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ACC football 2020 position preview: Wide receivers and tight ends

We know QB is a position of strength in the ACC, but who are those players throwing to?

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman - North Carolina v Temple Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Despite some struggles last year, the Syracuse Orange still had a solid passing attack — at least at the top of the receiver depth chart. But now, they’ll bring back what’s arguably their least-experienced group under Dino Babers. That may not be the warning sign it appears to be, though. There’s quite a bit of promise among the young wideouts on this team, and when adding two very good tight ends, you can see a path to SU being able to move the ball through the air despite the losses.

Obviously we have no idea if a season’s happening this fall. Still, until we hear that football’s cancelled for 2020, might as well continue previewing each position group in the ACC for the rest of the summer — while also looking at how Syracuse stacks up comparatively. After Wednesday’s rundown of SU’s wide receivers and tight ends, we’re looking at the rest of the conference today:

ACC Football 2020 Wide Receivers & Tight Ends Preview

Last year’s top performers

The ACC wound up with nine different 1,000-yard receivers last year (the most for the league in over a decade), and the most encouraging part was that most of them weren’t seniors. Louisville’s Tutu Atwell was a top performer, catching 70 passes for an ACC-leading 1,276 yards and 12 scores — the touchdown total tied him with UNC’s Dyami Brown for second in the conference behind Clemson’s Tee Higgins (13). Beyond having a nose for the end zone, Higgins hauled in 59 receptions total for 1,167 yards despite sitting a lot of second halves during the year.

While FSU’s offense struggled for long stretches in 2019, those issues didn’t see to affect Tamorrion Terry, who collected 60 passes for 1,188 yards and nine scores. Hasise Dubois (Virginia) and Kendall Hinton (Wake Forest) were the lone seniors of the 1,000-yard group, but both also shared the spotlight with talented pass-catching teammates. At UVA, Terrell Jana caught the fourth-most passes in the league at 74, while Sage Surratt managed 1,001 and 11 touchdowns in just nine games.

Of course we’re not forgetting Syracuse’s Trishton Jackson, who had 66 catches for 1,023 yards and 11 TDs before declaring early for the NFL Draft. But Dazz Newsome (UNC) does return after his own impressive campaign of 72 catches, 1,023 yards and 10 scores.

Virginia v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Who will excel in 2020?

As mentioned, a lot of last year’s top names return. Atwell and Terry — the top players by receiving yards last year — are both back, as are Brown (No. 5) and Newsome (No. 7), which gives Carolina QB Sam Howell an impressive duo to throw to this fall. Surratt is back for Wake, which should make the QB transition in Winston-Salem significantly easier. After Justyn Ross’s offseason injury sidelined him for 2020, it should give Amari Rodgers a chance to be the focal point of Clemson’s own passing attack this year.

Jana is back to lead the receiving corps. for Virginia, and Pitt will be expecting Taysir Mack (63 catches, 736 yards, three TDs) to take the baton from the graduated Maurice Ffrench. Taj Harris hasn’t put up huge numbers for Syracuse through two seasons, but as the No. 1 wideout now for the Orange, expectations will be raised. You won’t find any incredibly dynamic tight ends in the conference right now, though Miami’s Brevin Jordan or Duke’s Noah Gray are probably the best choice for a big season right now.

Top three units: 1. North Carolina, 2. Louisville, 3. Clemson

As mentioned, the Heels bring back a lot of talent, with the top five pass-catchers by yardage all back this year. Newsome is the most impressive of those options, but they’re a talented bunch with their own unique skill sets. And if UNC can protect Howell better than they did last year (they allowed 37 sacks on the year), that could mean some scary numbers for the wideouts.

Louisville has three of their top four back, and if Dez Fitzpatrick starts to resemble more of what the Cards saw his freshman year (45 catches/699 yards/9 TD), that makes for an even more loaded receiving corps. for Louisville. Atwell’s the scariest option they have, however, as SU fans should be able to attest to. He had five catches for 152 yards and two TDs vs. the Orange last year.

Clemson would normally be higher on this list, but Ross’s injury definitely makes for a greener group. Rodgers will be the top target, and the Tigers will be hoping for emergences from players like Joseph Ngata, Frank Ladson Jr. and/or Cornell Powell this year. At least the reserves were able to get plenty of run last season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Liberty at Virginia Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bottom three units: 12. Virginia, 13. Georgia Tech, 14. Duke

Dubois wasn’t the only bigger name to depart for the Hoos, as Joe Reed (77/679/7) also graduated, as did tight end Tanner Cowley. That leaves Jana as the primary target, and while he’s capable, experience is at a premium elsewhere while Virginia also turns over the QB position.

Georgia Tech keeps digging out of the option, which means wideouts are still not up to snuff. That said, they bring back three of their top four receivers from last year — though yes, Ahmarean Brown only caught 21 passes to lead the team. At Duke, tight end Noah Gray is your top pass-catcher, which isn’t a great sign for an offense that’s supposed to be pass-heavy. Jalon Calhoun is your top returning receiver after catching 21 passes for 192 yards in 2019.

Top five wide receivers in the ACC:

  1. Tutu Atwell, Louisville
  2. Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
  3. Dazz Newsome, North Carolina
  4. Tamorrion Terry, Florida State
  5. Amari Rodgers, Clemson

Top three tight ends in the ACC:

  1. Brevin Jordan, Miami
  2. Noah Gray, Duke
  3. Hunter Long, Boston College
Syracuse v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Where does Syracuse rank?

This is not the first season under Babers that the receiver position looks like it’s lacking going into the fall... and yet, it’s always worked out. I’m not predicting SU has one of the better receiving groups in the conference, but if Harris performs like we know he can, maybe Jawhar Jordan gets slot work and another young player emerges (or Nykeim Johnson just looks like he did two years ago), that’s a group that’s around the top half of the league. Add in quality tight end play — which should be a big part of this year’s offense — and it’s worth discussing SU’s floor at around ninth or 10th, with a ceiling of maybe fifth or so.