As part of our summer ACC rankings series, in addition to the more fun categories (stadiums, uniforms, etc.), we’ll also be ranking each position group for every ACC team. This exercise provides an excellent opportunity to take stock of BC’s talent and depth at each position and compare it to the rest of the conference. At the end of this series, we should see how each team stacks up against each other and predict how each team will finish. One note before we begin: this process will take all players into account, not just the starters. At certain positions, depth is arguably just as important as talent. So without further discussion, let’s get into the quarterbacks!
Starter or presumed starter in italics
14. Duke: Gunnar Holmberg, Robert Nelson, Luca Diamont, Gavin Spurrier, Jack Colyar, Riley Leonard, Jordan Moore
Things may have gone from bad to worse for Duke in 2021. Going into last season, Duke brought in former Clemson backup (and possible country music artist) Chase Brice to stabilize the quarterback position. Unfortunately, Brice did anything but, as he threw 15 interceptions and Duke limped to a 2-9 record after leading the FBS with 39 turnovers. He has since transferred to Appalachian State, leaving Duke in quarterback limbo. Redshirt junior Gunnar Holmberg enters the year as the presumptive starter after playing seven games over the last three seasons. He’s never started a game, but none of the other quarterbacks on the roster have taken a snap in college. Redshirt freshman Luca Diamont was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, so he could challenge Holmberg in camp and throughout the season. But the quarterback situation in Durham is still dire. It could be the principal reason behind Duke being forced to make another coaching change in 2022, in addition to the one pending in Cameron Indoor.
13. Syracuse: Tommy DeVito, Garrett Shrader, JaCobian Morgan, Dillon Markiewicz, Luke MacPhail, Justin Lamson
Cuse brings back a decent amount of experience in 2021, but not much production or success. Once thought to be the next great thing in upstate New York, Tommy DeVito has struggled to hold onto the starting job for multiple seasons now due to poor performance. Garrett Shrader comes into the building from Mississippi State, where he left under less than favorable auspices but could challenge DeVito for the starting job thanks to his athleticism and playmaking ability. JaCobian Morgan played against BC last season and performed decently well. Markiewicz and MacPhail are two reserves with minimal playing time, and Lamson is a true freshman. Based on his history, I’d expect DeVito to be on a short leash this year, as Dino Babers might need Garrett Shrader to light a spark to save his job.
12. North Carolina State: Devin Leary, Ben Finley, Andrew Harvey, Aaron McLaughlin, Zo Wallace
It’s been a bit of a rough go for the Wolfpack since Ryan Finley left town. Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman battled for the starting job throughout the season until Leary’s injury forced Hockman into the lineup. Now Hockman is at Middle Tennessee State (his fourth school in five seasons), and the job is Leary’s to lose. Leary performed well before his injury, and this will be his first year without fighting for his job. With every opportunity afforded to him, it’s time for Leary to produce. Behind Leary in Ben Finley, a redshirt freshman with 33 snaps to his name. The Wolfpack also has reserve QB, Andrew Harvey. Finally, NC State features two freshmen, Aaron McLaughlin and Zo Wallace. McLaughlin is a four-star, consensus top-100 recruit, while Wallace (6’1”, 254) is built like a tank and should be fun to watch. Like the next two QBs, Leary has some experience, but he needs to put everything together.
11. Virginia Tech: Braxton Burmeister, Knox Kadum, Connor Blumrick, Tahj Bullock, Joshua Forburger
After two years at Oregon and redshirting due to the transfer rule, Braxton Burmeister finally got his shot in Blacksburg this past season. He played in seven games and went 3-1 as a starter. While he could not fully supplant Hendon Hooker as the starting quarterback, that obstacle is now removed as Hooker transferred to Tennessee. Quincy Patterson, another contender, transferred to North Dakota State mid-season, so the job is now Burmeister’s to lose. He’s a talented dual-threat player, and even though he finished last season on a high note, there’s a reason he hasn’t been able to hold onto a starting job. There will be plenty of contenders to back up Burmeister: Connor Blumrick transferred in after three years at Texas A&M; Knox Kadum played a little bit last year; Tahj Bullock is a highly-touted prospect from New Jersey that could challenge for some playing time, and Joshua Forburger is a walk-on. Burmeister could be poised for a big leap this season, but he has a lot of questions to answer.
