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Devy Conference Preview: Atlantic Coast Conference -Atlantic Division

You want athletes? The ACC has you covered. Check out the wealth of talent the ACC Atlantic has…and Notre Dame too.

The Atlantic Coast Conference offers some of the best and most intriguing teams in college football for the 2020 season. This article will preview the ACC Atlantic division teams and conclude with a preview of Notre Dame.

The ACC conference has turned upside down with the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACC recently announced that they would play a conference only plus one instate out of conference game for the 2020 season. Additionally, Notre Dame will join the ACC for the 2020 football season. The conference will go without divisions for the season, making the top two teams, including Notre Dame, eligible for the ACC championship game. This decision will shake up the schedule for each team. See the graphic below for the conference schedule model, and it essentially allows Notre Dame to have a season as more conferences go to a conference only schedule. At the time of writing, the ACC is still planning to go ahead with their football season, even though the Big 10 and PAC 12 have already canceled their season.

The ACC has been dominated recently by the powerhouse that is the Clemson Tigers. However, a couple of teams appear ready to challenge the Tigers for the top spot in 2020. Not all teams have the prospects of a Clemson. All the teams that are part of the ACC Atlantic have at least a couple of players to keep an eye on in 2020. The players listed below all show NFL potential or will be keys players on their teams in 2020 and listed is their Dynasty Nerds devy rank, current ADP per Devywatch.com, and the year of earliest NFL draft eligibility.

Clemson Tigers

2019 Recap

For many teams, a 14-win season would be a success. The fact that 2019 was a disappointment for many in the Clemson Tigers football program shows their program’s level. Clemson finished 2019 with a 14-1 record, champions of the ACC, winners of the Fiesta Bowl over Ohio State, and finished number two in the final AP poll rankings. However, they came up short of their ultimate goal, losing to LSU 42-25 in the College Football Championship game. The 2019 Tigers finished fourth in scoring offense and fifth in total offense to go along with their third-ranked defense. If it were not for Joe Burrow, this team would have been back-to-back college football champions.

Coaching

Dabo Swinney’s coaching staff remains largely intact from the 2019 staff. The only change of note is Jeff Scott, co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach in 2019, is now the head coach at South Florida. Tony Elliott is now the lone offensive coordinator for the Tigers, and Tyler Grisham is the wide receivers coach. Grisham was an assistant and analyst for the Tigers since 2014, so look for him to continue to coach up future NFL receivers.

Vacated Positions

The 2020 Clemson Tigers will look like the 2019 version returning a number of their playmakers on offense. The one exception is at wide receiver where the Cincinnati Bengals selected Tee Higgins in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft. And, Justyn Ross’ 2020 came to an end in the spring when he had surgery for a congenital fusion in his spine.

Prospects to Watch

QB – Trevor Lawrence (Nerds QB #1/1.48/2021)

Lawrence enters 2020 as the best bet to the number one pick in the 2021 NFL draft. You will undoubtedly hear the “tank for Trevor” slogan linked to all the teams at the bottom of the NFL standings throughout the 2020 season. And, once you watch him in action, you can easily see why he is a coveted NFL prospect. Lawrence stands an imposing 6’6” with a cannon of an arm. Yet, he also has the vision and athleticism of a running back when he wants to move the ball on the ground. Lawrence enters 2020 on the Davey O’Brien Award watchlist (after being a semi-finalist in 2019) and Maxwell Award watchlist and is the heavy favorite for the Heisman trophy in 2020. Make no mistake Lawrence’s game is as near perfect as you can get. He is the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

QB – DJ Uiagalelei (Nerds QB #8/36.22/2023)

Just as Trevor Lawrence is on his way out of Clemson to the NFL, in walks the next great quarterback prospect, DJ Uiagalelei, the 2020 five-star recruit has all the talent in the world, and you can check out our devy profile of him here.

