After years of being viewed as one of the lower-tier BCS schools, the ACC finally enjoyed a breakthrough at the national level in 2013. Florida State ended the SEC's run of national championships while also bringing the conference its first Heisman trophy winner since Chris Weinke in 2000. Clemson gave the conference a second BCS winner by knocking off Ohio State, and Boston College running back Andre Williams eclipsed the 2,000 yard barrier en route to being a Heisman finalist.
Gone are the likes of Williams, quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, but the conference remains loaded with offensive talent, and arguably sparse on defensive stalwarts, making the ACC a terrific spot for fantasy success, particularly at wide receiver where three of the top five receivers from 2013 return to terrorize secondaries. Louisville joins the conference as Maryland exits, bringing a senior laden offense along with a highly successful offensive mind in head coach Bobby Petrino.
TOP-5 FANTASY STARS
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
All Winston did in his first year as the team's starter was throw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns en route to a national championship and Heisman trophy. Winston added four rushing touchdowns for good measure. Similar to 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, modest regression from Winston statistically would not surprise, especially as the 'Noles lost receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, who combined for 1,944 yards and 21 touchdowns. But in a conference with few returning signal callers, Winston will remain the top option. The return of top wideout Rashad Greene paired with a less than daunting schedule will further benefit Winston's second campaign.
2. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke
Crowder proved many doubters wrong, this writer included, with a second consecutive superb season in 2013, finishing with 108 catches, 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns. He emerged from the shadows of Conner Vernon and immediately showed chemistry with first-year starting quarterback Anthony Boone. Crowder is a dynamic playmaker whom the Blue Devils get the ball to in a variety of ways, including rushing opportunities and punt returns. Duke remains without a truly reliable second option, as tight end Braxton Deaver was second on the team with 46 grabs and 600 yards last year. Crowder can expect as many opportunities as he can handle during his senior season, making him among the nation's most trusted receivers.
3. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Johnson ran for 920 yards and six touchdowns on 145 carries before missing the team's final five games after breaking his leg at rival Florida State. Early reports out of Coral Gables have Johnson looking as shifty as before, only with an additional 15 pounds of muscle on his frame, putting him up to 211 pounds after playing most of 2013 at 196. Johnson struggled with fumbles in 2013, specifically around the goal line, but with the 'Canes breaking in a new quarterback, they likely will lean on Johnson's experience. Last year's backup, Dallas Crawford, has moved to safety and Johnson will be spelled by sophomore Gus Edwards and freshman Joe Yearby, who also broke his leg during his senior year of high school. A healthy Johnson is a good bet to post his first 1,000-yard season while adding to his scoring total from a year ago.
4. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
Greene has improved statistically in each of his first three seasons in Tallahassee, highlighted by last season's 76-catch, 1,128-yard, nine-touchdown year. He somewhat surprisingly chose to return to school for his final season and needs 1,133 yards to become the 'Noles all-time leading receiver. Following the departures of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, Greene is the unquestioned leader of a receiving corps that will be counting on freshmen to pick up some slack. Greene scored just once in the season's final seven contests, but should find more consistency as quarterback Jameis Winston's safety valve.
5. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Boyd burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2013, leading the Panthers with 85 receptions for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns. He added 11 rushing attempts for 108 yards and a score, and returned a punt for a touchdown, further proving his dynamic playmaking ability. Boyd was even better following a hamstring injury to senior receiver Devin Street late in the year, catching 27 balls for 353 games in the team's final three contests. With Street now in the NFL, Boyd may face additional defensive focus, and the Panthers will also break in a new quarterback in Chad Voytik, who is not nearly the polished passer that 2013 starter, Tom Savage, was. While that could add up to a sophomore slump, Boyd will also provide Voytik with a safety valve as he looks to emerge as one of the truly elite receivers in the country.
Cole Stoudt, QB, Clemson
Stoudt completed an impressive 47-of-59 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns in mostly garbage time as Tajh Boyd's backup in 2013. Following Boyd's graduation and Chad Kelly's dismissal from the team, Stoudt is poised to lead the high-octane Clemson offense over top freshman Deshaun Watson. Stoudt does not offer nearly the athletic ability that Boyd or Watson possess, but he might be a more accurate passer. Clemson is also without a truly proven wide receiver following the early departure of the dynamic Sammy Watkins, but Stoudt is in a system that breads successful quarterbacks. The team has stated that Watson will play this season, likely scaring away some from drafting Stoudt, but the latter is the team's clear starter and will see the bulk of Clemson's meaningful snaps unless the season spirals downhill. Stoudt could throw for at least 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns in offensive coordinator Chad Morris' scheme.
