The ACC is all about the pass.
The conference has some of the better quarterbacks in the country and some of the better pass rushers (statistically) as a result. It’s no surprise quarterbacks and pass rushers dominate our list of the top 10 players in the conference. Does Clemson dominate the list? Not necessarily.
Clemson is the best and deepest team in the conference, but the stars shine bright across the east coast, where Miami, Pitt and North Carolina will provide some household names this season in the Atlantic and Coastal divisions.
The players you will see in the rankings will make you wonder if Miami might be able to contend for a divisional title. You might also wonder if Clemson will be challenged at any point before facing Notre Dame in the non-conference schedule or the winner out of the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game.
Let’s get to the countdown of 247Sports’ top 10 players in the ACC.
RELATED: ACC projected order-of-finish
10. QB D’Eriq King, Miami
If D’Eriq King can’t turn around Miami’s offense, maybe no one can in the immediate future. The former Houston quarterback sat out most of the 2019 season and decided to transfer to Miami, where he units with newly-hired offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, a hurry-up, no-huddle aficionado who knows how to utilize dual-threat quarterbacks after stays at Auburn and SMU.
King was incredible at Houston, where he scored 78 touchdowns and had 6,346 total yards in his career. He had 50 touchdowns in 2018 to break the American Athletic Conference record, and did so despite missing most of the last three games of the season.
He hasn’t played a down for Miami, but King has to be considered the third-best quarterback in the conference. He increases the talent bed on offense in the ACC, which will challenge the likes of the Pac-12 and Big 12 for the land of best quarterbacks.
9. DT Marvin Wilson, Florida State
Marvin Wilson might be the best defensive tackle returning in the ACC this season. He graded at No. 2 nationally as an interior pass rusher in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus.
Wilson returned to Florida State for his senior season after weighing whether to jump to the NFL. An injury, however, after nine games helped make the decision to return for one more year. He had 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks inside and was a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award while also earning a first-team selection on the All-ACC team — and he did all of that despite missing most of the final month of the season.
8. DT Jaylen Twyman, Pitt
Jaylen Twyman had a fantastic breakout season in 2019 on the interior of Pitt’s defensive line, where he had a team-high 10.5 sacks. He picked up All-America honors from six publications and enters his junior season as a candidate for several national awards.
Twyman also had 12 tackles for loss in his 13 starts last season.
In a conference looking for an answer to stop quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Sam Howell, Twyman has proven to be capable. He dropped Howell on fourth-and-16 last season in overtime to knock off North Carolina.
7. CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
The ACC’s best pass defender returns as a junior. Chris Farley returns after defending a conference-best 16 passes and intercepting four passes, which tied for second. He also returned a pick for a touchdown.
Opposing quarterbacks’ passer rating was an incredible 26.8 last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
6. DE Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest
Carlos Basham Jr. is climbing up the charts in the Wake Forest record book, and All-ACC recognitions will continue to roll in for the defensive end. He’s already on several preseason All-America teams. He enters the season with 18 straight games with at least one tackle for loss, which is the longest active streak in the country. No other active player has eclipsed 12 games.
Basham emerged last season with 11 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. He also had 61 quarterback pressures, the most for any draft-eligible player in 2021.
In a conference dominated by chatter of Miami and Clemson’s defensive lines, don’t forget about Basham at Wake Forest.
5. DE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
While Miami’s offense left all of us scratching our heads, the Miami defense was producing some tremendous producers, particularly in the pass rush. Gregory Rousseau picked up All-America honors from three publications, was an All-ACC selection and the top sack producer in the ACC.
His 15.5 sacks last season led the conference by a wide margin, leading to an average of 1.2 per game for the Hurricanes. He finished second nationally to only Ohio State superstar Chase young in the sacks category and had 19.5 tackles for loss, which tied for seventh nationally.
Might Rousseau be able to challenge the school record for sacks as a sophomore? It’s possible, sure, but he’s already on pro scouts’ radars as a potential top-15 pick in the next NFL Draft if he chooses to jump to the pros. His versatility provides Miami a tremendous push inside when needed, too.
4. DE Quincy Roche, Miami
Everyone is talking about the immediate impact D’Eriq King will provide Miami’s offense, but what about the arrival of defensive end Quincy Roche? He’s already considered the conference’s best pass rusher after arriving from Temple, which is an incredible feat considering some might say he’s not even the best pass rusher on his new defense (Rousseau is elite).
Roche had 13 sacks to rank fifth nationally last season at Temple, where he picked up all-conference honors. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder had the second-best pass-rush grade in the country behind Ohio State superstar Chase Young, according to Pro Football Focus. He apparently generated pressure on 18.4 percent of the time he was on the field, too, according to the analysis service.
The combination of Roche and Rousseau might be the best pair on the edge in the country if Roche can live up to the hype against better competition.
3. RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
Travis Etienne is the best running back in the ACC, and he’s also the best returning receiver on Clemson’s roster. Justyn Ross is out for the season with a potentially career-ending issue discovered in his back in the offseason, making Etienne the leading returning receiver on the roster with 37 catches for 432 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Still, Etienne will make his hay as a runner. He returns to Clemson for his senior season after weighing an early exit to the NFL following his 1,614-yard season that led the Tigers to the national championship game, where they lost to LSU. The numbers behind the numbers are more impressive. He broke an incredible 90 tackles last season, which was the best rate in the country, according to Pro Football Focus. He also averaged 7.8 yards per carry while scoring 19 touchdowns, which makes you wonder what he’s capable of achieving if he becomes more of a focus for the offense with Ross out this season. Might he come close to reaching 6,000 career rushing yards this season? No returning player in the country with 100 carries averaged more yardage per touch than Etienne last season.
He’s one of only 16 players to record multiple 1,500-yard rushing seasons in a career since 2000, and might very well breakthrough this season as a finalist for several national awards after finishing as a semifinalist for the Maxwell and Doak Walker and the Walter Camp Player of the Year awards last season.
2. QB Sam Howell, North Carolina
Sam Howell was a freshman phenom in 2019, and he should only improve this season with nine starters returning around him on North Carolina’s offense. The quarterback threw a school-record 38 touchdowns, which also broke the passing record in the FBS for a true freshman. Pro Football Focus analysts rated Howell’s performance as the second-best ever by a true freshman quarterback.
He finished with 3,641 passing yards to finish second behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence in the ACC. He had six touchdown passes of 40 yards or more, which led the FBS.
The Air Raid was perfect for Howell, and much like Lawrence’s breakout freshman season in 2018, Howell is set up to take the next big step and potentially win the Coastal Division of the ACC.
1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Trevor Lawrence can do a lot better.
That’s no fault of his own. The Clemson quarterback just didn’t play often in the fourth quarter of games last season, which hurt his Heisman stock and led to lower numbers because of blowout victories in the ACC. Lawrence is a 4,000-yard passer and a 700-yard rusher if not for leaving games early in blowout wins last season. Instead he finished with 3,665 yards passing and 36 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Numbers mean everything in the Heisman Trophy race, and not playing in the fourth quarter of games this season will hurt his chance of winning the ultimate individual trophy, but it should not endanger his spot as the top player in the ACC and one of the top three players in the entire country.
Remember, as a freshman he led Clemson to a national title and the first-ever 15-0 finish in the modern era, and fell short of a second national title against the once-in-a-generation LSU squad led by Heisman winner Joe Burrow. Clemson will be the favorite to win the national title this season despite missing some receivers, including leader Justyn Ross (injury), because of depth and Lawrence’s special plays down the field.