Over the last two to three years, the ACC has had some of the best QB play in the country. True superstars and early NFL draft picks were behind center across the conference. Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, and Lamar Jackson come to mind. Nathan Peterman (Pittsburgh), Jerod Evans (Virginia Tech), and the woefully underrated John Wolford (Wake Forest) gave the ACC incredible depth at the position.
Now these players are gone and the ACC looks relatively weak at the game’s most important position. Several youngsters will emerge in the next year or two such as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Miami’s N’Kosi Perry, and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, but until then, it may be a relatively down year for the ACC in terms of QB play.
Where should we be looking to find good QB play in the ACC? We discuss in the video and article below.
Honorable Mention - James Blackman: Florida State was picked my many to win the Atlantic Division, the ACC, and make the playoff. When QB Deondre Francois got injured against Alabama, things spiraled out of control. That was hardly the fault of true freshman QB James Blackman. Coach Jimbo Fisher elected to start the true freshman over veteran JJ Cosentino and while Blackman wasn’t spectacular, he showed great leadership and toughness playing behind a porous offensive line. He threw for 1,997 yards and 15 TDs. He has a cannon for an arm and has an opportunity to grow and become one of the conferences better QBs in time. He’ll battle with Francois for the starting QB job in 2018.
5. TaQuon Marshall had only 997 passing yards with a 37% completion percentage. How did he get on this list? He finished third in the ACC in rushing yards behind only Lamar Jackson and AJ Dillon and finished tied with Lamar Jackson for #1 in the conference with 17 rushing TDs. He did all that in just 11 games too. If the 5’10” rising senior can improve his accuracy and make defenses respect the pass just a bit more, Georgia Tech’s offensive will be very dangerous.
4. Josh Jackson became the starting QB a year earlier than planned - as a redshirt freshman - following the early departure of battering ram QB Jerod Evans. Jackson proved ready, finishing 6th in completion percentage (min. 100 attempts) and 6th in passing yards in the ACC.
He got off to a blistering hot start throwing for 16 of his 20 passing TDs in VT’s first seven games while leading the Hokies to wins over West Virginia and Boston College. He struggled down the stretch though, particularly against Miami and Georgia Tech, two of the Hokies four losses, completing only 34/58 passes for 350 yards, 0 TD, and 2 INTs in those games. Some of that can be chalked up to freshman growing pains and some to defenses keying in on the passing game as the rushing attack averaged only 3.9 YPC (13th in the ACC) and provided little balance.
Jackson returns as a RS sophomore ready to build on a fairly successful freshman campaign. The offense should improve, though the defense may be rebuilding, at least as much as a Bud Foster defense “rebuilds.”
3. Kelly Bryant was asked to do two unenviable tasks in 2018: replace Deshaun Watson and beat Alabama. The coaching staff did a great job adapting their offense to his skill set, focusing on short efficient passes and the run game. As a result, they saw their offense become less explosive, but more efficient.
Excluding the game at Syracuse, in which he played through an ankle injury before leaving with a head injury, Kelly Bryant averaged 207 passing yards, 1 passing TD, 0.6 INTs, 50 rushing yards and 0.8 rushing TDs per game. His .658 completion percentage was good for 10th in the nation. Bryant was much more careful with the ball than Deshaun Watson, which served the Tigers well against teams like Louisville and Virginia Tech who they pushed around with their superior talent, but against Alabama, more risk taking and explosiveness was needed.
Now entering his senior year with a full season of experience, expect Bryant to progress. With freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence behind him, improvement from his 2,802 passing yard season, which was good enough to get the Tigers to a 12-2 record, may be needed for Bryant to hold onto the starting QB job.
2. Eric Dungey has had a lot of trouble staying healthy. Some say durability is a skill and if that’s the case, one could argue Dungey belongs much lower on this list. Nonetheless, when he has played he has been dynamic. Clemson fans saw this first hand with his virtuoso performance against an elite Tiger defense.
Dungey is entering his fourth year in the program and third the Dino Babers up-tempo offense for which he is a perfect fit. In the nine games he played last season, he averaged 277 passing yards, 1.6 passing TDs, 1 INT, 66 rushing yards, and 1 rushing TD per game.
Syracuse will have good experience along the O-line, six seniors in the starting lineup, and a schedule that eases up this year with Pittsburgh and North Carolina from the Coastal and the only challenging non-conference game coming against Notre Dame (in Yankee Stadium!). Eric Dungey has an opportunity to post a very impressive season. Of course, if he gets injured again, it’ll make this high ranking look foolish. Time will tell.
1. Ryan Finley: I’ve been harsh on NC State in the past, but Ryan Finley deserves praise. The 6th year grad student is wise in the pocket boasting an impressive 17-6 TD-to-INT ratio. With 3,514 passing yards, Finley finished second to only Lamar Jackson in passing yards among ACC QBs and his .651 completion percentage was 15th nationally.
Last year’s Sun Bowl team was among the most talented in NC State history and the NFL took a big scoop of talent from the roster. Fortunately for Finley, much of that was from the defense, which only returns three starters. The offense returns six starters including his favorite target, WR Kelvin Harmon. Still, 1,000-yard rusher Nyheim Hines is gone from the backfield as is star TE/short-yardage back Jaylen Samuels. Finley will have a heavier load to carry, but that may mean he is asked to play more aggressively, take more shots, and pass more often - not a terrible thing for one of the top QBs in a relatively weak QB draft class (along with Lock, Stidham, and Herbert).
NC State’s schedule has few tough defenses as West Virginia is their only non-conference P5 opponent and they draw UNC and UVA from the Coastal. It’s quite likely he improves his numbers despite the loss of talent around him.