ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #1, Tajh Boyd

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is #1 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is #1 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 1, Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (Last Season: 1)

Was there any surprise about who inhabited this top spot? Boyd’s actually been the only player to hold the title of “top player in the ACC” since this blog’s inception back in 2011, and we fully expect things to stay that way come season’s end. Following a sophomore season that saw plenty or promise but still left critics with some fodder as well, Boyd’s junior year was about everything he (and Clemson) could’ve asked for. Improved accuracy (from 59 percent up to 67), yards per attempt (7.67 to 9.12), touchdown throws — all of that was praise-worthy, though what really set him apart was his newfound mobility. Losing 20 pounds between 2011 and 2012, Boyd turned himself into a dual-threat, adding 500 rushing yards and 10 scores to his already sterling resume. Seasons like that put you in the same conversation with the likes of most recent Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, which brings us to Boyd’s mission this season.

Previously flying under the radar, Boyd no longer has the luxury of avoiding the conference or national spotlight anymore. When you account for 46 touchdowns in one season, it’s understandable, but there’s so much more on the senior quarterback’s mind this year. In what’s likely the last rodeo in Clemson for offensive coordinator Chad Morris as well, the two understand what’s at stake. They’ve largely built their legacies on each other, and now are looking to walk away with the one team honor that’s alluded them to this point: a national championship. It’s the main reason he decided to return for his final season of eligibility, and as a result, this team’s got all the hype that comes with that. So can he deliver?

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #2, Teddy Bridgewater

Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is #2 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is #2 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 2, Teddy Bridgewater, QB/Louisville (Last Season: NR)

Playing in a weak conference — albeit for just this one year — has its advantages, and there’s a very good chance that both Louisville and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be taking full advantage of their few months in the American Athletic Conference. And that’s not to take away from either the team or QB either. Both proved last year, most notably at the Sugar Bowl, that they were for real and ready to be players on the national stage. It’s just that there’s no denying the advantage they’ll get this season playing against the 98th-toughest slate in the country. All that aside though, everything’s falling nicely for Bridgewater to end up at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York come the end of the year.

At times last season, Bridgewater’s accuracy was downright lethal, as he carved up defenses at will. Out of passers that qualified, his 68.5 completion percentage on the season was tied for sixth best in the FBS, and he also completed over 70 percent of his passes five different times (his season-best was 90.5 against Kentucky). All season, opponents had only managed to complete 52 percent of their passes against Florida (sixth-lowest mark in the country), and yet Teddy went 20-of-32 (62.5 percent) for 266 yards against them in the Sugar Bowl. No matter who you’re playing, throwing for over 3,700 yards and 27 scores (to just eight picks) in a season is no easy task. Doing it for a national title contender, though, is what gets you mentioned among the best in the sport.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #3, Duke Johnson

Miami's Duke Johnson is #3 in Our Countdown of the ACC's Top 50 Players for 2013

Miami’s Duke Johnson is #3 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 3, Duke Johnson, RB/Miami (Last Season: 9)

Duke Johnson shocked everyone from day one last year. On just seven carries against Boston College, he ran for 135 yards and two scores, while only beginning to give a glimpse of what he could do in the return game. And for some reason from there, he still never grabbed the starting job away from Mike James. In all 12 games, Johnson never ran the ball more than 16 times, and in four different games he ran it less than 10. What he was able to do considering that limited action though is downright astounding. If you include kickoffs, Johnson had a grand total of 193 touches. And in those limited moments, he still manged 10.7 yards per play. His total yards on the season ranked him 11th in the country, his average per game (171.7) were ninth. The only running backs to even come close to that type of production were North Carolina‘s Giovani Bernard and Kent State‘s Dri Archer. Yet the ceiling has been raised for Johnson, now a sophomore this year.

First and foremost, he’s now the primary back, and that should automatically mean he’s getting 20-25 carries per game. The ‘Canes also have a pretty strong passing game, which means the pressure won’t be entirely on him to produce at the same rate as last year (though he’ll likely be able to do so anyway). Should he end up in that 20-25 carry range, I’m curious to see how much longer he remains a kick returner, which would certainly diminish his overall impact, even if it helped out his rushing durability. In the passing game, he’ll be a factor yet again though, and should be able to improve upon last year’s 27 catches.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #4, Sammy Watkins

Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is #4 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is #4 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 4, Sammy Watkins, WR/Clemson (Last Season: NR)

After setting the college football world on fire as a freshman, Sammy Watkins’s production took a distinct dip last season. Part of that was due to the stress and suspension from offseason drug possession charges, but overall, Watkins just never seemed to regain the form he showed off in 2011. In all, 57 catches, 708 yards and three scores is nothing to scoff about, but it’s certainly a far cry from the video game numbers he put up the year before. Now back to being the primary wide receiver on this Clemson Tigers squad, he’s eager to reclaim his place among the sport’s elite and prove that last year was simply a dip, rather than a permanent regression.