RB – Travis Etienne (Nerds RB #1/4.09/2021)

A member of the 2020 Doak Walker Award watchlist (2018 finalist) and Maxwell Award watchlist, Etienne has all the makings of a feature running back at the next level. Etienne’s game is all about speed and explosion. He is a threat to score from anywhere on the field and makes defenders look silly. His balance and acceleration allow him to absorb hits and shed defenders. On top of his impressive running ability, Etienne has grown year after year catching the ball and is a more than capable receiver. NFL teams want running backs built like Etienne, and after he sets college football on fire in 2020, look for him to be a high NFL draft pick too.

RB – Lyn-J Dixon (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2021)

The junior must have thought he would be the number one back for Clemson in 2020. But Travis Etienne returned for his senior year, which sent Dixon to the number two spot in the Tigers backfield. However, Dixon is by no means a backup level type of player. He is a strong inside and outside runner who runs with power and strength. Defenders do not want to tackle him, and the first defender often cannot bring Dixon down alone. While Etienne will be the starter for the Tigers in 2020, once Dixon gets in the game, do not expect a drop in play.

RB – Demarkcus Bowman (Nerds RB #45/76.39/2023)

Another member of the loaded 2020 Clemson recruiting class is five-star running back Demarkcus Bowman. Bowman has everything you want in a running back, highlighted by his incredible speed. Check out the Dynasty Nerds profile of Bowman for a complete breakdown of him.

WR – Justyn Ross (Nerds WR #18/22.39/2021)

Ross was all set to star in the Tigers passing game this season until it was revealed that he would need surgery to correct a congenital fusion condition of his neck and spine. An injury in spring practice led the Clemson medical staff to discover the extent of Ross’ condition. This injury has already taken Ross out of the entire 2020 college football season, and there are also questions now as to whether Ross will even be able to continue his football playing career. Ross was projected by many to be a first-round pick in the 2021 draft before the injury. He can enter the 2021 draft or use his remaining two years of college eligibility. Ross is a big-time player, and his medical status will be something to keep an eye on.

WR – Joseph Ngata (Nerds WR #14/28.61/2022)

One of the top recruits in Clemson’s 2019 recruiting class Ngata is ready to become an impact player for the Tigers. Ngata came to Clemson at 6’3” and over 200 pounds, and with a full season of big-time college football under his belt Ngata already looks like an NFL wide receiver. In the mold of your typical Clemson receiver, Ngata is a big, physical, polished, and can catch anything near him. Ngata will be one of the receivers expected to fill the void created by the losses of Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. He should quickly become one of Trevor Lawrence’s top targets on the field in 2020.

WR – Frank Ladson Jr. (Nerds WR #21/62.78/2022)

Ladson is another 2019 four-star recruit who, like Ngata, looks the part of a future NFL player standing 6’3” and just under 200 pounds. Where Ladson differs from Ngata, he is more of a raw prospect, but extremely gifted athletically. Ladson brings elite-level speed to the Tigers receiving core and is already one of the fastest players on a team loaded with great athletes. Ladson will be on the field a lot this year, with 2019’s top two receivers gone. If Ladson can show some polish to his game this year, he has all the tools to become one of the next great Clemson wide receivers.

WR – Amari Rodgers (Nerds WR #48/120.70/2021)

Rodgers does not bring Ngata and Ladson’s size, but the senior receiver will be a big part of this Clemson team. Rodgers is all but a lock to be Clemson’s starting slot receiver and punt returner; he even enters 2020 on the Paul Hornung Award watchlist. At 5’10” and 210 pounds, Rodgers looks more like a running back and has some Deebo Samuel in his game. While not the most athletically gifted of the Tigers’ receivers, Rodgers is just a pure football player.

WR – EJ Williams (Nerds WR #57/119.52/2023)

The 2020 four-star recruit looks like the newest Clemson great wide receiver. Coming in at 6’3″ and 190 pounds, Williams has the look of a Clemson receiver, big, tall, and he can run. Williams’s strength is his speed, which allows him to make plays down the field. Coaches have raved about the speed Williams brings to the football field and will be looking to take advantage of that in 2020. With the loss of Justyn Ross to injury, Williams should see the field more in 2020, and he is a big play waiting to happen.