10. Georgia Tech: Jeff Sims, Jordan Yates, Demetrius Knight, Chayden Peery
Jeff Sims got thrown into the fire last year, as he started every game during his true freshman season; the Yellow Jackets only won three games, and Sims threw 13 interceptions against 13 touchdowns. But he flashed some incredible ability as a thrower and as a runner; he might be able to make up for some of Georgia Tech’s other deficiencies in the post-triple option era. Unfortunately, there is not much experience or depth behind Sims. Jordan Yates has played a bit of relief duty the last two seasons, and Demetrius Knight spends the majority of his time at linebacker. In addition, Chayden Peery is a true freshman that will most likely redshirt this season. Sims might help the Yellow Jackets pull out a few surprise wins in 2021, but will definitely be someone to keep an eye on to win some awards in the future. However, the lack of experience and depth in the quarterback room prevents Georgia Tech from being ranked higher.
9. Virginia: Brennan Armstrong, Keytaon Thompson, Iraken Armstead, Jacob Rodriguez
Brennan Armstrong returns as the starter after finishing the year with two excellent games against BC and Virginia Tech. The big lefty is a dual-threat player but needs to clean up some of his turnovers. Behind him is former Mississippi State quarterback Keytaon Thompson, who is listed as a QB/WR and can be used in various ways, almost like Taysom Hill for the New Orleans Saints. Redshirt freshman Iraken Armstead played in four games last year before suffering a season-ending injury and looks to be the future at the quarterback position. Jacob Rodriguez is a true freshman who will probably redshirt this year. If Amstrong can hold onto the ball and build off last year, the Cavaliers could threaten to win the Coastal this year.
8. Wake Forest: Sam Hartman, Michael Kern, Leo Kelly, Mitch Griffis, Santino Marucci
Somehow, partially due to COVID, Sam Hartman will only be a redshirt sophomore for Wake Forest in the 2021 season. Between short interludes featuring Kendal Hinton and Jamie Newman, Hartman has operated Wake Forest’s unique offense quite well. He has plenty of starting experience and will lead an offense that returns every starter from last season. However, there are plenty of question marks behind Hartman. Michael Kern played some in mop-up duty the last two seasons but has never really faced live bullets. Leo Kelly hasn’t recorded a snap in two seasons; Mitch Griffis played 34 snaps across four games in 2021; Santino Marucci is a true freshman slated to redshirt this year. Hartman is efficient but not especially dynamic; he is not the running threat that his predecessors were. Luckily, his supporting cast is among the most experienced in the conference, so if Hartman can stay healthy and keep the offense humming, the Demon Deacons could make some noise in 2021.
7. Florida State: McKenzie Milton, Jordan Travis, Tate Rodemarker, Chubba Purdy, Gino English
Florida State just edges out Wake Forest due to their depth and talent in the quarterback room. But, regardless of how their 2021 season goes, the Seminoles will certainly be a team to watch because of their quarterback. McKenzie Milton, a former “national champion” at UCF, transferred to Florida State this offseason once he finished rehabbing from a gruesome leg injury suffered in 2018. After setting records with UCF, Milton seems uniquely qualified to run Mike Norvell’s explosive spread offense.
If Milton can’t go, Jordan Travis started multiple games for the Seminoles last year and played well. Travis is primarily a running threat, but FSU has two talented redshirt freshmen behind him in Tate Rodemaker and Chubba Purdy (brother of Brock, starting QB at Iowa State). Gino English, a walk-on redshirt freshman, rounds out the quarterback room. The Seminoles have many options at QB for 2021, but it’s tough to root against McKenzie Milton, who might be the spark that Florida State has been looking for since Jameis Winston left.