Rather than getting bogged down by the drop in production, he’s used it as motivation. As he mentioned last week when discussing 2012’s issues:

“It just made me step up and mature. I just realized that I’m going to make mistakes and I’m also going to face some adversity. It just made me realize I’ve got to step up and be a leader because I am being watched by everybody.”

To come to that type of realization at his age is huge, and it sets him up for a monstrous 2013 season. Clemson isn’t just staring at an ACC title this fall. They want to contend for a National Championship. But they can’t do that without Watkins being in top form.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #5, Stefon Diggs

Maryland’s Stefon Diggs is #5 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Maryland’s Stefon Diggs is #5 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 5, Stefon Diggs, WR/Maryland (Last Season: NR)

If anyone suffered the “most” from Maryland’s quarterback issues in 2012, I’d argue it was Stefon Diggs. The freshman wideout was still able to show glimmers of some real excellence, but it was obvious that his production was severely hampered by the team’s injury-induced carousel at the passer position. So if anyone’s excited about everyone coming back healthy, it’s probably Diggs. I mean, the team even considered using him at quarterback last year after the rash of injuries tore through the Terps entire depth chart. Of course, it never got to that point, and Diggs himself appeared to beg fans to “hang in there” with him. But if we’ve learned anything from Maryland’s 2012, it’s that we haven’t even come close to figuring out how good their star wide receiver can be.

On the surface, Diggs’s receiving numbers did not look overly gaudy (and we’ve covered why they wouldn’t). But when you consider them further, 54 catches, 848 yards and six touchdowns ain’t too shabby for a freshman. When you add in his rushing and return yards, however, that’s when you’re floored. In just 11 games, Diggs amassed nearly 1,900 yards and eight scores, taking the league by storm in much of the same way that Clemson WR Sammy Watkins managed to back in 2011. Halfway through the year, it almost appeared as if we’d see a new highlight reel play from Diggs every weekend, and all for a team that was sputtering along as it dealt with injury after injury.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #6, Bryn Renner

Bryn Renner, Now Settled in Larry Fedora's Offense, is Out to Break Records for North Carolina

Bryn Renner, Now Settled in Larry Fedora’s Offense, is Out to Break Records for UNC

It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 6, Bryn Renner, QB/North Carolina (Last Season: 13)

Going into last season, Bryn Renner was uncertain about how things would go for him under Larry Fedora. Previously thought of as a pro-style passer, Fedora’s new system demanded he turn on a dime and change into a spread quarterback. Renner was a quick study though, and ended up thriving in the new offense. The demands for a quick-release allowed him the luxury of going with his first instinct, and best of all, he didn’t even lose much on accuracy (down to 65 percent, from 68 in 2011). In one less game (technically more if you count the two he was benched early on account of blowouts), he completed 27 more passes for 270 more yards and two more touchdowns. Interceptions were nearly cut in half and sacks were down by 15. In just a season in the spread, he’d morphed from a mildly effective passer to a highly effective one, with minimal losses in efficiency.

And that was really just the beginning of his and the North Carolina offense’s respective transformations. Last season’s group featured very little in terms of spread-specific personnel and the wideouts were not as quick to adjust as Renner. Things are different this year, as Quinshad Davis and Eric Ebron step up into larger roles in the passing game, and give Renner the weapons he needs to progress his skill set even further. While he certainly had his hits and misses in terms of individual game performances last season, you could also see him begin to get comfortable toward the end of the schedule. Over 2012’s final three games, he threw for at least 305 yards per contest, with 10 scores and one pick, all on 73 percent accuracy. Keeping up that pace may sound silly sure, but with more experience under his belt, is it really that far-fetched?

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #7, Christian Jones

Florida State’s Christian Jones is #7 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Florida State’s Christian Jones is #7 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 7, Christian Jones, LB/Florida State (Last Season: NR)

As has been covered over and over again, Florida State replaces quite a few players on defense this year. Christian Jones, however, is not one of those replacements. As the only remaining member of the Seminoles’ starting front seven, Jones brings the group a sense of veteran leadership they’d otherwise be lacking. He also has more talent than just about any defender in the ACC (a discussion for another day, I’m sure). But given the perceived (but not actual) youth around him, will that be enough?

Of course it will be. Surrounded by future NFL talent last year, Jones still managed to turn in a pretty dominating performance against both the run and pass. A total of 95 tackles, seven TFLs, two fumble returns and a touchdown, too. Considering the players up front for the ‘Noles last year, it’s amazing he was able to get behind the line as much as he did. He was so successful that he was about to head off to the pros himself, likely making for the 12th FSU player drafted this past April. But Jimbo Fisher was able to convince him out of it, selling the senior linebacker on the impact he’d be able to have this season. With new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt also in the fold, there’s a thought Jones’s aggression will be put to even better use this season — a very scary thought for Florida State’s opponents this season.

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