2020 Outlook

The goal for the 2020 Clemson Tigers is to finish what they couldn’t in 2019, win a national championship. The road may not be as easy as it was in 2019, and several teams in the ACC have new coaches or much improved rosters. But, there is no reason to think this loaded Clemson team is not going to repeat as ACC champions and make some noise in the College Football playoff.

Louisville Cardinals

2019 Recap

Scott Satterfield took over the Louisville Cardinals in 2019 and had a season few expected. Satterfield and his offensive coaching staff worked wonders for the Cardinals in their first season. The offense improved from 123rd in 2018 to 31st in 2019. After a 2-10 season in 2018, Satterfield led the Cardinals to an 8-5 overall record and capped the season with a win over Mississippi State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

Coaching

The coaching staff under Head coach Scott Satterfield returns for the 2020 season, as Satterfield and offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford build on a very successful first season with the Cardinals.

Vacated Positions

Louisville returns all their prominent skill position players from 2019.

Prospects to Watch

QB – Micale Cunningham (Nerds QB unranked/N/A/2021)

You might not know the name, Micale Cunningham, because, until this year, he went by Malik. You will soon enough as he is on both the Davey O’Brien Award and Maxwell Award watchlist. Watching Cunningham play, you cannot help but see the comparison to another Louisville legend, Lamar Jackson. Cunningham is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He has good arm strength and accuracy on downfield. These skills match up perfectly with his receivers and running backs. Equal to his excellent skills as a passer is his skills as a runner. Cunningham has the speed and acceleration to get up the field quickly and leave defenders in his wake. The offensive system at Louisville looks tailor-made to take advantage of Micale’s skill set. Coming into his junior season, Micale has everything in place around him to have a great season and maybe even a Heisman season.

RB – Javian Hawkins (Nerds RB #34/92.74/2021)

The Cardinals return the 8th leading rusher from the 2019 college football season in Hawkins, who ran for over 1500 yards. And, even more, impressive is he did that as a freshman. Hawkins earned 2019 second-team All-ACC honors and broke the Louisville rushing yardage record for a running back. He a dynamic runner, combining speed and quickness with power and explosion. He can make one cut and explode upfield, and at the same time, bounce off defenders and get the tough yards. Hawkins is on the 2020 Doak Walker and Maxwell Award watchlists for a good reason. He was a vital part of the Louisville offense last year, and he will be again this year. If the Cardinals can play up to their ability as a team, Hawkins will have a shot at leading the nation in rushing in 2020.

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

RB – Hassan Hall (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2021)

Hall is a do-it-all player for the Cardinals. Hall finished second on the team in rushing in 2019, but where he truly excelled was on the return team. He earned All-ACC second-team all-purpose honors in 2019. Hall enters 2020 on the Paul Hornung Award (given to the nation’s most versatile player) watchlist. Hall is an explosive runner, and if you give him space to run, he is gone. His most significant impact will be in the return game. Hall and Hawkins will form one of the best running back pairs in the nation in 2020.

WR – Chartarius “Tutu” Atwell (Nerds WR #26/75.65/2021)

Atwell led the ACC in receiving yards (1,276) and touchdowns (12) while earning PFF All-American and first-team All-ACC honors. The big-play receiver enters 2020 on the Biletnikoff Award and Maxwell Award watchlist and will be getting a lot of NFL draft buzz throughout the 2020 season. One thing makes Atwell so special; it’s speed. A high school track star, he brings all of that explosiveness to the football field. Louisville did everything they could to get the ball in his hands in 2019. This should be no different in 2020. While Atwell works mostly out of the slot, he makes plays all over the field, and he has the physical tools NFL teams want. Atwell is going to be playing on Sundays. If I were a betting man, he is the guy I would put my money on to run the fastest 40-yard dash at the 2021 NFL Combine.

