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Top 5 Wide Receivers in the ACC for 2021: Justyn Ross, Zay Flowers & Jaquarii Roberson battle for the top spot

The 2021 ACC football season is merely weeks away. NC State will take on South Florida 50 days. Before that, ACC media days are right around the corner in Charlotte, too.

With that in mind, we’ll start going through some position-by-position rankings for the ACC as things ramp up. To kick things off: here’s a statistical look at the top wide receivers in the ACC — starting with No. 5.

 

5. Mike Harley, Miami

Over his first three seasons with Miami, Harley hauled in 68 receptions for 816 yards and three touchdowns. The talent was always there, but with a myriad of quarterback issues, and needing to split touches with other talented skill players, Harley never quite had a signature season.

That all changed when D’Eriq King arrived, though.

During his breakout 2020 season, Harley posted 57 receptions for 799 yards (14.0 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. Working with an accomplished quarterback, Harley nearly mirrored what he did in the three prior seasons.

Now, Harley will partner up with Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo, who recorded 1,180 receiving yards and nine touchdown receptions during three seasons with Lincoln Riley’s go-go spread offense in Norman.

 

4. Emeka Emezie, NC State

Emezie has been a fixture of NC State’s receiving corp for years now; he’s one of the most decorated pass-catchers in program history. Emezie ranks fifth in school history with 169 career receptions and seventh in career receiving yards (2,093).

Going back over the last three seasons, the 6-foot-3 (212 pounds) Emezie has a catch in 32 consecutive games. During the 2020 campaign, he was one of the most efficient receivers in the country: a catch machine, who also averaged a career-best 15.7 yards per catch.

3. Zay Flowers, Boston College

While working with Jeff Hafley and quarterback Phil Jurkovec, Flowers posted one of the best seasons at the wide receiver position in program history. Flowers ranked 18th nationally and fourth in the ACC with 892 yards receiving.

Flowers also led the league with nine touchdown receptions; he finished tied with UNC’s Dyami Brown for the most receptions of 25+ yards (14) in the ACC, too.

Boston College moved Flowers all over the field. According to Pro Football Focus, 48 percent of his route runs came from the slot, with 52 percent coming on the outside. PFF’s receiving grade metric graded Flowers above 70.0 from both outside and the slot. Flowers was one of three Power Five receivers to run 100 routes in the slot and on the outside, while posting that receiving grade at each position.

Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner, and Ty Fryfogle of Indiana were the other two.

When Boston College lined Flowers up on the outside, he turned into one of the country’s top high-volume deep threats. Flowers averaged 19.5 yards per target on outside routes, according to Pro Football Focus.

 

2. Jaquarii Roberson, Wake Forest

After limited usage in 2018 and 2019 (13 total receptions), Roberson went nuts in the 2020 season.

Roberson hauled in 62 receptions (No. 3 in the ACC), while averaging just under 15 yards per catch and 102.9 receiving yards per game — tops in the ACC. Roberson was one of only 16 FBS receivers to average over 100 receiving yards per game. (Dyami Brown was incredibly close, though: 99.9 yards per game.)

Regardless of coverage scheme, Roberson was a game-breaker for the Demon Deacons. He ranked top 10 nationally in terms of separation percentage against single coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

However, when Wake Forest went up against zone, Robertson recorded 340 receiving yards from finding a gap in zone coverage — No. 2 in the FBS. He averaged 7.6 after the catch vs. zone defense, too.

 

1. Justyn Ross, Clemson

Due to spinal surgery last June, Ross — one of the top receivers in college football — was forced to miss the entire 2020 season. Ross didn’t start lifting weights again until last October.

Prior to his injury, Ross lived up to his blue-chip billing — from the same 2018 recruiting class as Trevor Lawrence. As soon as he arrived at Clemson, Ross took flight as a lanky pass-catcher who could make plays deep down the field or hunt for touchdowns in the red zone.

As a true freshman, Ross led the ACC with 15 receptions of 25+ yards, while ranking second with an average of 21.7 yards per catch. With that 2018 season, Ross is one of only four ACC receivers, dating back to 2000, to record 1,000+ receiving yards, 5+ touchdown receptions and average 20+ yards per catch in a single season. He’s joined by Dyami Brown (twice), Demaryius Thomas and Snoop Minnis.

During the 2018 and 2019 season, Ross finished with a combined 11 touchdowns on targets of 20+ yards, which ranked third in the FBS over that stretch, per Pro Football Focus.

 

Honorable Mention/Close Calls

Jordan Addison, Pitt

  • Led all ACC freshmen with 60 receptions and 666 receiving yards in 2020
  • Addison was also the most targeted true freshman receiver in the country: 87 targets, 60 receptions, 69 percent catch rate

 

Billy Kemp, Virginia

  • Kemp finished second in the ACC last season with 67 receptions — 6.7 catches per game, also No. 2 in the league (Roberson was No. 1 with 6.9)

 

Joseph Ngata, Clemson

  • Unfortunately, injuries cut shut what could’ve been a dynamic 2020 season for the 6-foot-3, 220 pound Ngata
  • During his freshman season in 2019, Ngata was fairly productive, despite seeing a plethora of press coverage: 17 receptions for 240 yards (14.1 yards per catch) and three touchdowns

 

Tre Turner, Virginia Tech

  • For years now, Turner has been one of the more underrated game-breakers in the ACC
  • After three seasons with the Hokies, Turner has 96 career receptions for 1,617 receiving yards (17.2 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns
  • Turner has recorded 500+ yards receiving and averaged 15+ yards per catch in each individual season with Virginia Tech, too
  • He also has four career rushing touchdowns and has a career average of 9.6 yards per carry

 

Charleston Rambo, Miami

  • While working as Oklahoma’s No. 2 to CeeDee Lamb in 2019, Rambo caught 43 passes and averaged 17.3 yards per catch, which ranked fourth in the Big 12

 

Donavon Greene, Wake Forest

  • After a solid 2020 campaign, Greene will team up with Roberson to form one of the top wideout duos in the country
  • Greene finished the season with 582 receiving yards on 29 receptions, but his best performance came during the shootout in Chapel Hill: Greene caught eight passes for 170 yards (21.25 yards per catch) and two touchdowns

 

Thayer Thomas, NC State

  • Mr. Versatility: Thomas returns to the ACC as one of the more accomplished slot receiver and punt returners in the country
  • For his career, Thomas has 1,246 career receiving yards (11.6 yards per catch) and 12 touchdown receptions — a top-15 mark in program history

 

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