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.
Given the speed of the Clemson offensive attack last year, you’d think they wouldn’t have much time to run the ball. But agile starting running back Andre Ellington actually plays a vital role by setting up the pass, which is how he gets all the way up to number-nine on our countdown.
From his time as C.J. Spiller’s understudy in 2009, through his breakout junior season last year, Ellington is a back that has shown growth both on-the-field and off, increasing his maturity and statistics each season. Once a player who failed to display leadership and appeared to lack that mental toughness, you can see in the way he manages injuries and his in-game touches, those days are now over. Today, the probable first-round pick, who runs a 4.44 40-yard dash time, is most concerned about helping his team win, even if that means working on his pass-catching most of all. According to reports, Ellington and star QB Tajh Boyd made that a focus this offseason, and it’s likely to pay some big dividends, having such a potential dual-threat out of the backfield.
The other key for Ellington’s 2012 season will be how he adjusts to the Pistol formation — the latest piece of Chad Morris’s deadly offensive scheme. Observing the success it had at Nevada, when applied to Ellington, the Pistol could be the best thing that ever happened to him, and the Tigers. Should they manage to keep defenses off-balance (as has been the case for the Wolf Pack), it will mean a lot of big gains, and another huge concern if defenses hope to do a better job of stopping them this year. Though most notable for their passing game last year, Clemson still finished with over 158 yards-per-game on the ground as well. Building upon that could be a scary thought.
Overall, Ellington is set for a big senior year given the improvements in his game and changes in the Clemson offense. While his teammates Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins may get all the hype, the lightning-fast rusher is an equal player in their attack, and always a threat to break off a big run. With Watkins out of the season opener, Ellington may be able to set the tone early for what will likely be a pretty special season for him and his team.