Every year it feels as if the ACC is a "Four-A" conference; too good to be stuck in Triple-A, but not good enough for the majors, either. Thankfully, fantasy owners don't care as much about team wins and losses as they do player performance, and the ACC is not lacking in playmaking offensive talent. North Carolina and Clemson bring high-tempo spread offenses, Florida State and Miami offer explosive, deep units and the league welcomes new members Syracuse and Pittsburgh this season, with Louisville waiting one more year for its turn. The depth in talent is evident when you see the Seminoles have no players listed in this column. Who's ready to shine, who's going to be a bust and who's primed for a breakout?
TOP-FIVE FANTASY STARS
1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
What's not to love about this senior signal caller? He followed up a breakout sophomore campaign in 2011 with an even better performance a season ago, accounting for 46 touchdowns and 4,410 total yards. He did all this while throwing 72 fewer passes and returns for a senior season with plenty of offensive toys surrounding him. It's hard to project any growth with Boyd, mostly because his numbers can't go much higher. He's as safe as quarterbacks come nationally.
2. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
All Johnson did as a freshman was set the single-season freshman rushing record at Miami with 947 yards and finish second in school history with 2,060 total yards. He did all this on just 139 carries while sharing time with Mike James. Johnson has bulked up heading into 2013 and is expected to receive roughly 20 touches weekly. He struggled against better competition as a rookie, and slowed midway through 2012, seemingly hitting a freshman wall. There's little reason to expect that to happen again, and Johnson is unlikely to encounter a sophomore letdown.
3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins could come cheaper than expected in 2013 after a sophomore slump a year ago. He battled off-field issues early, nagging injuries throughout 2012, and played second fiddle to the emergence of DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is now a Houston Texan, and Watkins seems to have embraced the role of leader to a talented but inexperienced receiving corps. He's also slid over to Hopkins position and a bounce-back season seems highly probable.
4. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Diggs' 848 yards receiving and 114 yards rushing might not leap off the page and scream fantasy star, but considering the Terrapins played four quarterbacks in 2012, one being a converted linebacker, it's obvious just how much of a gamebreaker Diggs is. He also added 934 return yards and can look forward to a 2013 with a healthy quarterback in C.J. Brown. Diggs was good as a freshman; he should be great as a sophomore. A true breakout campaign is on the horizon.
5. Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
Campanaro might not be the household name that Logan Thomas, Bryn Renner, Stephen Morris or Jameis Winston are, or will be by season's end, but he's simply a player who's fun to watch. Wake Forest isn't a good football team and has little offensive firepower. Yet Campanaro has done his thing in consecutive seasons in spite of these challenges. He'll spend 2013 catching a lot of passes, running occasionally and passing occasionally. He could see some time returning punts, or even on defense if coach Jim Grobe gets frustrated with his other choices. At the end of the year, a healthy Campanaro should be good for nearly 100 total touches, nearly 1,000 total yards and some 8-10 touchdowns. And watching him get there is a joy.
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
It's a rare occurrence when a senior can land on a sleeper list, but Williams isn't getting nearly enough respect entering 2013. He's battled injuries throughout his career, which is especially concerning considering he's never fully carried the load in the Eagles backfield. However, for the first time in his career, there's simply no one on the roster competing for carries. Rolandan Finch has departed and Tahj Kimble is questionable at best to play in 2013 after offseason surgery. Williams has enough talent to be a top option in the ACC, and now he's a lock for workhorse carries. It's a recipe for fantasy gold.
C.J. Brown, QB, Maryland
It's easy to forget about a player who hasn't played in more than a season. It's even easier when that player is a quarterback who sat out a year and watched all of his colleagues face a similar injury fate, forcing his squad to use a freshman converted linebacker as its emergency quarterback. Brown can run with the best of ACC quarterbacks and has weapons out wide unlike most of his conference opponents. Receivers Stefon Diggs, Nigel King and Deon Long will make Brown look good. Capable backs in Brandon Ross and Albert Reid further complement an offensive attack that looks poised to surprise.
A.J. Blue, RB, North Carolina
When Giovani Bernard left early for the NFL, it was widely assumed that Blue and Romar Morris would share the responsibility of replacing him. And while that remains the case, Blue seems to be setting himself up to be more a true No. 1 RB while Morris offers a change of pace. Blue's a hard, downhill runner who seems like the exact opposite of what a spread running back looks like. Morris will see his share of snaps, and has game breaking ability, but it would be a shock to see anyone but Blue get the majority of the work inside the red zone. Although touchdowns are hard to predict, Blue likely will clean up a lot of UNC's scoring drives in 2013, and he's being undervalued as a result.
