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The ACC takes a beating amongst most BCS conferences, and on paper, 2011 doesn’t figure to be much better. Star power (Ryan Williams, Darren Evans, Christian Ponder, Leonard Hankerson) departs, and there are tons of holes to fill across the conference. Need proof? Four of the league’s top five quarterbacks from a year ago are gone, as are three of the top five rushers and receivers. Yikes. We could be looking at an awfully sloppy September as we sort out who will emerge. The good news is that someone has to do something! So there are plenty of high upside newcomers that are worth gambling on in the later rounds of your fantasy draft. Guess right, and you will be handsomely rewarded. Guess wrong, and you’ll probably have time to play the waiver wire and get a second chance. And at worst, you can look for some solid defensive statistics across the league. First up, we’ll look at the Coastal Division.
2010 Record: 3-9 (1-7)
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 75th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 109th
Base Offense: Pro-Set, with spread tendencies
Returning Starters: 7 offense/6 defense
Significant losses: WR Austin Kelly, and five starting defenders
Newcomer of Note: Duke recruits? According to Rivals.com, the Blue Devils bring in three wide receivers, and a tight end. That’s it from skill positions. Of those, WR Blair Holliday has the best size/speed ratio, but is at least a year away from being on the field.
2011 Thoughts: This isn’t the year Duke moves up a tier in the ACC. How’s that for a thought! By now, it’s becoming old hat in Durham. Every off season, we read about this finally being the year Duke wins six games and makes a bowl. And yes, again, it’s possible. The talent at the skill positions certainly isn’t the problem. Quarterback Sean Renfree really came on in the second half of 2010. His 14-17 TD/INT ratio isn’t sexy, but he only tossed three of those picks in the final six contests. Wide receivers Connor Vernon and Donavan Varner may be the best tandem in the ACC. Varner is a year removed from a 1,047-yard season, and Vernon fell just short of the century mark in 2010. The backfield will feature Desmond Scott, with speedster Josh Snead complementing.
Final Analysis: From a fantasy perspective, we love the upside of the passing game here. Renfree should be better, there are two dynamic receivers, and we haven’t mentioned tight end Cooper Heflet. Never heard of Heflet? Click his name and look at his second half of 2010. Backup quarterback Brandon Connette is a rushing threat who will see snaps, and that makes him the top backup worth owning in ACC circles. And because the Devils figure to play from behind often, we know passing opportunities won’t be scarce. Rushing attempts will be however, so don’t expect Scott to be rosterable. In summation – Duke players are draftable, and there is good value here. Just remember it is still Duke.
2010 Record: 6-7 (4-4)
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 71st
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 57th
Base Offense: Triple-Option
Returning Starters: 6 offense/5 defense
Significant losses: QB Joshua Nesbitt, RB Anthony Allen
Newcomer of Note: QB Vad Lee looks like the perfect fit for the triple-option, and he will get a chance to compete in August. And any time a Yellow Jacket receiver comes in at 6-foot-6, we take notice. This year’s edition is Jeff Greene.
2011 Thoughts: Looking at that significant loss list, you can see trouble and opportunity in Atlanta. 2011 will be the year where we can finally answer whether it’s the player(s) or head coach Paul Johnson’s system that make things go for Tech. Nesbitt has been the heart and soul of the offense for three seasons, rushing for at least 690 yards and seven scores each time. Allen replaced Jonathan Dwyer at B-Back in 2010, and he became the third straight back to gain over 1,300 yards for the Jackets. You’ll notice I’m mentioning the past a lot, because there are a lot of questions in the ATL right now around this GT offense. Tevin Washington exited the spring atop the QB depth chart, but did so after an unceremonious spring. Synjyn Days and Lee will get every chance to unseat Washington, who played admirably last season after Nesbitt’s injury, and threw the ball respectably despite his dismal spring.
While I expect Washington to take the first snaps this fall, I truthfully have no clue to whom he will hand the football. If you do, and he makes it through 12 games – you’ve already read about the virtual guarantee of production. Preston Lyons enters summer as the starting B-Back. He’ll face stiff competition from Charles Perkins and Richard Watson, and this reeks of a yearlong committee. Roddy Jones returns at one A-Back position, and he’ll be flanked by Orwin Smith on the other side. Personally, I think Smith has the size to play B-Back, and is probably the best back in Atlanta. Paul Johnson disagrees.