6. Louisville: Malik Cunningham, Evan Conley, T.J. Lewis, Tyler Jensen, Shai Werts*
Malik (or Micale) Cunningham is back again for Louisville; based on his history, we should see him change his name mid-season again at least once. Cunningham is an electric athlete and a decent thrower but has struggled with consistency and staying on the field. Behind him is Evan Conley, who stepped in for Cunningham a few times last season and has the tools to keep the ship afloat if injury strikes. The Cardinals just lost a depth piece in Luke McCaffrey (brother of Christian), who just transferred to Rice after transferring to Louisville from Nebraska a few months ago. The next two names are true freshmen T.J. Lewis and Tyler Jensen. Of the two, T.J. Lewis is the higher-rated recruit, so he would most likely take the reigns if catastrophe strikes. Shai Werts is the last name on this list, and the asterisk denotes that Werts is not listed as a quarterback for the Cardinals. However, Werts was a prolific quarterback at Georgia Southern; he played in a triple-option offense, so his switch to wide receiver presages a move there at the next level. But expect Werts to get at least a few Wildcat or trick play pass attempts.
5. Pittsburgh: Kenny Pickett, Joey Yellen, Nick Patti, Davis Beville, Eli Kosanovich, Nate Yarnell
Kenny Pickett officially inherited the “Player Who Has Been Here Forever” mantle from Hunter Renfrow this offseason, as he enters his fifth season, thanks to the extra year of eligibility due to COVID. He enters his fourth full year as the starter and looks like a mid-round sleeper candidate for the 2022 NFL Draft. Pickett isn’t particularly elite at any one trait, which is why Pitt only reaches fifth on this list, but he’s above average in basically everything and is an entertaining player to watch.
Joey Yellen got some playing time when Pickett went down with an injury this year but was not particularly impressive. Nick Patti backed up Pickett before Yellen transferring in from Arizona State and got some playing time in 2020 as well, so the battle for the backup job could interesting moving forward. Davis Beville also played a little in mop-up duty during the 2020 season, while Eli Kosanovich is a walk-on with no snaps to his name. True freshman Nate Yarnell rounds out the quarterback room; he’ll probably redshirt this year due to the depth and experience at the position, but the big Texan was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school; he should be the starter in the future. With North Carolina regressing and Miami possibly missing their star quarterback, Pickett could cap off his productive career with the Panthers by securing a Coastal division title in 2021.
4. Miami: D’Eriq King, Tyler Van Dyke, Ryan Rizk, Peyton Matocha, Jake Garcia
D’Eriq King was putting together a Heisman-worthy campaign in his first season with the Hurricanes in 2020 before he tore his ACL. As of right now, King seems to be on track to play this season, but his health is still up the air, and he might not be 100% for the entire season. Even with King’s health aside, depth is an issue on this team. The four other quarterbacks have attempted a combined total of four passes (two apiece for Van Dyke and Matocha). Van Dyke and Garcia were former four-star recruits, but their lack of experience hurts them in these rankings. Miami has plenty of talent to surround one of the backups if King cannot go, but the uncertainty prevents the U from getting any higher in these rankings.
3. Boston College: Phil Jurkovec, Dennis Grosel, Daelen Menard, Matthew Reuve, Emmett Morehead
BC comes in just ahead of Miami, mainly because of depth and experience. If D’Eriq King is healthy enough to return, he’s probably a better college quarterback than Phil Jurkovec. But King’s health remains in question, and even if he can play, he could still be limited. Even though Jurkovec had a revelatory 2020 season, he still has a few steps to take, but he has all the tools and surrounding talent to do so.
Dennis Grosel is the primary reason why BC beat out Miami for the third spot in these rankings. Obviously, Grosel’s limited skillset puts a cap on what the Eagles can achieve. However, his smarts, experience, and improvisational nature give BC a chance in nearly every game. Given Jurkovec’s penchant for taking big hits, having that high-level backup is extremely valuable. I almost wish Grosel would have transferred to a G5 or high-end FCS school where he could get a chance to really flourish, but we’re still very to have him on the heights.
