An abundance of criticism was hurled at Josh Jackson during and after the 2017 season. Some of it was warranted, while some of it frivolous. But it’s hard to find a Virginia Tech fan who doesn’t have a strong opinion of Jackson these days, whether it’s positive or negative.
There were plenty of reasons to be impressed. As a redshirt freshman, Jackson completed just under 60 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,991 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Jackson took care of the football generally, while avoiding unnecessary risks. He was a serviceable runner and even had the Hokies’ longest run of the season — a 46-yard scamper vs. West Virginia.
With the good came the bad. Jackson failed to produce against Clemson or Miami in 2017, throwing two interceptions in each of those two games. Jackson struggled down the stretch, throwing for 200 yards or more in just three of the Hokies’ final seven games. Sure, Jackson was dealing with multiple unspecified injuries — believed to be foot, shoulder and elbow injuries — but the production was absent for most of the stretch run.
Jackson should improve in 2018 and Athlon seemed to be banking on that in their recent rankings of each starting FBS quarterback for 2018. Jackson was ranked as the 19th-best quarterback in the country and the second-best signal caller in the ACC, behind only NC State’s Ryan Finley. Here is Athlon’s ranking of ACC quarterbacks.
No. 13 – Ryan Finley, NC State
No. 19 – Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech
No. 20 – Kelly Bryant, Clemson
No. 23 – Eric Dungey, Syracuse
No. 30 – James Blackman, Florida State
No. 38 – Daniel Jones, Duke
No. 39 – Malik Rosier, Miami
No. 40 – TaQuon Marshall, Georgia Tech
No. 62 – Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
No. 63 – Jawon Pass, Louisville
No. 65 – Kendall Hinton, Wake Forest
No. 69 – Anthony Brown, Boston College
No. 74 – Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
No. 98 – Bryce Perkins, Virginia
According to Athlon, as far as the ACC is concerned, Virginia Tech couldn’t do much better than having Jackson as their starting quarterback. I do believe Jackson is one of the better starting quarterbacks in the ACC, but I would drop him one spot in my rankings. Here’s how I view the ACC’s starting quarterbacks heading into the 2018 season.
- Ryan Finley, NC State
Finley is tied for the most experience in the ACC, in terms of number of games played, and has been the most consistent throughout his career. The former Boise State transfer has two years of starting experience under his belt with the Wolfpack, completing 63 percent of his passes while throwing for 35 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. Finley won’t have the reliable Jaylen Samuels to help him in 2018, but he should still be a productive and consistent quarterback.
- Eric Dungey, Syracuse
In terms of numbers, Dungey is the best quarterback in the conference. But given that his numbers are inflated by Dino Babers’ Air Raid-style attack, I’ll slot him right here. The rising senior is a talented thrower and runner and runs Syracuse’s offense efficiently. Injuries have been an issue but when he’s on the field, few quarterbacks in the country can put up similar numbers. He’s thrown for 29 touchdowns in just 18 games over the last two seasons and has a career passer rating of 131.5.
- Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech
Jackson’s skill set is suited for the Hokies’ offense, given his intelligence and advanced understanding of the scheme. He may be limited physically, but he will improve in 2018. He should have a slightly more productive rushing attack to lean on and the offensive line should be solid once again. Jackson should hit the 3,000-yard mark this season.
- Daniel Jones, Duke
Jones struggled at times during 2017, specifically against Virginia when he completed just 14 of his 42 pass attempts for 124 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. However, with the team healthier than they were at any point last season, Jones should find his form again. Remember, as a freshman, Jones completed nearly 63 percent of his passes and threw 16 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He’s a threat with his legs as well, with 14 career rushing touchdowns.
- Malik Rosier, Miami
Perhaps I have Rosier too low, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Rosier we saw later in the season is closer to the real Malik Rosier, rather than the one we saw for the early portions of the season. Miami was loaded last year and both Braxton Berrios and Christopher Herndon are now in the NFL. Rosier is an explosive runner but faltered down the stretch last season. Rosier failed to complete more than 49 percent of his passes in each of his final three games and threw a combined five interceptions to Clemson and Wisconsin. He should improve somewhat as a senior, but I don’t believe he’ll be better than any of the four passers ahead of him.
- Kelly Bryant, Clemson
Clemson made the College Football Playoff in spite of Bryant, not because of him. He completed a high percentage of his passes last season (65.8 percent) but threw just 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. I think the numbers paint a better picture of Bryant than my personal impressions, so maybe he proves me wrong this season. But before he does that, he’ll need to hold off five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence.
- James Blackman, Florida State
Blackman had no business starting last season. The fact that he was Florida State’s best option after Deondre Francois went down at the beginning of last season should reflect poorly on the Seminoles’ quarterback depth in 2017. Nonetheless, Blackman was serviceable as a true freshman, completing 58.2 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,230 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on a losing team. Blackman might not even start this season, given that Francois was a talented passer in 2016 and showed flashes of being an elite quarterback. Whoever wins this job should be more than capable.
- TaQuon Marshall, Georgia Tech
Marshall is the perfect fit for the Yellow Jackets’ offense. He’s undersized but quick and agile. He can run as well as Georgia Tech’s tailbacks and can even hit throws over the top for big plays. Just ask the Virginia Tech secondary.
- Chazz Suratt, North Carolina
Surratt was clearly North Carolina’s best option at quarterback for most of 2017, though for some reason head coach Larry Fedora kept trying to give Brandon Harris another opportunity. Nathan Elliott emerged later on in the season, throwing 10 touchdowns in the Tar Heels’ final five games. Here’s another quarterback competition that should produce at least a capable option.
- Kendall Hinton, Wake Forest
Hinton is a junior with 243 pass attempts already under his belt. John Wolford was a highly productive quarterback in 2017 and even though Hinton could follow in his footsteps, he hasn’t been nearly as successful. Hinton’s career completion percentage is 53.9 percent and he’s thrown just eight touchdowns to six interceptions.
- Jawon Pass, Louisville
No one should expect Pass to replicate Lamar Jackson’s video game numbers, but Pass has been decent in limited work. He’s completed 22 of his 33 career pass attempts for 238 yards and two touchdowns and has a rushing touchdown as well. He’s inexperienced, sure, but the former four-star quarterback has plenty of talent.
- Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Pickett started Pittsburgh’s final two games and though he wasn’t particularly good, he showed flashes of being a quality quarterback. He can create with his legs and is a capable passer. Pittsburgh will need him to take a massive step forward in his sophomore season.
- Anthony Brown, Boston College
Brown showed flashes in his first season but simply wasn’t all that good. He completed 51.9 percent of his throws for 1,367 yards in 10 games. Brown had a breakout game vs. Virginia in late October 2017, but the rest of his inaugural campaign was inconsistent.
- Bryce Perkins, Virginia
Kurt Benkert was much better as a senior in 2017, helping the ‘Hoos make their first bowl game since 2011. Unfortunately for Virginia, their bowl chances may hinge on a JUCO transfer that didn’t do much at that level. Perkins struggled while at Arizona Western College in 2017, throwing seven touchdowns and eight interceptions while rushing for another four scores. Time will tell if Perkins can be more productive at the Power 5 level than he was at the JUCO level.