Final Analysis: If you buy into the system, take a chance here on Washington or a running back in the last round of your draft. Otherwise, add plenty of Yellow Jackets to your watch list, and let’s see how this shakes out during the first month of the year. As with most teams in the ACC, there is potential here. I also wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention WR Stephen Hill, who struggled with drops and Megatron comparisons last year. He isn’t going to go for 700 yards, and he won’t score more than five times – but he could be a decent post hype buy in the right situation.
2010 Record: 7-6 (5-3)
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 66th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 27th
Base Offense: Pro-Set, we think
Returning Starters: 6 offense/7 defense
Significant losses: WR Leonard Hankerson, RB Damien Berry, RB Graig Cooper, RB Storm Johnson (transfer)
Newcomer of Note: Head coach Al Golden. The incoming talent isn’t bad for a team in transition, and WR Phillip Dorsett, ATH Kevin Grooms, who will start at running back thanks to Storm’s departure, and K Matt Goudis have the best chances for immediate impact.
2011 Thoughts: It’s put up or shut up time for what was supposed to be former head coach Randy Shannon’s national title class. Three years ago, QB Jacory Harris headlined a freshman class loaded with high school teammates, and fellow South Floridians who were supposed to bring the U back to prominence. Now mostly seniors, only wide receivers Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd appear assured of a starting position. If you don’t believe guys can make a leap in their final year, then you probably don’t need to draft anyone involved with throwing or catching in Coral Gables.
Running is another story, however. Last season’s Hurricanes had too many options in the backfield. Now, thanks to lots of attrition, the ‘Canes may have the best 1-2 punch in the ACC. Lamar Miller is a flat out game changer, and is going to explode this season. He can hit the hole in a blink, and be the big play back Miami has been missing for some time. And “backup” Mike James is no slouch either. These guys are both about the same size, and run at about the same speed…but the perception is that they are completely different backs. That’s not reality, but what is reality is both will be fantasy assets in 2011. And they’ll be used extensively in the passing game as well.
Final Analysis: The backfield picture is clear. And that’s where your fantasy attention goes. No questions asked – draft Lamar Miller and Mike James.
Outside of that, we have no idea if Jacory Harris will start, and if he does, will he throw to the green and orange, or the other team? Stephen Morris looked like the future under center, but failing to beat out Harris in the spring doesn’t instill much confidence. Miami also has at least two freshmen, and Memphis transfer Ryan Williams,waiting in the wings for 2012. Morris’ stock as a keeper isn’t high.
Out wide, there is equal ambiguity. Benjamin is solid, but unspectacular. I’ve run out of patience waiting for Byrd to develop into a stud. Aldarius Johnson is not the answer. Tommy Streeter is drawing lots of recognition as a deep sleeper, but remember that he only had one catch last season. I think a sneaky sleeper to catch passes is Allen Hurns.
Al Golden and company bring a new attitude to South Beach. And we expect him to lean heavily on his backs and experienced offensive line, and attempt to limit mistakes elsewhere. So again, no questions asked, draft Lamar Miller and Mike James.
2010 Record: 8-5 (4-4)
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 75th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 44th
Base Offense: Pro-Set
Returning Starters: 5 offense/5 defense, until/unless the NCAA decides otherwise
Significant losses: QB T.J. Yates, RB Johnny White, RB Shaun Draughn, RB Anthony Elzy, TE Zach Pianalto
Newcomer of Note: Quarterback Marquis Williams is the offensive headliner. The 6-foot-3, 220-lb. early enrollee oozes dual-threat potential. But he may redshirt if Bryn Renner develops. RB Romar Morris is a name to monitor this fall, but fellow backfield mate Travis Riley made noise this spring. One of these two will see some carries.
2011 Thoughts: We’re going to pretend there isn’t a dark cloud hanging over Chapel Hill. Maybe it’s because I’m a (very, very minor) donor. Or maybe it’s because I believe that the ‘Heels proved last season’s suspension of multiple players means they won’t miss a beat regardless of what happens…unless Butch Davis is gone.
For fantasy purposes, UNC has a new signal caller, a mess in the backfield, and lots of depth and experience at wide receiver. Renner is a talent who many thought could overtake Yates a season ago. I’d be shocked if he had prolonged growing pains. Dwight Jones (946 yards, four TDs) leads a list of talented wideouts that includes upperclassmen Erik Highsmith, Jheranie Boyd, and redshirt sophomore Joshua Adams.