WR – Dez Fitzpatrick (Nerds WR unranked/N/A/2021)

Fitzpatrick decided to return to Louisville for this fifth year and is another dynamic piece of the Cardinals offense. He finished second on the Cardinals in 2019 in receiving yards and averaged over 18 yards per catch. Fitzpatrick brings a polish to his game that most college receivers do not have. At 6’2” 210 pounds, Fitzpatrick looks like an NFL receiver and plays like one too. He has size and athleticism to go along with great hands. He should be a steady force on the Louisville offense in 2020, who will make his share of plays.

TE – Marshon Ford (Nerds TE unranked/N/A/2021)

The former walk-on had a breakout performance for the Cardinals in 2019. He led all ACC tight ends with seven touchdowns. Ford has good hands and speed to go along with a nose for the endzone. His tremendous blocking skills exceed Ford’s receiving ability. Ford is turning into a great all-around tight end. If he continues to develop his receiving skills, he will be a player to watch this season.

2020 Outlook

Louisville might not be a household name in the world of college football, but it is going to be for 2020. The Cardinals have a track team on offense. They should improve on the 33 points a game they averaged on offense in 2019. The real questions for this team will be whether the defense can match the play of the offense. But even if the defense struggles, the Cardinals playmakers on offense can score with anyone in the country. This team will be fun to watch in 2020, and if everything goes their way, look for them to be a dark horse to challenge for a spot in the ACC championship game.

Florida State Seminoles

2019 Recap

2019 was a tumultuous season for the Florida State Seminoles. The team finished the year with a 6-7 record and a loss to Arizona State in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl. Unfortunately, with another poor season, head coach Willie Taggart was fired after only two seasons in Tallahassee. Outside of the performance of running back Cam Akers, the 2019 Seminoles did not live up to expectations, and everyone at Florida State is happy to move on to 2020.

Coaching

With Taggart and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles out, new head coach Mike Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham look to restore Florida State to their past glory. Norvell spent the last four years as the head coach at Memphis and, in 2019, led the Tigers to the eighth highest-scoring offense in the country. Dillingham had previously working with Norvell at Memphis before becoming the Auburn offensive coordinator last season. Norvell and Dillingham will look to bring their high-powered offense to Florida State. And, given their track record, the biggest beneficiaries of their arrival will be the Seminole running backs as Norvell and Dillingham feature these guys rushing, receiving, and in the return game.

Vacated Positions

Cam Akers was the only offensive player who left Florida State to hear his name called in the 2020 NFL draft. Akers was FSU’s best player and leading rusher, and he leaves a void in their backfield. Former five-star recruit Khalan Laborn was in line to lead the Seminoles backfield with Akers’ departure; however, he was dismissed from the team due to violation of team rules.

Prospects to Watch

QB – James Blackman (Nerds QB unranked/N/A/2021)

Blackman returns to FSU as the starting QB after starting ten games in 2019 and being a team captain. Blackman had a good season in 2019, but with Norvell taking over as head coach, questions remain. 2020 will be a crucial year for Blackman if he can win over Norvell look for him to thrive. But, 2020 recruit Chubba Purdy is waiting in the wings should Blackman struggle.

QB – Chubba Purdy (Nerds QB 24/N/A/2023)

Brother of current Iowa State QB Brock Purdy, Chubba, was a four-star dual-threat QB who was recruited hard by the new FSU coaching staff. Purdy was an offensive machine in high school, even scoring ten touchdowns in one game in his senior year. Purdy has a lot of talent and will fit great with Norvell’s offense. Expect big things from Purdy in the years to come, and maybe even in 2020.

RB – Jashaun Corbin (Nerds RB unranked/117.61/2021)

Corbin transferred to FSU from Texas A&M this year and has three years left of college eligibility. He suffered a hamstring injury in the second game of 2019 and missed the rest of the year. In his time at Texas A&M, Corbin showed great skill as a runner, receiver, and returner. If Corbin is healthy, he will be looked at as the lead running back with Akers and Laborn’s departures and enters 2020 on the Doak Walker Award watchlist.

