For the first time in years, Boston College football had a host of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball last season, and practically all of them are returning for the 2018 campaign. This past January, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly published an article outlining the nation’s returning production ratings.
The metric is based on two years of data, tracking a correlation between the return of particular position groups and their corresponding production the following season. Some players—like quarterbacks, receivers, and defensive backs—carry more weight than others, as continuity in the passing game and secondary have proved significant in Connelly’s studies.
Luckily for BC, its starting quarterback and five of its top six receivers from last season will be suiting up this fall. As a result, the Eagles clock in at 23rd in returning offensive production—essentially meaning that those responsible for 81 percent of the team’s offensive output last year will be back for this season. To put that in perspective, no other team in the ACC Atlantic Division is returning more than 75 percent of its offensive production. As a whole—defense included—BC ranks 31st in overall returning production, the third most of any team in the conference.
That being said, the Eagles still lost some key pieces this offseason, all while reeling in a bevy of recruits. Less than a week away from the start of training camp, it’s only appropriate to review the program’s top five departures and acquisitions.
Top Five Departures:
1. DE Harold Landry
The edge rusher was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the 41st overall pick of this year’s NFL Draft, making him the highest selected BC player since Luke Kuechly in 2012. Although Landry was hampered by an ankle injury during his senior season—one that ultimately kept him out of the final five games of the year—he still managed to record five sacks in 2017, tying the Eagles’ all-time career record with 26. Not only did the Spring Lake, N.C. native wreak havoc in the backfield, but he also opened up pass rushing opportunities for Zach Allen on the other side of the line. Above all else, Landry’s quickness—a trait that had NFL insiders drawing comparisons to Vic Beasley—is irreplaceable.
2. CBs Isaac Yiadom/Kamrin Moore
Only separated by 90 picks in this year’s NFL Draft, Yiadom and Moore are a package: The two lined the corners of a BC secondary that ranked 22nd in yards allowed and 12th in interceptions last season. Each recorded 50-plus tackles in 2017, setting new career highs in that department. Yiadom picked off two passes and broke up seven more, while Moore batted down nine of his own. Renowned for jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage and delivering powerful hits in the secondary, the defensive backs were ultimately invited to participate in this year’s NFL Combine. As far as the draft is concerned, Yiadom ended up going to the Denver Broncos with the second-to-last pick of Day Two, and Moore was snagged by the New Orleans Saints in the sixth round.
3. P Mike Knoll
Punters are people too. People often turn a blind eye toward the position, but for BC—a team that, prior to mid-October, had struggled to regularly move the sticks for a number of years—a strong leg is extremely valuable. Knoll was just that: After spending his first two seasons as a placekicker, the Ohio native was tasked with replacing Alex Howell at punter in 2016. Once Colton Lichtenberg was benched, Knoll balanced both field-goal kicking and punting, week after week. He drilled 12-of-14 field goal attempts and logged 94 punts—the most in single-season program history. By the time last summer rolled around, the graduate student gave up the placekicking duties and dedicated everything he had to punting. A Mid-Season ESPN All-American, Knoll consistently pinned opposing offenses inside the 20-yard line, flipping the field at will and increasing his net average from the year before by 1.7 yards.
4. LB Ty Schwab
Schwab might not have been drafted, but he was the heart and soul of the Eagles’ defense this past season. Headlining a depleted linebacking corps—a unit that lost both Connor Strachan and Max Richardson to season-ending injuries—the 6-foot 240-pounder racked up a career-high, team-leading 107 tackles in 2017. What’s even more impressive is that the senior tallied 8.5 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks. To cap it all off, he forced two turnovers—a fumble and an interception. Just when everyone thought the Eagles’ linebackers were going to derail the defense, Schwab stepped up his game and, more importantly, shaped backups like John Lamot, Kevin Bletzer, and Isaiah McDuffie into high-performance players.