Final Analysis: You’ll notice a lack of running back names. It’s because I have no clue who I have faith in from this backfield. What I do know is that 2010 proved that Butch Davis likes running backs, and will make them productive as rushers and receivers, and use one guy as his option if at all possible.
Ryan Houston is the obvious solution here. After sitting out last season for suspension and redshirt reasons, you have to figure the monstrous 245-lb. back is chomping at the bit to find paydirt. He’s scored 17 times over his last two years, and shouldn’t have a problem matching that average this year. With consistent touches, he’s a huge upside sleeper.
Redshirt frosh Giovanni Bernard is the second forgotten name here. He blew out his knee early in 2010, but is a flashy, former four-star recruit from South Florida. He’s a great change of pace to Houston’s brute force.
Either of these two can and probably will emerge. The aforementioned rookies, as well as Hunter Furr also factor in here. UNC had three different backs rush for 100 yards in a game last year. Expect at least two different to do so in 2011.
2010 Record: 4-8 (1-7)
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 75th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 70th
Base Offense: Power I
Returning Starters: 8 offense/7 defense
Significant losses: QB Marc Verica, RB Keith Payne, WR Dontrelle Inman
Newcomer of Note: QB David Watford is one of four competing for the starting job in August. He could easily win it, and he could just as easily redshirt. I love his long-term potential. RB Clifton Richardson will compete for backup carries with redshirt frosh Kevin Parks.
2011 Thoughts: There is cautious optimism in Charlottesville, but this team is at least another season away from truly making noise – in the conference and in fantasy circles. The biggest name here is back Perry Jones. The junior averaged 4.7 ypc in 2010, but only scored once. Here lies the problem. At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Jones is built just like the rookies noted above. None of them is capable of replacing Payne’s 14 scores from a year ago. Jones is a solid bet for 800 yards, but don’t expect more than five TDs.
Kris Burd returns and hopes to build on a solid 799-yard, five-score year. He needs a quarterback to emerge, but those numbers are certainly duplicable. And I advise you to remember Tim Smith. He missed most of 2010 due to injury, but will be the Cavs’ go-to receiver a year from now, and when healthy, has the speed to be relevant now.
Final Analysis: Find me a quarterback. In head coach Mike London’s second season, he exited spring practice with two guys separated by or atop the depth chart, and two more separated by the same conjunction listed as backups. Mike Rocco and Ross Metheny will get first cracks in August, while Michael Strauss and David Watford will continue to battle. My personal thoughts don’t really matter, but I like Rocco and Watford the best. I also think three of these guys will see snaps in 2011. That doesn’t bode well for the Wahoo wideouts.
2010 Record: 11-3 (8-0)
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 21st
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 27th
Base Offense: Standard I
Returning Starters: 6 offense/6 defense
Significant losses: QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Ryan Williams, RB Darren Evans, TE Andre Smith
Newcomer of Note: RB Michael Holmes. As much as I despise the Hokies, I’ll go full homer here. My high school buddies, wife, and brother, all went to VaTech, and some of them had a frat brother who happens to be named Mike Holmes. Don’t let me down son!
Honestly, the Hokie offense won’t feature many true freshmen. But they did lose 25 rushing touchdowns, and the presumed backup running back (Tony Gregory) is coming off knee surgery.
2011 Thoughts: This is the first year I can remember where the Hokies have such a talented, and unchallenged, running back. David Wilson is an absolute stud, and figures to touch the ball as often as he can handle. Did you miss the part above where I said VT is replacing 25 rushing touchdowns? Conservatively, you can give Wilson 10-12 of those. Webster may consider changing the spelling of B-E-A-S-T to W-I-L-S-O-N by Thanksgiving.
New quarterback Logan Thomas is a former four-star tight end recruit. And he still looks like one. I’ve read a few Cam Newton comparisons, and while that is ludicrous, Thomas’ upside makes him a high end backup in all leagues.
Final Analysis: Virginia Tech’s brand usually doesn’t involve an expected high-octane offense. But this unit is loaded and the unmentionable “brand name” of Hokie football just may be an afterthought in 2011. The wide receiving corps might be the deepest in the ACC outside of Tallahassee.They haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver in forever, but Jarrett Boykin is clearly a threat to end that drought. Marcus Davis is a keeper to remember, and Danny Coale will double as a punter unless someone emerges this fall.
And don’t forget about the changing of the guard at offensive coordinator. Gone is the most unimaginative play caller ever (Bryan Stinespring). This lends even more optimism for a loaded squad.