As we come to grips with the grim reality that college football season is over, we begin our offseason coverage here at Inside The ACC by breaking down the top returning players at the skill positions based on the numbers.
Credit to ESPN’s David Hale who tweeted out the numbers and got me thinking along these lines.
Returning ACC rushing leaders
Q Henderson, 631
— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) January 12, 2017
1. Lamar Jackson QB, Louisville – 1,571 yards
It’s still difficult to put into context just how good of a season Jackson had. He’s got that Heisman Trophy sure, but the numbers on the ground are particularly off the charts for quarterbacks. With an average of 6.0 yards per carry and 21 touchdowns in addition to his gaudy yardage total, Jackson was clearly one of the top running backs in the nation in addition to improving as a passer.
Jackson may not want to run quite as much next season given the injury risks involved, but his dynamic ability to do so makes it tough to resist. His speed and ability to make players miss is undeniably brilliant. He does have to improve as a passer though to make it as a professional quarterback, so that may influence his numbers next season.
Mark Walton RB, Miami – 1,117 yards
Walton emerged as a legitimate back for the Hurricanes, but his numbers stem largely from racking up yards early in the season against overmatched opponents. The meat of the schedule featured consecutive games against Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame. Walton was held under 100 yards in all of those contests and kept just below 3.0 yards per carry. It’s no surprise that the Canes dropped four out of five of those games with such tough numbers from the team’s leading runner.
While the numbers may have been a little misleading, there’s no question that Walton packs surprising power into is 5’9″, 205-pound frame and he has tremendous speed in the open field as well. He’ll play an even bigger role next season with the departure of quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Dedrick Mills RB, Georgia Tech – 771 yards
The freshman had a strong first campaign and appears poised to be the next breakout star in Paul Johnson’s option attack. Mills ran for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns while splitting carries primarily with Marcus Marshall who has decided totransfer to James Madison.
Like Mark Walton, Mills has shown the ability to finish runs with contact like the above goalline run despite being a touch undersized (5’10”, 217). With Marshall leaving the program, Mills will be the featured back. Mills managed to gain nearly 800 yards in his first FBS season despite missing four games. He’ll still split carries as the system dictates, but if he stays healthy don’t be surprised if Mills is able to break the 1,000-yard mark next season.
Travon McMillian RB, Virginia Tech – 671 yards
Power and speed are both traits displayed in the above run against the national champions during the ACC Championship game. McMillian’s yardage was down from his impressive freshman performance of 1,042 yards, but he scored seven touchdowns both years. His carries were split a bit more under first-year head coach Justin Fuente partially because of some ill-timed fumbles. Fuente prides ball security above most things, plus to this point he liked using Steven Peoples and Sam Rogers to help in pass protection, something McMillian could stand to improve on.
It will be interesting if his numbers rebound in his junior season with fewer proven options in the Hokies’ backfield.
Quadree Henderson WR, Pittsburgh – 631 yards
The least conventional player on this list, Henderson primarily utilized the jet sweep and did so to great effect for the Panthers by finishing as the team’s second-leading rusher behind James Conner. His speed was also showcased in the return game where he excelled on the Pitt special teams unit. It’s difficult to project his success going forward because offensive coordinator Matt Canada left for LSU and the Panthers lose plenty of talent on that side of the ball. There’s no telling what a new coordinator will do with regard to receiver runs, but Henderson should also begin to figure into the passing game more than this past season. One thing is certain, he’ll touch the ball plenty.