RB – Lawrance Toafili (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2023)

Toafili is one of the headlines from the FSU 2020 recruiting class. The four-star recruit profiles as a physical runner with plus athleticism, as evidenced by his 9.7 yards per carry average over his entire high school career. Toafili might be pressed into action in 2020 and will be a factor in the years to come.

RB – Ja’Khi Douglas (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2023)

Douglas was another good recruit in FSU’s 2020 recruiting class. He is listed as a running back by FSU, but he was a standout dual-threat QB in high school, who also played some wide receiver and ran track. The bottom line is Douglas is a great athlete. And, while he may start his FSU career needing some polish at whatever position he plays, trust that he will become a playmaker under Norvell’s coaching.

WR – Tamorrion Terry (Nerds WR #5/13.00/2021)

Terry is the definition of a big-play wide receiver. The 2019 second-team All-ACC receiver had 60 catches for over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns. Most impressive is the fact that Terry averaged an NCAA high 57.89 yards per touchdown. Terry’s combination of physical play and breakaway speed make him a nightmare for defenders. A member of the 2020 Biletnikoff and Maxwell Award watchlists, Terry has an NFL skill set and will do big things on the football field in 2020 and beyond.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

WR – DJ Matthews (Nerds WR unranked/N/A/2021)

Matthews will be one of the receivers who will be looked at to play opposite Terry in the FSU passing game. The former four-star recruit has playmaking ability in the return game, and he will be counted on to bring his explosiveness to the FSU offense this season.

2020 Outlook

The 2020 Seminoles should see quite the improvement over the 2019 version. After all, this is still Florida State, and they still have several good athletes and players on both offense and defense. The wins may not come for FSU in 2020 as they want, but with Norvell leading the offense, they will be fun to watch. Look for FSU to compete in the ACC and win more than they lose in 2020.

Syracuse Orange

2019 Recap

Syracuse had high hopes for their 2019 season; however, things did not go as planned as they finished the year 5-7 and 2-6 in the ACC. After early-season losses to Maryland and Clemson, giving up over 40 points in each, the Orange never got on track last season.

Coaching

A poor 2019 led to several changes at Syracuse, most notably new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, who was the head coach at McNeese State in 2019. Gilbert is well versed in running wide-open spread offenses and has coached with Syracuse head coach Dino Babers at a few previous colleges.

Vacated Positions

Gone from the Orange are 2019 leading rusher Moe Neal and leading receiver Trishton Jackson.

Prospects to Watch

QB – Tommy DeVito (Nerds QB unranked/N/A/2021)

Make no mistake DeVito will be the engine that drives this Syracuse offense and team. He has a big arm and will let it rip down the field. His 19 touchdowns to five interceptions in 2019 show he is capable of good quarterback play. However, the Orange ranked 128 out of 130 teams in 2019 in sacks allowed. This constant pressure did not give DeVito a chance to unlock all his potential. If DeVito is given some help upfront in 2020, he could be in for a big year.

RB – Abdul Adams (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2021)

Adams came to Syracuse in 2018 after two years at the University of Oklahoma and should be the lead back for the Orange in 2020. Adams is a complete back with skills rushing, receiving, and blocking. He is ready to show everyone why he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. And after DeVito, look for him to be a prominent guy on the offense in 2020.

Photo by John Raoux/AP Photo

RB – Jawhar Jordan (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2022)

The redshirt freshman Jordan is the player to keep an eye on in the Syracuse backfield. While Adams should be the lead back, Jordan brings an element of speed that no one else in the Syracuse backfield has. With Jordan’s mix of physical gifts and his ability to catch the ball, he could end up being a player that is used all over the field on offense and in the return game.

WR – Taj Harris (Nerds WR unranked/N/A/2021)

Harris is the most likely option to replace Trishton Jackson’s production. He is even garnering some All-ACC preseason hype. Harris played in 11 games as a freshman and sophomore, so he already has a connection with DeVito. Harris is a downfield threat with good speed and hands. If Harris can take the next step in his development as an all-around receiver, he should emerge as the go-to receiver in the Syracuse offense in 2020.

