Continuing on with our ACC Positional Previews ahead of the 2021 season. If you’ve missed any previous editions click here for the quarterbacks and here for the running backs. Sticking with “skillies” today, let’s move outside the box to the pass catchers. This includes wide receivers and tight ends, let’s dive in.
- Justyn Ross, Clemson
> Ross returns after missing the entirety of the 2020 season due to a spinal injury. Injuries are difficult to come back from, especially a spinal setback of all things. If the former freshman all-american is nearly as good as he was two seasons ago, he still reigns supreme amongst wideouts in the ACC.
> The former five-star recruit from Alabama enters the fall having recorded 112 receptions, 1,865 yards, and 17 touchdowns. Back in 2018, Ross led the Tigers in receiving with 1,000 yards on the dot and was a key contributor for that national championship squad. He’s a nice piece for projected starting quarterback D.J Uiagalelei to use while easing into his new role.
- Jaquarii Roberson, Wake Forest
> SU fans, specifically, might remember number five in white and gold. He tore up the Orange on Halloween last year with 7 catches for 130 yards and one score. The North Carolina native ended the 2020 season with four consecutive 100-yard receiving performances beginning with the big outing versus the Orange.
> Roberson’s improvement from year two to year three is unbelievable. The former three-star recruit combined for just 13 catches, 154 yards, and one touchdown in his first two seasons as a Demon Deacon. Last season he smashed those digits with 62 receptions, 926 yards, and eight scores. Wake might quietly have the best receiving room in the ACC (Hint: you’ll see another Deac pop up on this list).
- Zay Flowers, Boston College
> Flowers returns from an electric campaign last year. The Florida native became just the second BC player in program history to be recognized as an All-ACC first-teamer. Flowers finished second in the conference in 2020 with 892 receiving yards. His nine touchdown catches rank second in school history for a single season.
> To SU’s credit, Tony White and Company mitigated the damage that Flowers can create in the Dome. The speedster was held to just six receptions for 64 yards and one touchdown. What could separate the rising junior from the rest of the pack is his big play ability. Last year, Flowers recorded a catch of 50+ yards in three different games. He’s also a favorite target of BC gunslinger Phil Jurkovec. Flowers had four or more receptions in seven of the Eagles eleven outings in 2020.
- Emeka Emezie, NC State
> Emezie enters the fall having led the Wolfpack in receiving for the past two seasons. The North Carolina native has recorded a catch in 32 straight games which is good for the fifth-longest streak in school history. He also ranks fifth in Pack history with 169 career catches.
> The prolific pass catcher missed spring workouts rehabbing from an injury, but the rising senior has all the tools to emerge as WR1 in the 2022 draft class. Last season, Emezie recorded four or more catches in eight of NC State’s twelve games.
- Mike Harley, Miami
> The five spot was difficult to pick, but Harley gets the nod for how he ended the 2020 season. After failing to crack the century mark in the first five games of the campaign, the Florida native recorded three such outings in the final six games of the season. Harley tallied over 50 yards in all six games.
> That alone isn’t enough to convince you, but this will. In the final stretch of the campaign, Harley had at least six receptions in five of the six contests. That includes a ten catch game against Virginia, and a pair of eight catch games against NC State and #21 Oklahoma State. If Harley can pick up where he left off, he combines with some other electric Miami pass catchers (stay tuned).
- Taj Harris, Syracuse
> Harris could have appeared in the five slot as well, but a receiver is only as good as his quarterback. If you look at each of the top five receivers already listed, you notice a trend. Each of them have had better quarterback play than Syracuse. Now that isn’t saying much because the signal callers for the Orange have been atrocious the past two seasons.
> However, every team except NC State has a quarterback with pro potential or is already in the pros. Trevor Lawrence, Jamie Newman/Sam Hartman, Phil Jurkovec, and D’Eriq King. If SU can find some consistency and some potency, maybe Harris becomes even more dangerous.
> Back to Harris, he improved on his numbers from years one and two despite playing in two less games. Harris also had more receptions hitting 58 in 2020. That number was good for fifth in the ACC last year and fourth among returners this season. Furthermore, Harris’ 13 receptions for NC State were the second most by an ACC receiver in any game. He had three or more receptions in ten of SU’s eleven games in 2020. The game plan should be simple, force feed number three.
- Donavon Greene, Wake Forest
> If you strictly look at numbers, you might have resentment with this selection, but look closer. Greene only played in eight games last year (Wake only played nine) and still had solid production. The former four-star recruit tallied just under 600 receiving yards and added over 200 in kick return yardage including a touchdown.
> Greene recorded 18 catches, 348 yards, and two touchdowns in his final three games of 2020. If he picks up where he left off, he and Roberson combine to be one of the most prolific wideout tandems in the nation.
