The Syracuse Orange replace a good amount on the offensive line, but they’re not the only ones in the ACC tasked with similar holes to fill. The nature of the position group — typically made up of veteran starters — will usually demand as much from most teams. And while three of last year’s starters have departed, there are three players left with at least a year’s worth of starting experience at SU, plus an All-Sun Belt grad transfer (Ryan Alexander) and a JUCO (Darius Tisdale) who could make up the difference.
Along with our Syracuse position group previews each week, we’ll also take a look at the rest of the ACC’s respective situations. Which teams are in the best shape? And the worst? And how does Syracuse stack up comparatively? Last time, we scouted the conference’s wide receivers and tight ends. This go-around:
ACC Football 2019 Offensive Line Preview
Last year’s top performers
To little surprise, Clemson’s line was impressive last year, with the strongest showings coming from offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt — though the rest of the line also received some sort of All-ACC honors as well following the season. The Tigers were top-20 according to Football Outsiders when it came to measurements like line yards (17th), stuff rate (10th) and sack rate (15th), which certainly made it easier for the talented skill position players to do their jobs as well.
Elsewhere, Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom was a first round draft pick, as was NC State center Garrett Bradbury. Wake Forest’s Phil Haynes was selected in the fourth round as well. First-team All-ACC guard Parker Braun was a bright spot for Georgia Tech at the end of the Paul Johnson era (though he wound up grad-transferring to Texas this offseason). NC State’s Tyler Jones was also a first-teamer in the conference, and wound up signing with the Jets as a free agent.
Who will excel in 2019?
You’re not going to believe this, but Clemson’s line figures to do pretty well for itself yet again while returning four of five starters. John Simpson, Tremayne Anchrum, Gage Cervenka and Sean Pollard all received first-team All-ACC honors in preseason for the Tigers, with Boston College tackle Ben Petrula being the lone interloper. For me personally, that Tigers emphasize feels like a bit much when looking around the rest of the conference’s O-linemen and the quality other teams have there. Jimmy Morrissey (Pitt), Charlie Heck (North Carolina) and/or Navaughn Donaldson (Miami) could’ve all made a case for inclusion.
Other potential standouts on the line could also include Louisville’s Mekhi Becton (perhaps Louisville’s lone All-ACC contender), Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw and perhaps Syracuse’s Evan Adams as well. Still, Clemson will have the best O-line as a team, which should only help the progress of their young core in the backfield.
Top three units: 1. Clemson, 2. Virginia Tech, 3. Syracuse
Clemson not only has the most talent on the roster by way of recruiting rankings, but bring back the most as well, with four starters. We’ve discussed the Tigers at length above already, so that allows us to move onto the other two teams near the top — but still several steps behind Clemson from an O-line perspective.
Virginia Tech only brings back two starters, but sophomore Christian Darrisaw is the best among them and could still build himself up into a first-team caliber tackle (if he isn’t one already). Despite the replacements, Syracuse is pretty well positioned in the top third of the conference this year and actually brings back more starting experience than most even with the departures.
Bottom three units: 12. Pitt, 13. Louisville, 14. Florida State
Though Jimmy Morrissey is impressive at center, the Panthers don’t return other starters on the line — though Michigan grad transfer Nolan Ulizio may help with some of that change. Louisville brings back two starters in Mekhi Becton and Cole Bentley, but the talent across the board is not exactly what you’d have assumed two years ago for the Cardinals. It’ll take time to build that entire offense back up from scratch, and that includes the line.
And then there’s Florida State, which will improve compared to last year, but that’s not saying a whole lot when looking at how the line was ravaged by a combination of injuries and lack of ability. The ‘Noles were one of the worst teams in the country in terms of line yards, passing down line yards, power success rate and stuff rate. Northern Illinois transfer Ryan Roberts is their best hope for more substantive improvement.
Top three offensive tackles in ACC:
- Tremayne Anchrum, Clemson
- Charlie Heck, North Carolina
- Mekhi Becton, Louisville
Top three guards in ACC:
- John Simpson, Clemson
- Navaughn Donaldson, Miami
- Evan Adams, Syracuse
Top three centers in ACC:
- Jimmy Morrissey, Pittsburgh
- Sean Pollard, Clemson
- Kenny Cooper, Georgia Tech
Where does Syracuse rank?
As mentioned, the Orange are third, though a lot of that depends on how easily Alexander and Tisdale slot in — or if the Orange decide to go the youth route instead, as was prescribed on the recent depth chart update. A lot of SU’s success rides on how well this group performs given the first-time starter at quarterback, and the fact that outside observers seem to believe the pieces fit already is a very good sign for what’s been built over the last few years.