The ACC was a bit top heavy in 2015, but its top to bottom talent still rivals its Power Five peers. We take a very Clemson-centric look at the year which was in the ACC.
On The Good Boy List
Elijah Hood, RB North Carolina Tar Heels
2015 was an important season for Elijah Hood. The five-star recruit was expected to make an immediate impact for the Tar Heels. While he got some run as a freshman, injuries and a lack of comfort with the college game led to a rather pedestrian inaugural campaign: 259 yards and 3.9 YPC. In year two, Hood looked like a completely different player. Running with his hallmark power and pad level, he became one of the conference’s best backs and one of the nation’s best power runners. Compact with patience and an ability to rack up yards after contact, he’s back on the devy radar as a premier running back prospect with another year to improve and flash his underrated athleticism.
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Deon Cain, WR Clemson Tigers
The impact of Deon Cain was expected to be minimal early. Clemson returned Mike Williams and Artavis Scott as well as veterans such as Charone Peake and Germone Hopper. There was little need for a big splash from any newcomer. However, this quickly changed when Williams went down in the opening game of the season. It took Cain a bit of time to get adjusted, but once he did, the payoff was huge. He scored in five straight games late in the year and showed an affinity for the big play. With Williams returning, there may not be much room for a true Cain breakout in 2016, but his physical tools and early production give him as much upside as any receiver in the 2018 class.
Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State Seminoles
You could argue no player was more important to their team’s offense than Dalvin Cook. He did everything for the Seminoles; big plays, tough interior running, playing hurt. He built on a strong freshman season with a truly special sophomore one. I’m not worried about a frame which is outside the desired prototype. He’s an elite natural runner with an incredible toolkit, and a premier devy prospect.
Taquan Mizzell, RB Virginia Cavaliers
For as little as Mike London did during his tenure with the Cavaliers, he was able to get some top shelf talent. Taquan Mizzell was one of the many top recruits London landed, and after two uninspiring seasons, he was able to emerge as the Cavaliers’ offensive centerpiece. More versatile weapon than true lead back, Mizzell paced the Virginia offense in rushing and finished second in receiving yards. While he does not profile as an every-down weapon at the next level, he has the short-area quickness and ability to torment defenses in the intermediate passing game which is vogue right now. His utilization under a new coaching staff will be an intriguing devy storyline.
Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson Tigers
The catalyst of the nation’s best team, Deshaun Watson has shaken off an injury-plagued freshman season to become one of the nation’s elite players. The athleticism is obvious; Watson has complemented it this year by making some really impressive throws at key times and being in control of the offense at all times. There’s still strides which needs to be taken before he can be touted as an elite quarterback prospect. But he’s the leader in the clubhouse when discussing the nation’s best devy prospect at the position.
T.J. Rahming, WR Duke Blue Devils
The diminutive T.J. Rahming could have easily redshirted this year due in order to add weight. However, his playmaking ability proved too much to keep off the field. Incredibly agile with a toughness belying his size, Rahming finished second on the Blue Devils in receiving behind only the seasoned Max McCaffrey. He’s more physically talented than former Duke Lilliputian receiver Jamison Crowder, and his overall package of skills has piqued my interest.
Coal In Your Stocking
Ermon Lane, WR Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles have added a lot of gifted receivers over the past two seasons. You could argue none had more upside than Ermon Lane, a receiver blessed with an impressive confluence of size and body control. Instead of taking a step forward during his sophomore year, Lane took two steps back as he posted an incredibly forgettable 6/50/0 line despite dressing for most of the season. He added value to the Seminoles running game thanks to some good work in downfield blocking. Of course, devy owners are not too concerned with a receiver’s ability to clear running lanes. The former five-star receiver’s current placement in the Florida State passing hierarchy leaves him a devy afterthought, and those who currently roster him are best suited looking at him as a sunk cost.
Mike Williams, WR Clemson Tigers
It is pure fate which lands Mike Williams on this list. An awkward landing following a red-zone target resulted in a serious neck injury for Williams, wiping away his junior season just shortly after it had commenced. It was terrible timing for a receiver poised to assert himself as a first round prospect with the potential to be the first receiver off the board, ahead of even the consensus number one in Laquon Treadwell. While the injury is an obvious concern, there’s reason to be absolutely bullish on Williams. He may not post monster numbers given Clemson’s depth at the position, but with this much time to heal up Williams is the early favorite to be the first receiver off the board in 2017.
Jon Hilliman, RB Boston College Eagles
There was a void in the Boston College backfield following the departure of 2013 workhorse Andre Williams, and in 2014, it looked as though Jon Hilliman would be the one filling it. His no-nonsense style meshed perfectly with an elite offensive line and run-first mentality, resulting in a 860 yard, 13 touchdown season. Even before succumbing to injury in the season’s fourth game, Hilliman was off to a sluggish start in 2015, and appears to be a back mostly netting what is blocked for him and lacks the overall talent to transcend a poor situation. This may be an unfair assessment, as there were a lot of things working against him this season. But I don’t see the talent which can make him more than a replacement-level back at the next level, and am thus avoiding him in any devy format.
Shopping For Next Year
Tavien Feaster, RB Clemson Tigers
The machine just continues to roll. Despite a reportedly pedestrian Shrine Bowl, I still view Tavien Feaster as the best running back recruit in this class. With elite wheels and excellent change of direction, Feaster is not your 20-carry, between-the-tackles hammer, but he can contribute as both a runner and receiver with big-play potential. His versatility is his hallmark; the Tigers figure likely to package plays for him in a variety of ways. In what I view as a rather sluggish running back class, Feaster is the cream of the crop.
T.J. Chase, WR Clemson Tigers
Another Clemson player? It is admittedly the easy route to take, yet also a prudent one. The Tigers are going to be more loaded than usual at receiver next year given the unexpected return of Mike Williams. However, long-term upside is what the devy game is all about, and T.J. Chase owns it in spades. He’s perhaps this year’s version of DaMarkus Lodge given his innate ability to high point and make plays in traffic. Clemson has clearly done an excellent job of developing their receivers, giving Chase an edge over similarly talented players in my devy evaluations.