- Charleston Rambo, Miami (Transfer from Oklahoma)
> ACC diehards may have no idea who this is and for good reason. After a big sophomore season at Oklahoma, Rambo fell off last year and transferred from Oklahoma. He’s a plug and play type receiver and should be a key piece for the Hurricanes.
> As a freshman, Rambo recorded three catches for 74 yards in the Orange Bowl against Alabama and that’s how he burst onto the scene early on. In 2019, he caught passes from Jalen Hurts and finished second on the team with 43 catches for 743 yards. Rambo saw a big dip in production last season though. He played in ten games but only tallied 25 catches, 312 yards, and three touchdowns. Transferring may have been the right decision, we’ll see if it pays off this fall.
- Jordan Addison, Pitt
> Addison was the best rookie receiver in the ACC in 2020. In ten games of work, the Maryland native caught 60 passes for 666 yards and four scores. QB Kenny heavily relied on the freshman too as Addison had six games with seven or more catches. The All-American’s best outing was against Florida State when he received eleven passes for 127 yards. Now that DJ Turner has graduated, the rising sophomore should emerge as the go-to option for Pickett.
- Billy Kemp IV, Virginia
> Rounding out the top ten is the veteran UVA pass catcher. Kemp doubled his production from 2019 to 2020. He went from 35 catches to 67 and from 289 yards to 644. Keep in mind this was in a transitional year for the Cavs who were breaking in new quarterback Brennan Armstrong after the departure of Bryce Perkins.
> Kemp never went over the century mark in 2020, but he was very consistent in his production. He had at least three catches in every game last year, a pair of ten catch games and six with six or more receptions. His best game came against the best competition with a 10 catch, 96 yard performance against Clemson.
- Lavel Davis Jr., Virginia
> Back-to-back UVA receivers?! Yeah, that’s right. Davis might project to be the best in UVA history when it’s all said and done. He was the second best freshman wideout in the ACC last year (behind Pitt’s Addison) and only appeared in eight games. In those outings, the South Carolina native recorded 20 catches, for 515 yards, and five touchdowns.
> Davis had multiple catches in six of his eight games and beat out Addison with his five total scores. Here’s something else, Davis is 6’7”, 210 pounds… Wonder if Tony Bennett has pestered him about posting up in the key for the Hoos.
- Tayvion Robinson, Virginia Tech
> Robinson followed up a big freshman season with a productive sophomore campaign. The former four-star recruit led the Hokies in receptions (38) and yards (592). The Virginia native had multiple receptions in every game last season and had for or more catches in six outings. The rising junior has some big play ability as well, he had two different games with a 50+ yard reception.
- Thayer Thomas, NC State
> Thomas might be in contention for the Burlsworth Trophy awarded to the nation’s best former walk-on. Thomas joined the team back in 2017 and earned a scholarship in the spring of 2018. Since then, North Carolina native has racked up over 100 receptions, 1,200 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns. Last year, Thomas elevated his play and set a new career high with 42 catches which was good for second on the team, as were his 529 yards.
> Thomas also had a hat-trick against Syracuse in 2020. He’s also on NC State’s baseball team and was drafted in the 33rd round of the 2019 MLB Draft to the Boston Red Sox.Thomas is simply an athlete and teams up with Emezie to form a formidable 1-2 punch in the ACC.
- Tre Turner, Virginia Tech
> Turner has gone for over 500 yards in each of his three seasons in Blacksburg. In 2019 he was the premiere VT receiver until Robinson entered the fold. Together they form a dynamic duo on the outside. What Turner has that not many others on this list do, is a dual-threat ability as a wideout. On top of his 34 catches, 529 yards, and three scores; Turner added 60 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground as well. That’s what could set him apart in the ACC next season. He also recorded three or more catches in seven of nine games in 2020.
- Taylor Morin, Wake Forest
> Yeah that’s right, three different Demon Deacons in the top 15. After playing in just one game in 2019, Morin exploded as a redshirt-freshman. Roberson and Greene man the outsides, Morin does the dirty work in the slot. He finished the season with 32 catches for 405 yards and a trio of touchdowns. It wouldn’t be a Wake wideout if he didn’t have a great game against Syracuse right? Morin had five catches for 45 yards.
> Ironically, he gave Clemson a taste of its own medicine in his FIRST GAME of the 2020 season. Morin racked up nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. He did his best Hunter Renfrow impersonation. Morin also returns punts for the Demon Deacons and was recently labeled to the second team All-ACC list per Athlon Sports.
Also keep an eye on:
> Khafre Brown, North Carolina
> Frank Ladson, Clemson
> Joe Ngata, Clemson
> Anthony Queeley, Syracuse
> Taji Johnson, Boston College
> Ajou Ajou, Clemson
> E.J. Williams, Clemson
> Mark Pope, Miami
> Josh Downs, North Carolina