So who fills those big shoes in 2017? This week, we’ll be offering our best answers.
Today’s question: Who is the next Mike Williams?
The ACC had two dominant outside receivers a year ago in Williams and Syracuse's Amba Etta-Tawo, and now both are gone. In fact, all four 1,000-yard ACC receivers from last season are gone. But there are plenty of players to keep an eye on this season, especially in the outside spot. Let's take a look at who could emerge as the deep threat playmaker Williams and Etta-Tawo were in 2016.
The standard: Williams made his impact over a longer period than Etta-Tawo -- even though he missed a season with a neck injury. There was little doubt that when Clemson needed a play to be made down the field, Williams would be the one to go and make it. His size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) made him tough to guard, and he ended up ranked No. 11 in the nation in receiving yards. Etta-Tawo emerged to show much of the same last season, averaging 15.3 yards per catch and ending with 1,482 yards receiving -- No. 8 in the nation.
The best bet: Deon Cain, Clemson. Cain is set to take over for Williams at Clemson, making him a safe bet to become a deep threat for an offense that needs one. He averaged 19.1 yards per catch last season and had nine touchdowns, showing his vast potential to be a reliable down-field playmaker. If there is one caveat here it is this: Who will be quarterback for Clemson and will he be able to accurately deliver the ball down the field the way Deshaun Watson did? Coach Dabo Swinney is confident in all the quarterbacks he has on the roster, and a player as dynamic as Cain could help guide a younger player along as well.
Other options: Steve Ishmael, Syracuse. With Etta-Tawo gone, there is an opening to become the top outside receiver in the high-tempo offense coach Dino Babers brought with him to Syracuse. Ishmael certainly has all the tools to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but now he's got to show the consistency to get him over the top as a go-to playmaker for quarterback Eric Dungey.
Ahmmon Richards, Miami. Richards showed incredible skill last season as a true freshman with the Hurricanes, and ranked second in the ACC in yards per catch (19.1) among players with 35 or more receptions. He finished just 66 yards away from a 1,000-yard season, and he should be even better now that he has a full year under his belt. The same caveat exists here -- Miami does not have a starting quarterback in place just yet. But a player like Richards should at least assist Miami in developing its passing game.
Jaylen Smith, Louisville. Smith emerged as a deep threat last season for Lamar Jackson, and they seemed to develop a good chemistry as the year went on. Though Smith missed spring practice with an injury, he is expected to be back for fall practice. Louisville is deep and talented at this position, but watch for Smith to build on what he did last season (22.2 yards per catch average) as Jackson refines his abilities as a passer.
The dark horse: Tee Higgins, Clemson. If the hype about ESPN 300 prospect Tee Higgins comes to fruition when he begins practicing, watch out. Higgins will have an opportunity to play right away in a receiver group that could use more help. At 6-foot-5, 191 pounds, he could also prove to have an immediate advantage based on his size and speed alone. Higgins will have to put on some weight, but if he's as dazzling as he was in high school, he could give the Tigers yet another in a long line of standout receivers.