Dating back to the first NFL Draft in 1936, what we now call the “Power-5” conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) have produced over 77 percent of all first-round picks. These are the conferences and schools that attract the top high school talent every year and ultimately produce the majority of devy talent for dynasty league owners. This summer, I’ll be taking you on a tour of each of the Power-5 conferences (and maybe even some non-Power-5 schools too) and sharing some of my favorite devy prospects at each position.
The ACC is a bit hot right now when it comes to producing top NFL talent. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the conference saw 17 players selected in the first three rounds, trailing only the SEC. Which ACC players make up the next crop of future NFL fantasy stars? Here are 13 names you need to know:
Ryan Finley, NC State
Finley will be chasing a third consecutive 3,000-passing-yard season in 2018 and I think he will do it easily. Surrounded by one of the nation’s best wide receiver corps, Finley should again have no shortage in supply of big plays and impressive film. If things go perfectly, Finley could find himself among the short list of quarterbacks in consideration as Day 1 NFL draft picks in 2019.
Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech
Expected to be one of the conference’s top signal-callers in 2018, Jackson has been suspended indefinitely as the school is investigating a reported academic policy violation. In his first year as a starter in 2017, Jackson impressed to the tune of over 2,900 passing yards and more than 300 yards rushing. His 26 total touchdowns as a redshirt freshman ranked fifth in the ACC.
Cam Akers, Florida State
The heralded true freshman didn’t disappoint in 2017, posting over 1,100 scrimmage yards on 210 touches. Already a consensus top-10 devy asset at 18 years old, Akers ranked in the top seven in the conference in rushing attempts, rushing yards, touches, and yards from scrimmage. In 2018, look for those rankings to climb into the top five across the board as the Seminoles will lean even more heavily on their blue-chip workhorse.
Travis Etienne, Clemson
Etienne scored the highest in the conference in 2017 in elusive rating, causing 23 missed tackles on 78 rushing attempts in conference games. The freshman averaged over seven yards per carry and scored 13 touchdowns in his debut season. He also netted over 20 yards per kick return on 19 attempts. Now a more seasoned (and trusted) contributor, hopefully Etienne will get more chances to show what he can do in the receiving game in 2018.
A.J. Dillon, Boston College
Another impressive freshman runner, Dillon logged a mind-blowing 300 carries in 13 games in 2017 and scored 14 touchdowns while amassing nearly 1,600 rushing yards (all were good for top three in the conference). Despite the offense being designed around his talents, his didn’t catch a single pass last season. Though college runners generally don’t post huge receiving numbers, it’s still a bit concerning that he wasn’t involved at all in that capacity. It would be a shock to see more than 10-15 receptions this season, but hopefully we’ll see at least some development in this area.
Travis Homer, Miami
Homer benefitted from Mark Walton’s injury in 2017 but used the opportunity to elevate his status as a college producer and devy target. Perhaps the most encouraging part of his game is his receiving ability as he pulled in 18 receptions for over 200 yards last season. Miami lost its top two pass-catchers to the NFL draft, so perhaps Homer will draw even more target share this year. I’m expecting something in the neighborhood of 1,300 scrimmage yards and double-digit touchdowns from the junior.
Kelvin Harmon, NC State
Harmon will be a college fantasy star in 2018 and has the look of a future NFL fantasy star as well. He posted six 100-yard receiving games as a sophomore in 2017, with five of them coming against Power-5 opponents. There is room for positive touchdown regression this season as he scored just four times despite posting 1,017 yards on 69 receptions last season.
Jaylen Smith, Louisville
Smith will have to adjust to the loss of superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson, but the upperclassman has an enviable size and speed combination that will present matchup problems for many secondaries, especially in games against bottom-feeders. Limited to 10 games in 2017, Smith should be able to repeat something approaching his 60/980/7 line in 2018 as long as Louisville can provide requisite Power-5 quarterback play.
Ahmmon Richards, Miami
Richards missed the end of the 2017 season after a meniscus injury sustained in practice. His elite freshman production gives enormous weight to his devy profile. A big play waiting to happen, Richards has been a bit of an inconsistent producer, so we’ll watch for improvement there in 2018. Back at full health, I’m a bit scared of what Richards is capable of doing to non-conference opponents like Savannah State and Toledo.
Greg Dortch, Wake Forest
Not even close to a household name yet, Dortch is a player I’ve got my eye on this season. A redshirt freshman in 2017, he turned in 722 yards and finished second in the conference with nine receiving touchdowns. Dortch also led the conference in WR rating (134.0) and yards per route run (3.91) in conference games last season. A dynamic returner, he also had over 550 combined return yards. At just 165 pounds, he’s too small to be taken seriously as an NFL prospect at this point despite his talent, but luckily there’s still time for him to add some weight to his frame as he’s unlikely to declare after 2018.
Tommy Sweeney, Boston College
A solid producer as a sophomore and junior, Sweeney enters 2018 with almost 1,000 career receiving yards to his name. He’s increased his receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns each season. His 512 yards led all Eagles players and ranked 12th in the nation among tight ends in 2017.
Brandon Fritts, North Carolina
Originally recruited as a wide receiver from the same high school as Mitchell Trubisky, the promising redshirt senior unfortunately tore his ACL in spring practices, almost assuredly ending any chance of playing in 2018. Fritts will remain on the radars of NFL scouts until the 2019 combine due to his natural receiving ability and athleticism.
Brevin Jordan, Miami
The nation’s No. 1 tight end recruit in the 2018 class needs to be on your devy radar now. He posted over 1,100 receiving yards as a high school senior and was chased by every premier program across the country. He’ll have to pass Michael Irvin Jr. on the depth chart in order to be serious first-year producer, but he absolutely has the talent to do so.