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Top 20 ACC Offensive Players The Last 20 Years

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb shares his top 20 ACC offensive players from the last 20 years.

The SEC loves to tout the ACC as its little brother, and while it’s hard to keep up with the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference has produced plenty of its own terrific players.

With the calendar switching to 2020 this year, we are celebrating college football history, particularly players and events during the 21st century this month. We have already released a pair of SEC players rankings, so now it’s time to do the same in the ACC.

Without further ado, here are the top 20 ACC offensive players since 2000:

20. Steve Justice, Wake Forest -- One of the greatest offensive linemen in Demon Deacons history, Justice was a two-time first-team All-ACC player and a consensus All-American in 2007. He anchored the Wake Forest offensive line to the 2006 ACC Championship and an Orange Bowl appearance.

19. Alex Barron, Florida State -- A two-time All-American at left tackle, Barron started 30 games for Florida State in his college career. He also made first-team All-ACC in 2003 and 2004. Barron was a finalist for the Outland trophy, which is awarded to the best offensive lineman in the country, and went on to become a first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

18. Taij Boyd, Clemson -- Clemson was still known as the program that couldn’t win the big games during the Boyd era, but he helped lay a foundation that led the Tigers to where they are today. In Boyd’s first year as starter, Clemson won the ACC and 10 games for the first time in more than 20 years. In 2011 and 2012, Boyd became a first-team All-ACC player. During his final college season in 2012, he won the ACC Player of the Year and became an All-American.

17. AJ Dillon, Boston College -- Breaking out in the middle of the 2017 season, Dillon posted almost 1,600 rushing yards as a freshman. He won ACC Rookie of the Year honors and made first-team All-ACC. Dillon posted three 1,000-yard campaigns and surpassed his freshman year total with 1,685 rushing yards in 2019. Dillon left Boston College as a three-time All-ACC player.

16. James Conner, Pitt -- After capping off his freshman season with a Pitt bowl record 229 rushing yards, Conner dominated the ACC as a sophomore with 1,765 rushing yards and a new conference record 26 touchdowns. He became first-team All-ACC and won the ACC Player of the Year award. A torn MCL and a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis sidelined him in 2015 but then in 2016 as a senior, Conner became a first-team All-ACC player again.

15. Garrett Bradbury, N.C. State -- Arriving at N.C. State as a tight end, Bradbury switched to playing along the offensive line early in his college career. By his senior season, he was first-team All-ACC, a consensus All-American and Rimington trophy winner as the best center in the country in 2018. Bradbury did not allow any quarterback sacks during his senior season.

14. Russell Wilson, N.C. State -- As a freshman, Wilson earned first-team All-ACC honors in 2008, becoming the first freshman to accomplish the feat in the conference. He never landed back on the first-conference team after that, but he finished runner up in the ACC Player of the Year award in 2010. Wilson transferred to Wisconsin for his final year of eligibility, leaving N.C. State with 8,545 passing yards, 76 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

13. C.J. Spiller, Clemson -- One of the most versatile running backs of his era, Spiller reached 1,000 yards from scrimmage in all four of his college seasons and scored at least 10 touchdowns in three of the four years. Spiller posted his first 1,000-yard rushing season as a senior when he ran for 1,212 yards and registered 1,715 yards from scrimmage in 2009. He became a unanimous All-American and the ACC Player of the Year.

12. Heath Miller, Virginia -- A potent blocker and pass-catcher, Miller starred with the Cavaliers, becoming a first-team All-ACC player twice. He posted 70 receptions, 835 receiving yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore, and despite not recording as good of a statistical junior year, Miller became a unanimous first-team All-American and won the John Mackey award as the best tight end in the country in 2004. He went on to win two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

11. Matt Ryan, Boston College -- The Golden Eagles joined the ACC during Ryan’s second season in 2005. Ryan started five games that season and then became the team’s full-time starter as a junior in 2006. During his junior and senior seasons, Ryan posted 7,449 passing yards and 46 touchdowns. As a senior, Ryan became a first-team All-American and won the ACC Player of the Year award.

10. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Virginia -- Starting at left tackle for four consecutive bowl games for Virginia, Ferguson made first-team All-ACC twice and became a consensus All-American as a senior. He went on to become the No. 4 overall pick for the New York Jets in 2006.

9. Sammy Watkins, Clemson -- Even including a disappointing sophomore season, Watkins averaged more than 100 yards from scrimmage and posted 28 touchdowns in 36 games during his career. He recorded a pair of 1,200-yard seasons and became a two-time All-American as a freshman and junior. In 2013 as a junior, Watkins recorded 101 receptions, 1,464 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

8. Dalvin Cook, Florida State -- Just like Dillon, Cook posted three 1,000-yard rushing campaigns in college, but Cook also amassed a pair of 1,600-yard seasons with 1,691 yards in 2015 and 1,765 yards in 2016. Those two rushing totals rank first and second for a single season in Florida State history. Cook is also first in the Seminoles career rushing record books with 4,464 yards and 46 touchdowns. Cook was a two-time first-team All-ACC player and two-time All-American.

7. Travis Etienne, Clemson -- Perhaps the most efficient offensive weapon in college football over the last two decades, Etienne has averaged 7.8 yards per carry … over his entire career. Behind that average, he’s posted back-to-back 1,600-yard rushing seasons and will return for his senior season this fall. As long as there’s a season, Etienne will only add to his 56 career rushing touchdowns, which is already an ACC record.

6. Philip Rivers, N.C. State -- Starting all four years for the Wolfpack, Rivers passed for 13,484 yards and 95 touchdowns on his way to 34 victories. He led N.C. State to an 11-3 record in 2002, which was the last time the Wolfpack won at least 10 games in a season. Rivers became the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2000 and then ACC Player of the Year, while earning a spot on first-team All-ACC, in 2003. N.C. State retired Rivers’ number before his final home game.

5. Chris Weinke, Florida State -- Weinke only played one season in the 21st Century, but it was certainly a memorable one. He passed for 4,167 yards, 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2000 on his way to the Heisman Trophy. He was also the ACC Player of the Year and winner of the Johnny Unitas and Davey O’Brien award. Florida State retired his No. 16.

4. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech -- Nicknamed Megatron, Johnson comes in as the highest-rated non-quarterback player on our list. With the Yellow Jackets, he became a three-time All-ACC player from 2004-06 and earned a spot on the All-American first team twice. In 2006, Johnson posted 76 catches for 1,202 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on his way to ACC Player of the Year honors. Johnson finished his career with 2,927 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns.

3. Lamar Jackson, Louisville -- Breaking out in the Music City Bowl at the end of his freshman season, Jackson became a budding star and then very quickly a superstar in 2016. As a sophomore, he accounted for 5,114 yards and 51 touchdowns on his way to a landslide win in the Heisman Trophy race. Jackson mostly repeated his statistics in 2017, but he fell off the Heisman radar with Louisville struggling to win eight games even with the talented quarterback. Jackson entered the NFL as one of the most intriguing prospects in recent history, and in his second season with the Baltimore Ravens, he won league MVP.

2. Jameis Winston, Florida State -- Unlike other quarterbacks on this list, Winston only started two seasons, but a Heisman Trophy award and 13-0 season will land anyone close to No. 1. As a redshirt freshman, Winston posted 4,057 passing yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while leading the Seminoles to an undefeated season and the final BCS national championship. Winston did not play as well as a sophomore, throwing 25 touchdowns versus 18 interceptions, but he never lost a regular season game, only suffering his first loss in the first-ever College Football Playoff game. Winston threw for nearly 8,000 yards and 65 touchdowns in only 27 games.

1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson -- Jackson and Winston may have the Heisman Trophy awards, but Watson’s place in recent Clemson history was too much to keep him out of the top spot. He recorded a pair of 4,000-yard passing seasons while leading the Tigers to the National Championship Game in 2015 and 2016. Both were classic matchups versus Alabama, the second of which Watson led Clemson back in the final seconds to dethrone mighty Alabama. A two-time Heisman finalist, Watson won the ACC Player of the Year award in 2015 and the Manning and Davey O’Brien awards each twice. He finished his career with 10,168 passing yards and 116 total touchdowns.