Part 2 of our Top 50 AAC Players series, and were starting to see some guys who are in contention for first team all-conference honors. We’re also piecing together the teams that will contend for the conference championship, and what teams are either sleepers or are a year or two (maybe more) away from entering that conversation. You still might not know some of these names, which is another reason we’re doing this series, so you won’t be surprised when these guys are in the conversation at the end of the year for awards.
40. DT Kalia Davis, UCF
Davis didn’t play last year, but he would have balled if he did. With 20 games of experience already, he’s set to have a big year for Gus Malzahn and the UCF defense. In 2019, he produced 27 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks, and could be in store for a big year in 2021. He also saw some time in the spring game as a wildcat quarterback, so that could be another wrinkle to watch for in the regular season.
39. C Sincere Haynesworth, Tulane
Everyone’s going to talk about Michael Pratt and the skill positions this year if Tulane dominates offensively, but there’s a group of guys that will be the reason that actually happens. Haynesworth is the leader of an offensive line that returns everyone, and he returns after a year in which he finished on Second Team All-Conference. Tulane knows how to protect their quarterback and open running lanes for their running backs, and it all starts with Haynesworth.
38. DT Cam Goode, UCF
Despite limited time on the field, Cam Goode showed his monstrous potential in 2020. He produced well in the reps that he got last year, producing 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks as essentially a backup. Now, he gets a chance to show what he can do as a starter, and it feels like we’re just waiting for when he shows us why he’s destined to be great. His explosiveness off the line puts him among the best in the entire country, and it’s a trait that’s going to get him noticed for a chance to play on Sundays.
37. WR Alec Pierce, Cincinnati
Alec Pierce came to play for a title!!! pic.twitter.com/T2N0ByDuMd— Joe Broback (@joebroback) December 20, 2020
Want to know who’s the biggest difference maker for the Cincinnati passing attack? Alec Pierce. While he doesn’t boast any traits that are going to wow the entire country, Pierce is the most reliable option for Desmond Ridder and the Bearcats offense. Despite only catching 17 passes last year, he averages 18.5 yards per catch with three touchdowns. He’s an incredible 50/50 pass catcher too, something that helped bail Ridder out of some tight jams. With most people turning their attention to other receivers for the Bearcats, it’s actually Pierce who’s the best of them all.
36. LB Antonio Grier, USF
USF’s taken a step backward both on offense and defense, but Grier’s back to make sure they turn things around in 2021. A two year starter, he’s amassed 113 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, and 7.0 sacks in that time, and returns as a leader for the Bulls defense. Oh, and he sports a neck plate while also wearing a visor, so that instantly gives you a bump in my eyes. USF’s a team that has the potential to be a surprise team in 2021, and the defense could be much improved to help aid those efforts.
35. CB Ja’Quan McMillian, ECU
If I have to pick a guy to be the next star in the AAC, Ja’Quan McMillian is definitely high on that list. Already an all-conference talent, McMillian’s thrived from the second he stepped onto ECU’s campus. As a freshman and sophomore, he’s produced 71 tackles, 12 passes defended, and seven interceptions. It’s tough to find any other cornerback who can match that production outside of Cincinnati. Mike Houston’s defense appears set to take a step forward, and he could see half of the field taken away thanks to his rising star in McMillian.
34. DE Joseph Dorceus, Tulane
Joseph Dorceus' brother was a running back for the Tigers, but lil bro is showing off his skills as a runner. Look at that speed! pic.twitter.com/TAapyXsjtI— Joe Broback (@joebroback) September 6, 2020
When he’s not doubling as a goal line fullback, Joseph Dorceus spends his time wreaking havoc in opposing teams’ backfields. He’s produced 30.0 tackles for loss and 14.0 sacks in the last three years for Memphis, and now he’s taking his talents to join a Green Wave defense in need of some edge rushers. With Patrick Johnson and Cam Sample off to the NFL, Dorceus fills one of the huge holes left by the two great Green Wave ends. Dorceus brings good athleticism to the end position, and gives his new team an instant starter that will contribute right away.
33. WR CJ Johnson, ECU
Johnson’s the definition of a playmaker, no matter how many or how few touches he gets in a given season. As a freshman, he nearly broke 1,000 yards, catching 54 passes for 904 yards and four touchdowns. He followed that up with just 19 catches in 2021, but he turned that into 405 yards (21.3 yards per catch!) and four touchdowns. If Holton Ahlers can find a way to become more consistent, Johnson competes for all-conference honors and maybe even is in the discussion for best receiver in the conference. He possesses the ability to become the next great Pirates receiver, but he’ll still produce at a high level even with limited chances.
32. DT Latrell Bankston, Houston
Iowa State’s defensive line became too crowded, and Bankston decided he wanted a chance to start. He gets that opportunity with Dana Holgorsen and Houston, and he’s already making the most of his opportunity as reports indicate he had a monster spring. Bankston in a Cyclones rotation produced 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, and he should see those numbers increase if he does indeed start for the Coogs. Houston’s defensive line under Brian Early is one of, if not the, best in the conference, and Bankston will help them reach new heights in 2021.
31. WR Rashee Rice, SMU
SMU’s ushering in a new quarterback with Shane Buechele off to the NFL, but the new starter won’t have much to worry about with the guys he’ll throw to this year. Rice led the team in receiving last year, but most likely inherits the WR2 role with Reggie Roberson returning (and hopefully healthy), Rice could still have a monster year. Roberson commands most of the attention from the opposing secondaries, opening the field up for him to dominate. With 1,085 yards and 10 touchdowns through his first two seasons, Rice has the potential to breakout, which helps SMU reach it’s goal of a conference championship.