5. RB Jonathan Hilliman
Following his 860-yard, 13-touchdown freshman season, Hilliman never really turned into the every-down back that Eagles fans expected him to become. His rushing stats dipped the next few years—and his season-ending foot injury back in 2015 certainly didn’t help. But the recruitment of future ACC Rookie of the Year A.J. Dillon reinvigorated the Plainfield, N.J. native’s career, somewhat ironically. Even though Hilliman lost the starting job a month into the 2017 season, he began to show glimpses of his freshman-year self. When all was said and done, the 6-foot, 220-pound back rushed for 638 yards and five touchdowns on the year, logging 3.8 yards per carry—0.9 ticks higher than his 2016 average—and caught a career-high 24 passes for 155 yards and two scores, perfectly complementing Dillon from start to finish.
Top Five Acquisitions:
1. OG Finn Dirstine
The 6-foot, 320-pound offensive guard is the Eagles’ second four-star recruit in the past four years. Interestingly enough, the other is Dirstine’s high school teammate and now-ACC Preseason Player of the Year A.J. Dillon. Dirstine—another Lawrence Academy product—is the 16th-ranked guard in the Class of 2018. He’ll join one of the deepest offensive lines in the country, a unit that allowed just 13 sacks—good for 11th in the nation—and paved the way for the 24th-best rushing attack last season after losing both Jon Baker and Elijah Johnson to knee injuries prior to the month of September. Considering that Baker, Johnson, Chris Lindstrom, John Phillips, Aaron Monteiro, Sam Schmal, and Ben Petrula are all returning this fall, there’s no guarantee Dirstine will earn a starting role by Week One. But, with his power and strength, there’s no question that head coach Steve Addazio will try to work him into the rotation.
2. CB Elijah Jones
According to 247Sports, Jones is BC’s second-highest graded Class of 2018 recruit. At Cardinal Hayes High School, he was a two-way player that starred on both sides of the ball. In his senior year alone, he logged 1,017 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns catches, 22 tackles, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles, climbing all the way up to the 62nd spot on ESPN’s top-athlete recruiting rankings. Jones will be donning number 20 at BC—the same jersey that Yiadom wore—so he’ll have some big shoes to fill. Fortunately for him, he could get a head start. After all, the Eagles need to fill a void on both sides of the secondary, as mentioned above.
3. LB Evan Stewart
Addazio reeled in five linebackers this offseason—two more than any other position group. Out of all of them, Stewart, who actually played safety at St. Joseph’s Regional, drew the most attention. The Sparta, N.J. native is a highlight-reel machine and is seen handing out several punishing hits in his recruiting mixtapes. In three years with the team, Stewart amassed 230 tackles and six interceptions—two of which he took to the house during the fall of his senior year. His athletic build will come in handy down the stretch of the season. Stewart’s ability to drop back in coverage will be key, especially when the Eagles face some of the best aerial attacks in the country. Strachan, Richardson, and Lamot will likely receive first-team snaps, but as we learned last year, the linebacker position is hardly a constant.
4. K John Tessitore
Replacing Knoll is almost as important as finding consistency in the kicking game. John Tessitore—son of ESPN Monday Night Football play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore—might be the answer. While at Choate Rosemary Hall, he went two seasons without missing a field goal attempt beyond 40 yards. On the other hand, the Eagles’ incumbent—Colton Lichtenberg—was just 2-of-7 from that distance last year. Over the past three seasons, BC kickers have missed a total of 16 field goal attempts. Lichtenberg has had his chances, both as a junior and as an underclassman. It’ll be intriguing to see if Addazio moves on from the Georgia placekicker, and Tessitore wins the job in camp.
5. RB David Bailey
At 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, Bailey is a spitting image of Dillon—maybe not in skill, but certainly in terms of build. Even their 2017 stats are similar, granted Dillon’s are far more impressive at the collegiate level. As a senior, Bailey rushed for 1,582 yards—seven fewer than Dillon—and a whopping 35 touchdowns, despite sitting out after halftime in most games. Both Rivals and 247Sports rated him the No. 1 running back prospect in the state of Maryland, and for good reason. Bailey averaged 13.9 yards per carry and recorded four or more touchdowns on four separate occasions. Until Dillon leaves BC, Bailey will have to take a backseat. Yet, given the Heisman candidate’s meteoric rise and NFL aspirations, it’s not out of the question that Bailey could compete for the starting job as early as 2019.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor