ACC Impact Players, Part II
By David England
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David England lists his top ten impact players in the ACC.
Just in case you missed numbers 20-11 of my top 20 ACC Impact Players l, here is a quick recap.
20. Jeremiah Attaochu LB, Ga. Tech
19. T.J. Thorpe Kick Returner, UNC
18. Merrill Noel CB, Wake Forest
17. Kyle Fuller CB, Va. Tech
16. Orwin Smith RB, Ga. Tech
15. Demetrius Hartsfield LB, Maryland
14. Perry Jones RB, UVA
13. Ray-Ray Armstrong Safety, Miami
12. Rashad Greene WR, FSU
11. Conner Vernon WR, Duke
As my list begins to reach the pinnacle of number 1, remember that offensive players have more of an impact as individuals, not to say that defensive players do not, but to truly make an impact means standing out at a whole other level. So, here we go.
10. Sylvester Williams Defensive Tackle, North Carolina- Not many people know much about Sylvester Williams. He transferred from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. The reason Mr. Williams ranks so high on my list is pure raw talent. At 6'3", 315 pounds and a 40 yard dash of 5.19, the athleticism and talent are there for a great year. In 2011 Williams looked like a man among boys in the JUCO ranks, therefore he transferred to Chapel Hill. He now holds the #1 Defensive Tackle spot in a loaded defensive roster.
At Coffeyville College Williams displayed strength, great leverage and the ability to split a double team with ease. I expect great things from Sylvester Williams and thus rank him at the number ten spot.
9. De'Andre Hopkins Wide Receiver, Clemson- The Clemson Tigers bolstered one of the most prolific offenses in ACC History in the 2011 season. As you will soon see this list contains four Clemson Tigers offensive players. The first is De'Andre Hopkins, a very underrated player who does not get the credit he deserves, and for one simple reason- his teammate and friend Sammy Watkins. Hopkins ranked 5th on the receiving yards per game leaderboard for the ACC in 2011 with just over 68 yards per game. He also racked up over 950 yards through the air and reached pay dirt 5 times in 2011. He ranked fifth on the receptions list with 72 catches.
Hopkins is in a dream scenario with Clemson. He plays for a potent offense, has an incredibly talented Quarter Back, and has talent around him. Nicknamed "Nuke" Hopkins, he has unreal speed, massive hands, and stands at 6'1", being a matchup nightmare for any corner. He also holds a Clemson bowl record with 9 receptions in one game. The great news for the Tiger faithful is that Hopkins is only a junior.
8. Brandon Jenkins Defensive End, Florida State- The Seminoles could possibly have the best Defensive Line in all of college football. Recruiting and outstanding coaching have built up the premier pass rush for the 'Noles. In football there is a very famous statement which says "defense wins championships". This rings very true for Florida State and the past six national title winners from the SEC. The top ranked Pre-season defense in the country is led up front by Brandon Jenkins. Jenkins is a monster in front who is near impossible to block with one lineman.
A high motor, freakish strength, power, and smarts place Jenkins at number 8 in my list. He finished second on the conference sacks list in 2011 with 8 sacks and was also ranked 11th on the tackles for loss list with 12. Jenkins enters his senior season with the best team around him he has ever played with. At 6'3", 260 pounds, he resembles Dwight Freeney with great athleticism. He can hit the edge and beat any offensive tackle with ease. A disappointing 2011 gives Jenkins more reason to play even harder, which means a long 60 minutes for the opposing offensive lineman and Quarter Backs.
7. David Amerson Cornerback, NC State- I bet I fooled you ranking a defensive player so high on my list. With that being said, there was no player who made more of an impact on the defensive side of the ball last season than David Amerson. He broke the ACC record for interceptions in a single season with 13 ( Dre Bly had 11 in '96 most in FBS since '86). Amerson also ranked second on the list for passes defended with 18 (13 INT's and 5 PBU's). The 6'3" corner has freakish size with a very rare cover skill set.
With the sudden emergence of Amerson at CB, the wolf pack ranked 27th in pass defense. The draft board rankings nationwide have Amerson ranked #1 at his position. He is a rare talent and will certainly have a major impact in 2012.
6. Giovani Bernard Running Back, North Carolina- North Carolina football has experienced many ups and downs over the past three years. There is only one thing we know for certain though, they have not lacked talent. This season will be no different for UNC and it all starts with their star at Running Back Giovani Bernard. North Carolina has a rich tradition of talented Running Back's. They had the most 1,000 yard rushers with 24 up until 2005. From 1973-1984 they had 12 straight 1,000 yard rushers. After that 1 for the next 17 years ('97 Jonathan Linton). It appears "Running Back-U" could be back with the talented Bernard in the backfield.
Giovani Bernard ranked third in the ACC with 96.4 rushing yards per game. He also ranked third on the list with 1,253 rushing yards and second in touchdowns with 13. He brings a talent in the backfield that the Tarheels have not had in a long while. Bernard has power, balance, speed, and agility and took home ACC Rookie Player of the Year in 2011. With one full season under his belt after the ACL tear expect even stronger numbers.