Will Gardner, QB, Louisville
Garner threw for 112 yards and two touchdowns in limited action as a freshman as Teddy Bridgewater's backup. Gardner goes 6-foot-5, 232, and has solid athleticism despite having twice torn the ACL in his right knee. Gardner's lack of experience likely will lead to some growing pains as he isn't nearly as experienced as another first-year starter, Clemson's Cole Stoudt, but Gardner is also in a fantasy friendly system set up for success. Gardner has veterans surrounding him at wide receiver in DeVante Parker and Eli Rodgers, and in the backfield with running backs Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer. Little can be based on spring stats, but Gardner threw for 542 yards and four touchdowns on 32-of-37 passing. Gardner should outproduce his draft slot and could become an elite fantasy quarterback.
Zach Laskey, RB, Georgia Tech
Laskey ran 84 times for 485 yards and seven touchdowns while playing second fiddle to last year's starter, David Sims. Sims has moved on, as has A-Back Robert Godhigh, leaving more than 1,600 rushing yards to be replaced. Georgia Tech will also turn to Justin Thomas at quarterback following the transfer of Vad Lee. The team's A-Back situation remains unsettled, leaving Thomas and Laskey to do most of the heavy lifting in the triple-option attack. Laskey has little competition for carries, and while there is absolutely nothing flashy about him, the senior is a no-nonsense, run-through-you back who figures to get plenty of touches, especially near the goal line. Laskey might not get to 1,000 yards due to a lack of overall speed, but 10 or more touchdowns should be well within reach.
T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina
Logan is another sophomore who came on strong as his first season progressed, finishing the year with 533 yards and four touchdowns on 93 carries. Logan saw at least 10 carries in each of the final four games, amassing 361 yards in that stretch. Much of the focus in Chapel Hill centers around freshman running back Elijah Hood, and the five-star recruit who enrolled in school early deserves that attention. But Hood offers the perfect power compliment to Logan's shiftiness. Logan housed two kickoffs last season for good measure, and exited spring with a firm grip on the starting running back job. Logan will certainly share carries with Hood, Khris Francis and Romar Morris. But 1,000 total yards and 10 touchdowns should come Logan's way thanks to a few big plays, and he isn't generating near the buzz he probably should.
Jacoby Brissett, QB, North Carolina State
Once a former four-star recruit who started for the Florida Gators, Brissett is chomping at the bit to start for the 'Pack after sitting out the 2013 season due to transfer. While Brissett's time in Gainesville produced less than stellar results, he's drawn rave reviews for his abilities on the field in Raleigh, as well as his leadership. Just a season ago, it was Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell producing big preseason buzz in fantasy circles for his dual-threat potential in Dave Doeren's offense, which produced fantasy stars Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch at Northern Illinois. Brissett is not generating the same buzz, and if you need a high-upside option as a third quarterback, Brissett offers plenty of appeal. Mitchell led touchdown drives on his first two possessions last season before breaking his foot, so the fantasy potential is obvious. It's a leap of faith, but one that could pay dividends. And as a bonus, if you're looking for a deep sleeper, keep an eye on Wolfpack wide receiver Jumichael Ramos.
Myles Willis, RB, Boston College
Willis showed flashes of being a dynamic option while backing up Andre Williams, rushing 60 times for 346 yards and two touchdowns during his freshman season. The general assumption is that Willis slides into Williams' lead-back role, and while no one expects him to duplicate Williams' big 2013 campaign (355 carries, 2,177 yards, 18 touchdowns), much is expected of Willis. He remains the most likely choice to lead the Eagles in rushing, but fellow sophomore Tyler Rouse remains in the fold, as do a trio of incoming freshman rushers, led by Jonathan Hillman, who flipped his commitment from Rutgers in part after seeing Williams' success for the Eagles. Willis likely will need 200 or more carries to produce on par with his preseason hype, and that's a total he is not guaranteed to reach.
Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State
Williams opened the 2013 campaign on the defensive side of the ball before shifting to running back and closed the year with 730 yards and 11 touchdowns on 91 carries, all second on the team to Devonta Freeman. With Freeman, and James Wilder Jr. leaving Tallahassee, Williams is being counted on to be the team's bellcow. Talent is not in question with Williams, but his opportunities may not be as plentiful as owners would like when investing an early pick. Freeman became the first Florida State running back to top 1,000 yards since Warrick Dunn in 1996, and he became the first FSU back to rush more than 150 times in a year since 2009. Further, Florida State figures to play with sizeable leads often, potentially limiting Williams' opportunities as well. Williams should score double-digit touchdowns, but Florida State figures to get Ryan Green, Mario Pender and freshman Dalvin Cook their share of carries as well.
Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
Coley came on late during his freshman season, which finished with 591 yards and seven receiving touchdowns, while adding to additional scores rushing and one in the return game. Following the departure of Allen Hurns, many expect Coley's statistical growth to continue into that of a 1,000-yard receiver. There is no questioning Coley's game changing ability, but drafting Coley to be an elite receiver might be too optimistic. Miami will be breaking in at least one new starting quarterback following Stephen Morris' graduation. Former BYU and Kansas QB Jake Heaps likely will get the first snaps following Kevin Olsen's recent suspension, while Memphis transfer Ryan Williams will enter the mix once he's fully recovered from ACL surgery. Neither possesses the downfield arm of Morris, and both likely will be asked to be more conservative and limit mistakes. Additionally, the Hurricanes depth at wide receiver is immense. Philip Dorsett is healthy following an injury plagued 2013, and Rashawn Scott has returned from a suspension that limited him to two appearances last year. Add Herb Waters and Malcolm Lewis, who is fully recovered from a gruesome leg injury he sustained in 2012, and Coley's opportunities figure to be somewhat limited. He has proven he doesn't need many touches to shine, which should keep him from being a total disappointment, but it is hard to see Coley getting enough chances to flirt with 1,000 yards.
Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia
Parks returns to Charlottesville for his final season after rushing for 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. That comes after having scored 14 times and gaining at least 709 yards in each of his first two seasons as a Cavalier, all while splitting carries with Perry Jones. Placing Parks on the "bust" list comes as a bit of a surprise, as he has proven time and again to defy logic and produce fantasy worthy numbers. But the Cavalierrs have too many red flags to recommend Parks in his final year. He is simply the only proven commodity on a bad offense. Greyson Lambert will take over the quarterback reins from David Watford, and there are few receiving options who figure to be household names. The Cavaliers are also rebuilding their offensive line, and need to find ways to get the ball into running back Taquan Mizzell's hands in some capacity. Mizzell struggled to find a role as a freshman, but is the team's sole game-breaking talent. Parks, who plays at a bowling ball 5-8, 200, will get his touches, and his scoring opportunities, but a second consecutive 1,000-yard season is not likely in the cards.
Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State/
O'Leary enjoyed a breakout junior campaign where he caught 33 passes for 557 yards and seven touchdowns. His numbers are even more impressive when you consider the Seminoles had three receivers go for at least 933 yards. Conventional wisdom says that with two of those receivers gone, O'Leary stands likely to replace some lost production. O'Leary's season totals mask his roller coaster 2013 campaign, however. Three of his scores came in the team's season opener against Pittsburgh while two more came four weeks later against Maryland. He had two games without a catch and three others with just one reception. Tight end is a drain on most fantasy rosters, and O'Leary is certainly one of the nation's better options. But expecting consistency or more than 35-40 receptions from O'Leary seems like it could come back to cost owners who spend an early selection on O'Leary.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
Overall position ranking in parenthesis.
RB Myles Willis (29)
WR Mike Williams (44)
WR Jamison Crowder (9), TE Braxton Deaver (12)
QB Jameis Winston (11), RB Karlos Williams (21), WR Rashad Greene (4), TE Nick O'Leary (4), K Roberto Aguayo (1)
WR DeVante Parker (14), TE Gerald Christian (22), K John Wallace (9)
RB Duke Johnson (11), WR Stacy Coley (40), TE Clive Walford (24)
QB Marquise Williams (18), WR Quinshad Davis (28)
North Carolina State
WR Tyler Boyd (8), TE Manasseh Garner (21)
RB Trey Edmunds (37)