Trey Edmunds, RB, Virginia Tech
A good Hokie's team runs the ball very, very well. The Hokies weren't good in 2012, and Edmunds redshirted. Coincidence? Early camp talk has running backs coach Shane Beamer talking about 2:1 split carries between Edmunds and the smaller J.C. Coleman. Offensive line questions remain, but with Michael Holmes out of the equation, and VT desperately moving former wide receiver Joel Caleb into the backfield to further add some bulk, it's a poorly kept secret that coaches want Edmunds to shoulder the load. A former high school linebacker, he's more than capable.
Brandon Ross, RB, Maryland
A fourth running back makes this list, which is a clear indicator of the state of ACC backfields. Ross simply has momentum heading into September; he closed 2012 strongly, he shined throughout April and Wes Brown's suspension leaves carries to be shared with just Albert Reid. While early reports indicate both will compete for carries, the hunch is the team wants Ross to shoulder the load, allowing Reid the opportunity to spell him. If he embraces the lead role, Ross could flirt with the century mark each week.
Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech
Lee lands here simply because he has the most concern weekly. Some weeks he will be a Top-10 performer nationally; he simply has that much raw ability. But there also likely will be weeks when he struggles throwing the ball, gets bottled up at the line of scrimmage and shares snaps with Justin Thomas. Lee will turn a lot of heads this year, but if he's on your roster, you need to spend another pick on someone comparable and play your hunch weekly. In ACC circles, there are plenty more dependable options.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke
Crowder goes from a 2012 breakout player to someone who figures to struggle to match his output from a season ago. It's not for lack of talent, there are just too many factors working against Crowder repeating his 1,074 yards from last year. First, immobile, pocket-passing Sean Renfree is gone, replaced with a raw-passing, dual-threat Anthony Boone. Second, All-ACC wide receiver Conner Vernon departed and will be replaced by a slew of inexperienced newcomers, likely leaving Crowder to constant double teams. The Blue Devils consistently struggle defensively and will pass often to stay competitive. Crowder will get his, but it's hard to envision a more perfect season than last year for the junior.
Prince-Tyson Gulley, RB, Syracuse
Gulley lands here simply because his value a season ago was largely tied to finding the endzone. He scored nine times on 158 carries, and while he finished with 830 yards, 213 of those came in a bowl win over West Virginia. Teammate Jerome Smith topped the century mark, yet scored just three times, and the Orange have to find a way to get redshirt freshman George Morris II the ball occasionally. Gulley figures to have a solid season, but expecting growth would be optimistic, and finding paydirt as often is simply a gamble.
Brandon Mitchell, QB, North Carolina State
Mitchell hasn't yet been dubbed the new starter in Raleigh. He also spent 2012 playing wide receiver for Arkansas. His talent and dual-threat capabilities could easily land him on the sleeper list, especially given new head coach Dave Doeren's history of producing fantasy dominant quarterbacks. Two weeks, or six weeks from now, Mitchell has the potential to be a Top-20 option nationally, but until he's secured a position, let someone else buy the hype.
Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh/Drew Allen, QB, Syracuse
Savage and Allen share a line here while Mitchell gets his own due to the fact that Mitchell has some preseason expectations of fantasy stardom. Both Savage and Allen, like Mitchell, are transfers looking to make a splash in their final season of eligibility. Both Savage and Allen are competing with younger, more athletic, higher-upside quarterbacks for the right to start. In upstate New York, Allen is locked in a duel with Terrel Hunt while Savage is jousting with Chad Voytik for snaps. At the very least, expect some split snaps amongst both duos, and if either team's season goes south, expect the younger player to get the nod. Allen's size and arm strength give him a little more hope for success, but in ACC circles, just because there's a new quarterback doesn't mean he's a good quarterback.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
Overall position ranking in parenthesis.
Boston College Eagles
RB Andre Williams (67), WR Alex Amidon (29)
QB Tajh Boyd (4), WR Sammy Watkins (2), WR Martavis Bryant (50), TE Jordan Leggett, K Chandler Catanzaro (1)
Duke Blue Devils
WR Jamison Crowder (12), TE Issac Blakeney (43), K Ross Martin (19)
Florida State Seminoles
QB Jameis Winston (43), RB James Wilder Jr. (47), WR Rashad Greene (57)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
QB Vad Lee (25)
WR Stefon Diggs (15)
QB Stephen Morris (41), RB Duke Johnson (3), WR Rashawn Scott (54), WR Phillip Dorsett (71), TE Clive Walford (12)
North Carolina Tar Heels
QB Bryn Renner (36), RB A.J. Blue (42), RB Romar Morris (72), WR Quinshad Davis (25), TE Eric Ebron (2)
North Carolina State Wolfpack
QB Brandon Mitchell (27)
RB Isaac Bennett (53), TE J.P. Holtz (32),
TE Beckett Wales (46)
RB Kevin Parks (49), TE Jake McGee (29)
Virginia Tech Hokies
QB Logan Thomas (35)
WR Michael Campanaro (30)