving Burns a pass, despite still being very, very good. I believe he is as talented as just about any defensive end in the country and can see him being a top edge rusher in the eyes of many NFL scouts. He’s a big, strong and fast guy that fits the mold of the modern DE. Against Clemson, Burns put together a seven tackle, 4.5 tackle for loss, and two sack game. We know how dominant Clemson is and will be. That is an impressive stat line against the brass of the college football world.
3. RB Cam Akers – Florida State
Cam Akers came into Florida State with the expectations to fill in Dalvin Cooks shoes and become the next great FSU running back. He has far from disappointed. As a true freshman in 2017, Akers ran for 1025 yards (broke Dalvin Cook’s freshman rushing record) and seven touchdowns. His break-out game came against Miami when Akers ran the ball 20 times for 121 yards and broke 11 (!!!) tackles, including this one:
It is no secret that Cam Akers may be one the best if not the best running back in the ACC in 2018, but I know there is another guy up in the northeast that may have something to say about that.
2. CB Andraez “Greedy” Williams – LSU
Greedy is fitting for the type of player he is. Williams led the SEC with five interceptions as a redshirt freshman. According to PFF, Williams also leads returning SEC corners with the lowest passer rating with 22.9 when targeted. Throwing in his direction is not something that should particularly interest opposing QBs. Greedy is also third in lowest catch rate allowed on targets into his coverage last year with just 39.4% of attempts being successful (PFF). If Rosier is our guy come September 2, I am avoiding his side of the field at all costs. Williams can make Malik Rosier (or whoever is under center) pay dearly to any mistakes in accuracy. More fun facts – Greedy did not allow a single touchdown vs. SEC opponents. On 33 targets Williams allowed just 11 receptions which translates to a 33% catch percentage. So, yeah, he’s good. Here are his highlights:
1. RB AJ Dillon – Boston College
1,589 yards. 14 touchdowns. TRUE FRESHMAN. There is not enough to say about this kid. 1,589 yards were the most by any freshman in Boston College history and second most by a freshman in ACC history. Dillion had four games with over 190 yards and seven with over 120. Against Louisville, Dillion ran for 272 yards and four touchdowns, which is second most by a freshman in Boston College history. I really expected this kid to have broken every Boston College record in the books, somehow that is not the case. Anyways, this kid is an absolute monster. I have been open with the fact that Miami going to Boston in late October for a Friday night game in the cold scares the crap out of me. If there is one game that I am truly not sure about it is that one. Miami did a very good job holding down Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor in the Orange Bowl last year, who is the closest person I can find in comparison to what the Canes are going to face with Dillon. Regardless, Dillion to me is the best player Miami is going to have to face-off with in 2018.
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