1st-Team All-ACC Wide Receivers: Josh Downs, North Carolina; Zay Flowers, Boston College; and Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia
In my article where I listed every ACC team’s best player, two of my First-Team All-ACC receivers made appearances. One could make the argument that the third has a strong case as the best player on his team as well. Starting with Josh Downs, the Tar Heels’ receiver exploded onto the scene last year, taking over for Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. He was an extremely productive player out of the slot in North Carolina’s RPO-heavy offense. This season, while he will be working with a new starting quarterback, his run-after-catch ability should allow him to remain one of the most productive players in the conference.
Going into last season, Downs actually beat out the next player for many All-ACC preseason honors. Zay Flowers ended up having a somewhat disappointing 2021 season, but most of it was due to lackluster quarterback play. This season, Phil Jurkovec is back in the lineup and new offensive coordinator John McNulty has spoken at length about making Flowers the featured player in the Eagles’ offense. Flowers is obviously somewhat diminutive but he has staved off injuries thus far in his career. If he (and Jurkovec) can stay healthy, he should be among the conference leaders in receiving.
Dontayvion Wicks also gets his quarterback back again this season. Furthermore, the Cavaliers should be running a more effective, at least efficient, offense under new head coach Tony Elliott. Wicks was a lethal deep threat for Virginia last season; furthermore, his teammates in the receiver’s room combine to form the deepest and perhaps the most talented receiving corps in the country, let alone the conference. Therefore, defenses will not be able to always rotate coverages towards Wicks, giving him plenty of single coverage opportunities where he excels.
2nd-Team All-ACC Wide Receivers: Jalon Calhoun, Duke; A.T. Perry, Wake Forest; and Keytoan Thompson, Virginia
Jalon Calhoun might be among the better players in the conference but he might not produce up to expectations this year. With running back Mataeo Durant off to the NFL and Jake Bobo transferring to UCLA, Calhoun is the only legitimate weapon on Duke’s offense. He’s a versatile threat that can also be used as a runner. But with a new quarterback and few offensive threats around him, defenses will surely key on him and do everything to take him away.
Like Calhoun, A.T. Perry will be stepping into the role of being his offense’s primary weapon. However, unlike Calhoun, Perry is supported by a dynamic offense, a very experienced quarterback, and at least a few other viable weapons. He was a dominant receiver last year for Wake, mostly attacking vertically in Wake’s RPO offense. His 6’5” frame allowed him to win easily over most ACC corners. With most of the Demon Deacon’s offense returning, there’s no reason to think that Perry’s dominance won’t continue.
Few players have had a stranger college career than Keytoan Thompson. He began at Mississippi State as a quarterback in 2017 under Dan Mullen. He started in the Bulldogs’ bowl game that year and even beat Lamar Jackson. Thompson’s playing time waxed and waned over the next few seasons and after graduating in 2020, he elected to transfer to Virginia. Once there, he made the switch away from quarterback to a wide receiver / tight end hybrid type of player, somewhat akin to the New Orleans Saints’ Taysom Hill. Last season, he actually led Virginia in targets (112) and receptions (78). While he is far from a traditional receiver, Thompson should still have a valuable role in the Cavaliers’ new offense.
3rd-Team All-ACC Wide Receivers: Malachi Carter, Georgia Tech; Thayer Thomas, NC State; and Billy Kemp IV, Virginia
Malachi Carter was one of the few bright spots on a struggling Georgia Tech squad last season. Carter led the Yellow Jackets in receptions (37) and receiving yards (489); he only had one drop on 54 targets. He is the primary vertical threat on his team and has displayed the ability to consistently win in contested catch situations. Regardless of who the Yellow Jackets’ quarterback is, Carter should provide a reliable deep threat for them.
Our next two and final All-ACC receivers could not be further from Carter in terms of their usage and physical profile. Thayer Thomas has been a valuable slot target for NC State for multiple seasons now. With Emeka Emezie finally off to the NFL, Thomas is now the primary target for the Wolfpack’s offense. His ability to quickly get open in short areas makes him a dangerous weapon in the red zone, explaining why he led NC State in receiving touchdowns (8) last year. Thomas has built a serious rapport with quarterback Devin Leary, so he has a shot at being among the receiving leaders in the ACC.
Our final All-ACC receiver is another very experienced, diminutive, explosive slot receiver. Billy Kemp IV returns for his fifth season with the Cavaliers. At 5’9” and 172 pounds, Kemp does not look dangerous but he provides a reliable safety valve for Brennan Armstrong. He set new career-highs in almost every category last season; he finished second on the team in targets and receptions and third in yards and touchdowns. Kemp will most likely be the forgotten man, as defenses will focus on Wicks and Thompson, along with the massive (6’7”, 224) Lavel Davis, who missed most of last season due to injury. With defenses focused on preventing the deep ball to those massive targets, Kemp should be able to eat in the underneath area.
Honorable Mention: Taylor Morin, Wake Forest; Jaelen Gill, Boston College; Beaux Collins, Clemson; Joseph Ngata, Clemson; Jared Wayne, Pittsburgh; and Antoine Green, North Carolina