As part of our 2012 season preview, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC for this season, from 25 to one. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective, so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
Blue Devils receiver Conner Vernon is one of the best players the program has seen in decades. He’s on track to break conference records this year, while already owning the large majority of pass-catching records for Duke. When he moves on to the NFL, he’ll be remembered for all of that and then some. But what he really wants most of all is a chance to play in the postseason — something that’s alluded him the last three years, and the program for the past 17 seasons now.
Being the smart kid he is though, he also understands the direct impact he has on that outcome. As he told the Winston-Salem Journal the other day:
“I feel like if we have seven or eight wins, that means we’ll be scoring a lot of points. So there’s a good chance I’ll have those receptions and touchdowns. Those records are not the main goal by any means. The main goal is getting this team to where it belongs.”
Is someone going to tell Vernon that the team’s only won seven or eight games three times since 1963? Regardless of that plateau’s feasibility, the senior is right that this team has enough talent to make the postseason. And again, much of that relies on him, too. His rapport with veteran QB Sean Renfree has been a huge part of his growth as a wideout, and it promises to play a major role in his success for 2012 as well.
Despite all of his accomplishments though, Vernon can and should continue to mature and improve this season, too — whether Renfree does the same or not. In particular, while he has caught a ton of passes in his three years (198 total), just 12 of them have gone for touchdowns. His team’s overall performance in the red zone was mediocre at best last year; improving his own touchdown rate would be a huge boost. Should he do that and guide his team to a bowl game, you can bet the All-ACC player and Biletnikoff watch list honoree will see his draft stock skyrocket. Of course, it’s not the main focus for the humble veteran, but as long as he continues on this course, he’ll find himself a spot on Sundays.