So who fills those big shoes in 2017? This week, we’ll be offering our best answers.
Today’s question: Who will be the next Deshaun Watson in the ACC?
The standard: Watson wasn’t just a star who posted big numbers. He was a winner. From the time he stepped into the starting role until he walked off into the sunset by upending Alabama for a national championship, Watson set the bar high, not just by tossing touchdowns and scrambling for big yards but by carrying the team on his back to victory. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent, so odds are there isn’t going to be a true replacement for his stardom in this year’s ACC.
The best bet: Florida State QB Deondre Francois
While Watson’s freshman season was marked by injuries, Francois -- miraculously, perhaps -- managed to stay on the field while enduring his share of ups and downs. But what the two have in common is a warrior mentality and a maturity that is rarely seen in such young QBs. Francois’ Total QBR of 79.6 ranked 13th among quarterbacks last season, and he posted that number despite 34 sacks. The only quarterback who was taken down more often and posted a better Total QBR was Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Francois’ 8.4 yards per attempt last year actually ranked ahead of Watson, and he was one of just three Power 5 QBs to total at least 25 touchdowns and 3,500 yards and throw no more than seven INTs.
The other options: Jackson won the hardware, but his Heisman hardly matches Watson’s national title. Jackson is a unique talent, but to truly fill the shoes of Watson he needs to elevate Louisville, even in games when the rest of his team isn’t performing up to par. Meanwhile, Duke’s Daniel Jones could emerge as the league’s next great QB. He finished last season red-hot, and analysts gush over his talent. With a year of David Cutcliffe’s tutelage under his belt, 2017 promises to be a breakout season. Syracuse’s Eric Dungey may be a long way from winning a national title, but if anyone in the ACC is going to match Watson’s stat line, it’s probably him. Dungey simply needs to stay healthy, and in Dino Babers’ tempo offense, the TDs and yards will follow.
The dark horse: Clemson QB Hunter Johnson
Johnson is far from even landing the Clemson QB job, but he might be a good bet to actually replace Watson -- both at Clemson and in the bigger picture of QBs -- if he lands the gig during fall camp. He made some nice strides during the spring after enrolling early, and as the top-ranked QB recruit in the country by ESPN, he clearly has the talent to blossom into a true superstar.