The ACC is losing several top quarterbacks to the 2017 NFL Draft. But despite the huge voids left to fill, the conference is not short on talent.
First and foremost, it is near-impossible to replace a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, especially someone who played the most important position on the football field. The task at hand for Clemson in having to replace Deshaun Watson will be arduous, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers can’t do it.
And as we have seen from him several times in the past, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney loves to prove his doubters wrong.
Clemson isn’t the only ACC team losing its star quarterback, which is one of the positions that helped the conference stand out from the rest of the Power Five leagues and notch a 9-3 mark this past postseason.
Signal-callers that are expected to be taken in the 2017 NFL Draft include Watson, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans and Pitt’s Nate Peterman. That’s a lot of talent to lose in one offseason. Meanwhile, Justin Thomas finished his career at Georgia Tech after making 38 starts, so his leadership has been invaluable. Plus, he was Paul Johnson’s best passing quarterback that he has had in Atlanta.
Half of the ACC’s teams will have to replace their starting quarterbacks, and partial football-playing member Notre Dame would make it eight with DeShone Kizer leaving early. But there is still hope for standout play across the league …
Defending Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is back for Louisville, which absolutely must receive better offensive line play for this offense to perform at its best. Jackson rushed for over 1,500 yards, threw for over 3,000 yards and scored 51 total touchdowns in his sensational award-winning season.
Florida State’s Deondre Francois has a chance to have a prolific season in 2017 after throwing for more than 3,000 yards behind an offensive line that did not consistently protect him. He showed his toughness throughout the season, starting with the wild opener against Ole Miss in Orlando. The Seminoles will enter the new season as the biggest threat to Clemson’s three-peat hopes in the ACC.
Staying in the Atlantic division, NC State will return Boise State transfer Ryan Finley, who threw for more than 3,000 yards but cooled off a bit starting with the Clemson loss. However, he did throw just one interception over his last four games.
All indications out of Syracuse are that Eric Dungey is healthy after dealing with symptoms from a concussion. While it would be wise for him to sincerely ponder his future in the game, he looked like the perfect fit for that Dino Babers offense. If healthy, he is poised to help the Orange to a bowl game next year. If not, Class of 2017 Don Bosco High signal-caller Tommy Devito could slide right in.
Finally, John Wolford will return to Wake Forest, but he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in ’16. This offense needs to be much better no matter who is under center, because Dave Clawson has improved the talent across the board for the Demon Deacons.
Over in the Coastal, Duke is actually set up quite well under David Cutcliffe, who will have to choose between sixth-year player Thomas Sirk and Daniel Jones, who played well in his redshirt freshman campaign. The oft-injured Sirk is the feel-good story who has performed well in the past, but Jones has a very bright future.
It’s unclear, though, if East Carolina transfer quarterback Kurt Benkert can be the QB to help Virginia get back to the postseason after Bronco Mendenhall missed a bowl game for the first time in his head-coaching career last season. Benkert was benched late last fall, and Mendenhall may pursue a dual-threat option via a grad transfer. There were instances when Benkert played well, but much more is expected of him.
In terms of the new starters that we will see at QB in 2017, let’s take a look at what each team looking for a new offensive leader has cooking this spring and summer.
New ACC QBs In 2017
Swinney, as well as co-coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, will give top 2017 QB Hunter Johnson a long, hard look for this opening. But it’s likely that a veteran gets the call, such as rising junior Kelly Bryant, at least initially. Bryant's athleticism and experience certainly give him the edge, although he still has a lot of work to do as a passer. I'd expect Bryant to ultimately win the starting gig during fall camp, while Swinney and the offensive staff slowly bring along the younger signal-callers.
Steve Addazio's Eagles were tough to watch offensively last season, as Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles wasn't exactly a difference-maker. However, there is a lot of hope behind redshirt freshman Anthony Brown, who has a very good arm, is accurate and can make plays with his feet. Look for this BC offense to be a bit more creative next season, which will be a pleasant change for Eagle fans.
The loss of the dual-threat Evans hurts an offense that finally looked alive after some real lean years during the latter part of the Frank Beamer era. Justin Fuente knows quarterbacks, so he will be able to recruit some exceptional signal-callers to Blacksburg, but who will start in 2017? Look for freshman Josh Jackson to get the nod, as Fuente believed he was talented enough to play in this past season if necessary. Fuente could also plug in former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire if he is brought in as a grad transfer.
Larry Fedora's Tar Heels have very little experience returning at the quarterback position. Logan Byrd and Chazz Surratt both redshirted during their freshman season, and Nathan Elliott didn't play much in backing up Trubisky. We'll see if Zaire is seriously in play here as well, because that veteran presence is very much desired. That said, Fedora's system will likely be friendly to most any QB who wins the job.
The Hurricanes are going to struggle to replace the leadership of Kaaya, who has started since his true freshman season. Jack Allison brings ideal size and throwing ability to the table, but Malik Rosier has the edge in game experience. Youngsters N'Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon will also push, along with Evan Shirreffs and Vincent Testaverde. But this battle will likely come down to Allison vs. Rosier.
Not only will Pat Narduzzi have a new offensive coordinator, as Matt Canada took the same position at LSU, but he needs to find a replacement for Peterman. It may not be too difficult, however. While it initially appeared that Ben DiNucci would have the advantage over Thomas MacVittie after seeing action in the team's bowl less to Northwestern, Pitt landed former USC quarterback Max Browne, who was a nice "get" on the transfer trail. We'll see how creative this offense will be next year, though, because Canada was all about balance.
Replacing Thomas will be difficult, but this Yellow Jackets offense is still a run-based attack, which is great for this past season's backup QB. Matthew Jordan rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 30-20 upset of Virginia Tech when Thomas was hurt this past season, and more of that type of play will be expected in '17.