Daelen Menard is an athletic third option that should help BC’s scout teams more than anything. Matthew Rueve looks like a career backup coming out of his redshirt season, while Emmett Morehead will most likely redshirt himself and compete for the starting job when Jurkovec moves on. While the Eagles have potential (Jurkovec) and experienced depth (Grosel), they could not edge out the production of the next team on the list.
2. North Carolina: Sam Howell, Jacolby Criswell, Jefferson Boaz, Drake Maye
Sam Howell returns after another stellar season for the Tar Heels and is among the betting favorites to be the first overall pick in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. Howell should still perform well, but almost all of Carolina’s offensive weapons were selected in this year’s draft (Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Michael Carter, Javonte Williams). Even with this attrition, coupled with North Carolina’s relatively simplistic offense, Howell is still among the best throwers in the conference.
Behind him is Jacolby Criswell, a true sophomore who played mop-up duty in six games last season. Criswell is very talented himself, but we haven’t seen him in meaningful action. In addition, two freshmen sit behind Criswell and will most likely not see meaningful action either in 2021. So while Howell might be the highest-drafted quarterback from the ACC this year, the Tar Heels’ position group as a whole could not secure the top spot.
1. Clemson: DJ Uiagelelei, Taisun Phommachanh, Hunter Helms, Bubba Chandler, Will Taylor
Even with Trevor Lawrence moving onto the NFL, Clemson reigns supreme at the quarterback position. The Tigers ultimately edge out the Tar Heels because of depth (albeit injured) and because I believe Sam Howell will regress this season due to the exodus of talent from Chapel Hill to the NFL. This is not meant to say we are considering the supporting casts when ranking these players and groups; I believe Howell’s flaws will be exposed more severely this year when he doesn’t have elite talent to bail him out. Now back to Clemson. DJ Uiagelelei got some playing time due to Lawrence’s positive COVID test and led Clemson back from a 28-7 deficit against BC in his first career start. He looks like the closest thing college football has seen to Cam Newton: a massive frame with a rocket arm and elite athleticism.
DJ’s backup, Taisun Phommachanh, would probably be starting at most college football programs but has been stuck behind the 2021 NFL Draft’s #1 overall pick and most likely the 2023 NFL Draft #1 overall pick as well, now. Unfortunately, Phommachanh tore his Achilles tendon in early April and will most likely miss most of the season, if not the entirety. Therefore, redshirt freshman Hunter Helms will most likely back up Uiagelelei. Helms is a former walk-on who eschewed scholarship offers from FCS and G5 schools in favor of Clemson and has played some in mop-up duty for the Tigers. In addition, two freshmen enter the program this year, Bubba Chandler and Will Taylor. Both will also compete on the Tigers’ baseball team, but Chandler will probably be the only one to stick at quarterback because of his size (6’4”, 200; Taylor: 5’10”, 175).
I didn’t go back and do a retrospective on this, but this is probably the highest BC would have been ranked in this exercise since Matt Ryan. Anthony Brown might have cracked the top half of the conference but never would have been top-three. Going into the year, Tyler Murphy would have been in the bottom half; Chase Rettig might have broken into the top half later in his career but was never one of the best at the position. But, thanks to Jurkovec’s talent and ridiculously high ceiling, paired with Grosel’s experience, BC ascends to a place they haven’t been for almost 15 years. If the Eagles are going to make a run at the ACC title, this is the year to do it, and Phil Jurkovec will power that run.
All in all, the ACC is loaded with quarterback talent. The majority of the starting quarterbacks in this conference should play at the next level sometime in the next three years. Only one team is breaking in a completely new starter, and several teams have interesting competitions at the position that should yield positive results. Slowly but surely, the ACC is becoming the Conference of Quarterbacks. Ultimately, however, Clemson looks poised to maintain their reign over the Atlantic division (and the conference as a whole), while chaos and parity maintain their rule over the Coastal.
That's all for the quarterbacks, but we'll be back later this week with the running backs!