5. Tevin Washington Quarterback, Ga. Tech- This ranking will cause a stir as maybe a debate or two. I understand, the talent I have placed Tevin Washington above is hard to beat. Let me state this for the record, this is not my Top 20 overall players, these are impact players. In 2011 few players had more of an impact on their team than Tevin Washington. He had to replace the ultra talented Joshua Nesbitt and run an offense where the Quarterback gets hit more than the Running Backs do.
Washington stepped up to the plate and delivered on a larger scale than anyone expected. Tevin ranked fifth on the conference list for rushing yards per game with 75.9, led the ACC with 14 rushing touchdowns, and had 987 yards on the ground. This is expected from a QB that runs the option offense and where Washington turned heads was through the air. He ranked second in QB efficiency with over 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Passing the ball just 155 times does not hurt matters, but Paul Johnson (Head Coach) has faith that when he needs to pass it, Tevin can get the job done. This was not the case when Nesbitt played for the team. Quarterback depth is also no problem at Tech as Washington was in battle all spring long with Vlad Lee for the starting job. This years schedule will test Tevin Washington and I see an A coming in the near future.
4. Andre Ellington Running Back, Clemson- As mentioned before, Clemson's offense is possibly the best in the country and Andre Ellington only solidifies that argument. The senior had been plagued by injury but the talent level is there for an All-ACC running back. In 2010 Ellington was the standout back for the Tigers before injuries caused him to miss practically the 2nd half of the season. The numbers in 2011 were back to where everyone expected them to be as Andre Ellington rushed for over 1,150 yards, had 11 TD's, and 90.6 yards per game. He was Clemson's go to back with over 200 carries, which is a very high number considering how many times they passed the ball. In the total offense per game stat board you will find Ellington in the top 20. This is a board regularly dominated by QB's.
With the passing game firing on all cylinders it opens up more big play opportunities for Ellington. He has surprising strength at 5'10" but his speed is what separates him from the ACC running back pack. If injuries do not end his season early, expect Ellington to be one of the top backs in the country.
3. Sammy Watkins Wide Receiver, Clemson- Sammy Watkins is certainty a relented receiver and had broken many Clemson school records for receiving. Speed is his game, big plays are his forte, and football is his true love. It did not take Clemson fans long to find out just how talented Sammy Watkins is as he holds the school record for the fastest first TD at :26 seconds. If you talk with his coaches and peers they will tell you Sammy is a very hard worker. As a true freshman Sammy finished second on the rushing yards per game list with 93.8. He tied for first with Dwight Jones in touchdowns with 12, was second for receiving yards with 1,219, and was third on the reception list with 82; not bad for a newbie in the conference. His surprising size at 6'1" combined with a sub 4.3 40 yard dash, makes him a matchup nightmare for any corner. With one full season under his belt I expect Sammy Watkins to become even more of an impact player in 2012.
2. Logan Thomas Quarterback, Va. Tech- The QB position is the most important on the field. Therefore they have the most pressure. Logan Thomas felt a major amount of pressure after having to fill some big shoes left by Tyrod Taylor. After a slow start in 2011 he began to show why Frank Beamer picked him as the starting QB. Thomas is a dual threat Quarterback with a cannon arm and rushing ability. He tied a school record with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2011.
Against Miami, he became the first Virginia Tech Quarterback since Mike Vick to throw more TD's than incomplete passes, and rushed for 19 yards on 4th and one for the game winning touchdown. He wears down Linebackers with his size and has clutch running through his veins. If his play continues Thomas could be a 1st round draft pick in the NFL.
1. Tajh Boyd Quarterback, Clemson- The top ten seems to find a Clemson player at every other spot, but I truly believe we are watching one of the best offenses in history with Clemson and it is very rare to have this much firepower. It all begins and ends with the quarterback. Tajh Boyd stepped onto the campus at Clemson University with a little more than high expectations since everyone wanted a top ten QB at Clemson and it appears they have found one.
I will let the numbers speak for themselves. Boyd is first in total offense per game with 289 yards per game, 5th in passing efficiency at 141.2, first in passing yards with 3,823, first in passing TD's with 33, and set the Clemson single season record for pawing yardage, total offense, passing TD's and Touchdowns responsible for with 38. He is the first Clemson Quarterback to lead the ACC in passing and total offense since 1957. He also is tied for the school record for most wins by a first year starter. His coach Dabo Swinney had the ultimate faith in his first year starter as Boyd threw the ball 499 times in 2011, which is 46 more than any other Quarterback in the ACC. With the talent around him I see these numbers continuing. No one in the nation has a bigger impact on their team than Tajh Boyd.
Honorable Mention players.
E.J. Manuel QB, Florida State
Isaiah Johnson Safety, Georgia Tech
Xavier Rhodes Cornerback, Florida State
Nikita Whitlock Defensive Lineman, Wake Forest
Mike Glennon Quarterback, NC State