WR – Edward Hendrix (Nerds WR unranked/N/A/2021)

Hendrix is a bit of a wildcard for the Orange in 2020. The 2018 recruit has not seen the field yet for Syracuse after missing the 2018 and 2019 seasons with injury. He looks like a pro at 6’3” 220 pounds with good speed to match. With the lack of an offseason due to COVID-19 and his injury history, no one is sure what Hendrix will bring in 2020. But, he has all the physical tools to become a big-time player for the Orange.

2020 Outlook

Coming off a 10-3 season in 2018, the Orange took a step back in 2019. However, this team made changes to both offensive and defensive coordinators, and they return several quality players on both sides of the ball. Dino Babers is one of the better coaches in the ACC, and I trust that he can get the most out of his team in 2020. Look for an improved Syracuse team this year, and there is no reason they should not be bowl eligible at the end of the year.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

2019 Recap

North Carolina State had a tough 2019 season going 4-8 overall with a 1-7 record in the ACC. After finishing last in the ACC Atlantic division and having the 107th ranking offense in 2019, changes were coming.

Coaching

And, the most significant change for NC State was hiring new offensive coordinator Tim Beck. Beck comes from the University of Texas having spent the last two years there as the offensive coordinator and Ohio State before that. Beck has a track record of running great college offenses and utilizing his players’ talents to their fullest his what he does best.

Vacated Positions

NC State did not lose any offensive players to the 2020 NFL draft.

Prospects to Watch

RB – Zonovan “Bam” Knight (Nerds RB #49/119.39/2022)

The discussion about NC State’s best offensive player begins and ends with “Bam” Knight. The 2019 four-star recruit earned a spot on PFF’s All-Freshman team and showed the burst and speed he was known for in high school. The combination of his physical tools and new offensive coordinator Tim Beck will make Bam a big-time performer in the ACC, both rushing and receiving.

RB – Jordan Houston (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2022)

Houston, like Knight, was a member of NC State’s 2019 recruiting class. And, like Knight, Houston’s game is about speed, explosiveness, and getting into space. The strength of this NC State offense is their running backs, and from everything Beck has said so far, he wants to get the ball into their hands.

RB – Ricky Person Jr. (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2021)

The former four-star recruit has dealt with injuries during his first two years at NC State. Person has big-play ability and was one of the more decorated high school players before joining NC State. If Person can stay healthy, he will be another back to watch in what will be a three-headed monster of running backs at NC State this year.

TE – Cary Angeline (Nerds TE unranked/N/A/2021)

The former USC commit enters 2020 on the John Mackey Award watchlist. Angeline is a big-play tight end, as evidenced by his six receptions of 20 yards or more in 2019, second in the country among power five tight ends. Angeline was also dominant in the red zone scoring five touchdowns there. Look for him to be a big part of Beck’s offense.

Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire

2020 Outlook

The Wolfpack have nowhere to go but up in 2020. Head coach Dave Doeren replaced his offensive and defensive coordinators from 2019, and these changes should help NC State improve this year. However, with the lack of a true offseason due to COVID-19, the wins may not be there in 2020. The running backs are the strength of this team, and the Wolfpack will go as far as this trio will carry them.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2019 Recap

In 2019 Wake Forest had yet another winning season under head coach Dave Clawson. They finished the year 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC. The Deacons started the 2019 season 7-1 before dropping four of their last five games, including a loss to Michigan State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The highlight of the 2019 season was the emergence of star wide receiver Sage Surratt.

Coaching

Wake Forest returns all their offensive coaching staff from 2019.

Vacated Positions

2019 saw Jamie Newman rise to one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC. However, Newman elected to transfer out of Wake Forest following the 2019 season and is now at Georgia. Star wide receiver Sage Surratt recently announced that is has opted out of the 2020 season. He will now focus on preparation for the NFL draft. The Deacons also lost 2019 leading receiver Kendall Hinton and leading rusher Cade Carney to graduation.

