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(Editor's Note: Jeff Fischel, Max Skinner, Jacob Dennis and Patrick Ronan are the contributors for the "Top 25 Players to Watch" list. Names at the end of each sub piece delineate that writer's contribution.)
Here at the ACCDN, we are counting down the top 25 ACC football players to watch heading into the 2015 season. We've ranked the league's best players based on past success and what we expect to see from them this upcoming season.
After going through the entire list of impressive student-athletes throughout the ACC, here are numbers 25 through 21.
Quick flew under the radar for a large part of the 2014 season, despite being third on the team in receptions (36) and second on the team in receiving yards (566). He has shown the tendency to gain yardage in large chunks, as evidenced by his nearly 16 yards per catch in his sophomore season. A move to slot receiver this spring, however, coupled with the absence of DeVante Parker, a first round pick in the NFL Draft, has Quick poised for a career year in 2015.
As the highest ranked recruit ever signed by the Cardinals, Quick undoubtedly has high expectations to live up to. While he hasn't lived up to those lofty standards just yet, Louisville thinks that this might finally be Quick's year. The move to the slot will give the talented junior a chance to utilize his speed and create mismatches against slower defenders.
Quick's best game of 2014 came against FIU when he posted a career-high seven receptions for 174 yards, but that stat line might become more of a regular occurrence for Louisville's most talented receiver. He had seven receptions for 127 yards in the Cardinals' spring game.
After all, a receiver with a last name like Quick was born to dominate the competition. – Jacob Dennis
If there's one thing that NC State doesn't need to worry about coming into the 2015 season, it's their running game. Senior running back Shadrach Thornton leads a Wolfpack rushing attack that averaged 204.5 rushing yards per game (the program's best since 1992), returns its top three rushers from a season ago and brings in three very talented freshmen. Not only is Thornton the top back for State, he's one of the best backs in the ACC. His career high 907 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2014 trail only Pittsburgh's James Connor as the top returning rusher in the conference.
Thornton has also proven himself to be an effective receiver. His ability to catch balls out of the backfield may prove to be crucial, as the Wolfpack are extremely thin at wide receiver. Another major concern for Thornton and quarterback Jacoby Brissett is the offensive line. Two new starting tackles will have to get acclimated on the offensive line that will look to open up big holes for Thornton and the bevy of Wolfpack runners.
Thornton has seen increases in total yards, yards per carry and touchdowns in each of his first three seasons in Raleigh, and will need to make it a fourth straight year of increases if he wants to see his NFL draft stock rise and give State a shot at winning the Atlantic division. – Patrick Ronan
A dynamic playmaker in the secondary and on special teams for the defending ACC Coastal champs, Jamal Golden has shown steady improvement over the course of his Georgia Tech career. Last season, Golden returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown in a rout over Clemson, a performance he later eclipsed in the Orange Bowl by recording a career-high eight tackles, one of which was a monster collision in the backfield that helped Tech blow the game open. [Watch the #MustSeeACC Moment]
The veteran defensive back is also an accomplished return man, but he isn't the prototypical speedster that attempts to avoid every tackler. Instead, in much the same way he plays defense, Golden isn't afraid to put his head down to challenge the opposition. His steady hands and knack for finding extra yardage make him one of the better kick returners in the conference. He tied for the Georgia Tech team lead with four interceptions and posted a season-long kick return of 68 yards against Duke.Golden is set to post career-best numbers in 2015, when he leads a Yellow Jacket defense that is arguably the most talented side the redshirt senior has played with in his career.
Opposing offenses be warned: Golden doesn't appreciate when you try to take a page out of Paul Johnson's playbook. – Jacob Dennis
If you've never heard of Jon Hilliman, it's only a matter of time. As a true freshman in 2014, Hilliman racked up a whopping 13 touchdowns on the ground, the most by a rookie in the ACC since 2002. He broke Boston College's record for rookie rushing attempts (210) and was eighth in the conference in rushing yards (860) en route to earning All-ACC third-team honors.
Hilliman was the feature back in an Eagle rushing unit that ranked 14th in the country with nearly 255 yards on the ground per game, but the absence of a coherent passing attack hurt the freshman, as opposing defenses stacked the box in preparation for the inevitable flurry of rushing plays.
Despite that, Hilliman seemed to have his best games when the lights were the brightest, as his breakout performance came in an upset win against USC when he carried the ball 19 times for 89 yards and two scores. His best overall outing came in the Pinstripe Bowl versus Penn State's third-ranked rushing defense, a game in which Hilliman recorded a season-high 148 rushing yards on 25 carries.
He's shown the durability to be the main man in Boston College's offense, and his consistently solid outputs are a desirable trait in a feature back. A revitalized passing attack will prove beneficial to Hilliman, as wider rushing lanes and more balanced play calling could make the BC back's sophomore campaign a monster one. – Jacob Dennis
Every Thursday this summer, Terrel Hunt goes to get his car washed. It's not a superstitious or egocentric routine; it's just a routine. According to Hunt, it's about "following the game plan." His game plan consists of swimming and yoga twice a week. All of these efforts are meant to slim down to become a more proficient pocket-passer. Hunt even ventured out to California this summer for a week-long camp with QB guru, George Whitfield. Talk about dedication...
Regardless of offseason routines, Terrel Hunt is one of the most exciting players in the ACC. The 6-3 dual-threat QB from NYC believes he can be one of the best in the league. For good reason.
Barring injuries, this kid can flat out play, let alone run. Look for the senior QB to have a breakout year. I think he's really going to surprise some people. – Max Skinner