The ACC is the home of the current reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and has claimed two of the past four honorees. Predicting who will win the trophy in June is tricky, but we certainly can identify those most likely and best suited to make a run at being invited to New York City after the end of the regular season. Obviously, not all five of these players will get an invite, but I would venture that the ACC is going to send more than one player to NYC this winter.
Last Heisman Trophy winner from Conference Member: Lamar Jackson, QB – Louisville (2016)
1. Lamar Jackson, QB – Louisville
This is an obvious choice for the top of the list. Jackson looks to become the second player in history (after Archie Griffin) to become a two-time Heisman Trophy winner. He is absolutely electrifying on the field. He had locked up the award in early November last year, so much so that a two-game losing streak to end the season (including a game against Houston where he was totally shut down) couldn’t come close to taking the trophy away from him. Even if the Cardinals struggle this year, Jackson will put up enough highlight-reel plays to keep his name in the conversation all season long.
2. Deondre Francois, QB – Florida State
Francois came out last year and would have drawn national attention, had Lamar Jackson not been outshining him–and had Florida State not suffered a 43-point loss to Louisville in Week 3. Francois will have a chance to showcase his talents early. You can bet that if Florida State beats Alabama to open the season, and if Francois has a great game in the process, that he will be on the Heisman radar all season long.
3. Deon Cain, WR – Clemson
The defending national champions lose their three biggest offensive threats coming into this season, but all that means is an opportunity for someone else to step up. That “someone else” looks like Deon Cain, who proved to be an excellent deep ball threat for the Tigers last year, averaging almost 20 yards per reception as a sophomore last year. If he wants a shot at the Heisman he’ll have to do more from medium range just to get the stats to get real attention, but without Wayne Gallman or Mike Williams, there will be plenty of opportunities to find places in Clemson’s offense.
4. Mark Walton, RB – Miami (Florida)
Without Brad Kaaya and no clear replacement emerging at quarterback yet, Miami will need to rely on its running game to get the offense in shape, especially early in the season. It’s hard for running backs to get real Heisman buzz, and it’s nearly impossible when that running back isn’t on a dominant team. Walton has the talent to have an incredible season, which he will need if he wants to get some Heisman love.
5. Derwin James, S – Florida State
It’s incredibly rare to see a defensive player have a real shot at winning the Heisman, but I wanted to fit a defensive player on this list — especially since after Jackson and Francois, the offensive standouts in the ACC are really hard to see. James can have a shot, though, especially because his story is a sympathetic one that will get him airtime on college football shows.
James was an absolute standout at safety in 2015, but lost almost all of last year due to an awful knee injury. Recording over 100 tackles and a few highlight-reel interceptions after coming back from knee surgery will definitely get James the attention that a defensive player needs to dream about getting an NYC invite.