Prospects to Watch

QB – Sam Hartman (Nerds QB unranked/N/A/2021)

The most significant loss from the 2019 Deacons team was Jamie Newman’s transfer to Georgia. And, even though this will hurt the Deacons this year, there is a capable replacement waiting, Sam Hartman. Hartman played in nine games as a freshman and four games in 2019, so he has a good amount of experience. As Hartman enters his third season, he is looking to erase the poor decision making that marked his freshman season. Hartman got to see what outstanding quarterback play looked like last year with Newman on the field. If Hartman can be a better decision-maker and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, he could have a great 2020 season.

RB – Kenneth Walker III (Nerds RB #54/91.91/2022)

The sophomore was a phenom in 2019, even making PFF’s 2019 All-Freshman team, and enters the year on the Doak Walker Award watchlist. Walker has the speed and explosiveness that few running backs have. Walker’s speed was on display all season, especially against Rice, where Walker broke of a 96-yard rushing TD. Walker ended 2019 with 5.9 YPC (3rd in ACC), and heading into his second season at Wake Forest Walker will undoubtedly appear early and often on the highlight reel.

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

WR – Sage Surratt (Nerds WR #13/31.91/2021)

Surratt entered 2020 as arguably the Deacons best player on offense. However, he has opted out of the 2020 season. Surratt has a physically imposing frame and works the entire field with good speed and quickness. His football IQ is off the charts, something you might expect from a player who had initially committed to Harvard. Surratt shows excellent route-running skills and excellent use of his hands in defeating defenders. Surratt’s 2020 opt-out will considerably hurt the Deacons offense as he is going to be one of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2021 class.

WR – Donavon Greene (Nerds WR #63/N/A/2022)

The 2019 four-star recruit has everything you want in a wide receiver. Greene is 6’2″ 200 pounds with the speed and quickness to get downfield and excellent ball skills. In only four games last season, Greene averaged over 19.0 YPC and scored an incredible one-handed touchdown in the Deacons bowl game against Michigan State. Greene will help fill the production lost from Kendall Hinton and Sage Surratt. And don’t be surprised if Greene now becomes the focal point of the Deacons’ passing attack.

WR – Nolan Groulx (Nerds WR unranked/N/A/2022)

The former four-star recruit and Wisconsin commit should be in the mix to start in the slot for the Deacons in 2020. Groulx profiles as your classic slot receiver, on the shorter side at 5’11” and is quicker than fast. Groulx also has very good hands and is more than a willing blocker. These traits will keep him on the field for the Deacons this season. If he can develop more physically, he will become an asset to Wake Forest.

2020 Outlook

Wake Forest has consistently been around seven to eight wins for the last few seasons. And, this team will look to take the next step in 2020. This team returns offensive star Kenneth Walker III and edge rusher Carlos “Boogie” Basham looks like a future first-round NFL draft pick. With all the talent the Deacons have this year, the question for this team will be whether Sam Hartman can make people forget that Jamie Newman is now playing in Georgia. If Hartman can live up to his potential, look for this Deacons team to cause a lot of teams problems and win more than they lose in 2020.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2019 Recap

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish had a solid year in 2019. They finished with an 11-2 record. The only real negative being a 45-14 loss to the Michigan Wolverines. The Irish finished the year with a win over Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl and ended the year number 12 in the final AP ranking. They finished the year with the number 13 scoring offense in the country, and a big part of that was a pair of skill position players selected in the second round of the NFL draft.

Coaching

The only significant change to the Notre Dame coaching staff is Tommy Rees taking over as offensive coordinator for Chip Long, who is now at Tennessee. Rees was the quarterback’s coach for the Irish last season, and he will look to build upon the strong offensive performance Notre Dame had in 2019.

Vacated Positions

The two biggest losses for Notre Dame coming into 2020 is star tight end, the second-round pick of the Chicago Bears, Cole Kmet, and standout wide receiver, the second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chase Claypool. The Irish also lost 2019, leading rusher Tony Jones Jr to graduation.

Prospects to Watch

QB – Ian Book (Nerds QB unranked/N/A/2021)

The senior quarterback will lead the Irish one more time in 2020. Book has played in over 30 college football games so far in his career. He will bring a wealth of playing experience when he enters the NFL. However, Book has been hit-and-miss in the big games he has played in for Notre Dame. He has good athleticism and arm strength, but his pocket presence and decision making are troublesome at times. Book is going to lead the Irish offense this year. He will need to be at his best for Notre Dame to have the season they hope they will have.

RB – Jafar Armstrong (Nerds RB #68/119.26/2021)

The converted wide receiver is looking to establish himself as the lead back in the Irish’s rushing attack after an injury-marred career. Armstrong suffered knee and groin injuries in 2018 and 2019 and is now something of a mystery going into the 2020 season. When healthy, Armstrong has explosive athletic ability. As a former wide receiver, he has good receiving skills working out of the backfield. Armstrong has shown the ability to create big plays. Whether he will return to that form after all his injuries is the question.

Photo by Carlos Osorio/AP Photo

RB – Trevor Speights (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2021)

The Stanford transfer is looking to end his college career on a high note in South Bend. Speights has dealt with injuries his entire college career and has failed to live up to the hype coming out of high school. He is one of the all-time rushing leaders in Texas high school history. When on the field, Speights runs with a combination of speed and power to go along with good hands catching the ball. If Speights can put his injury woes behind him, he could carve out a role for himself in the Notre Dame backfield this season.

RB – Chris Tyree (Nerds RB unranked/N/A/2023)

The 2020 four-star recruit brings an impressive amount of speed to South Bend. With the state of the Notre Dame backfield look for the Irish to get Tyree on the field soon. Check out our complete profile on Chris Tyree here.

WR – Kevin Austin (Nerds WR unranked/117.52/2021)

The 6’3” 185-pound 2018 four-star recruit came to Notre Dame with impressive high school production. He is seemingly destined to become the next great Irish receiver. However, Austin could not have got off to a worse start to his college career. He was suspended for the entire 2019 season. To make matters worse, Austin is currently recovering from offseason foot surgery. He hopes to return for the start of the year. Austin uses his body well, which gives him a large catch radius to go along with excellent ball skills and impressive hands. If Austin can remain focused on his craft and stay on the field, he will be looked to as the player to replace Chase Claypool for the Irish. The jury is out on Austin at this time but make no mistake if he can put it all together, he has a chance to be a special player.

WR – Jordan Johnson (Nerds WR #70/N/A/2023)

Johnson is a four-star recruit from the Notre Dame 2020 recruiting class. He stands 6’1” and 182 pounds and is just scratching the surface of his athletic ability. His best traits are great ball skills and a big catch radius. When you combine this with his ability to track the football downfield, you get a receiver who will make his living on the boundary and down the field. With the lack of an offseason in 2020 due to COVID-19, Johnson may not make an immediate impact, but he has the talent to quickly ascend the depth chart for the Irish.

TE – Michael Mayer (Nerds TE unranked/120.78/2023)

Mayer was easily the best player of the Irish’s 2020 recruiting class. The five-star recruit has the body you dream of for a tight end at 6’4” 230 pounds. He should only get bigger, stronger, and faster during his time at Notre Dame. Mayer plays like a wide receiver in a tight end’s body and has an elite skill set. For a complete breakdown of Mayer’s game, check out his devy profile here.

2020 Outlook

The 2020 season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is a difficult situation to grasp. It has nothing to do with replacing several key offensive skill position players, but rather the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that the Fighting Irish will join the ACC for 2020 and play a full slate of ACC opponents. The schedule makers did Notre Dame a favor leaving Virginia and Virginia Tech off their schedule, making the Irish one of the front runners to play in the ACC championship game.

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