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Players to Watch: Duke Blue Devils

The under-the-radar players on a well-rounded ACC team.

NCAA Football: Duke at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Deacons had a chance to solidify their season. With a potential bowl appearance on the line, the team had a reasonable opportunity to pull off the upset against a quietly successful Pitt Panthers team. Unfortunately, that hype died down as soon as the second half approached. The Panthers came out of the gates on a roll and ended up winning this one 34-13.

In my previous piece, I told you to watch out for running back Darrin Hall and defensive back Dane Jackson.

Here’s how those two panned out.

Hall: 13 rush 44 yards 1td

Jackson: 3 tot, 1 tfl, 4 pd

The Panthers carried a more balanced rushing attack than normal in this one. Both Hall and number one back Qadree Ollison received relatively the same carries on the day. Similar to the Syracuse game, the Deacons defense had a rough time in limiting this duo on the group. The pair finished the day with 96 total yards.

Of course, these touches were limited due to the onslaught of offense generated by quarterback Kenny Pickett. He was able to not only establish a solid running game but also dish it out in the air as he amassed 316 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

In the case of Jackson, initial predictions paid off. He was able to be a menace in the passing game as he leads his team in pass deflections. This performance is just another step in the right direction in a path of success for him and his future as a football player.

As for this week, the Deacons are on the road as they play their final game of the regular season. They are off to Durham NC, where they will be playing the Duke Blue Devils under head coach David Cutcliffe. The team is very structured offensively as they have one of the top quarterback prospects in this year’s NFL draft, Daniel Jones. Jones has proven to be an excellent orchestrator of his team’s offense. Between deciphering zones in the pocket, to scrambling out of the pocket for extra yards, it’s clear that he has the tools to make it in the next level.

But, that’s not who I’m going to be highlighting. Instead, here are the underrated guys to watch out on this Blue Devils team.

TJ Rahming

Rahming provides the middle ground on the Blue Devils offense. He has developed his game over the past four years and has become an elusive patch catcher for his team. Provided the spacing at hand, he adds another layer to this high-powered offensive unit.

As a senior, Rahming has used his experience to his advantage in 2018. He better understands ACC defenses and knows where and how to attack them. This is ideal because his small stature (5’11”) limits him in the realm of making plays over his defenders. He has to gain another element of talent, the mental aspect, and so far he’s proven to showcase that ability to an nth degree.

Having only scored five touchdowns in his first 34 games as a starter, Rahming has turned it around this season. He has hauled in six touchdowns on the season so far, which is a dramatic increase over his previous accomplishments. In fact, this makes him fifth on the touchdown receptions list in the ACC conference this season.

I see Rahming most effective in the intermediary spots. He doesn’t have the size to create one-on-one matchups downfield, nor is he the one to make something out of nothing out of a quick pass. In order for his true potential to be shown, it’s with those in-between throws. Whether that’s a quick go route near the sideline or a slant ten yards out, Rahming has the ability to be that reliable target if the team needs to go big, but not slinging it.

I could see Rahming having an impactful day for the Devils come Saturday. He is second on the team in terms of average yards per catch with a minimum of 10 receptions (13). With the majority of the attention surrounding the team’s number one receiver, Jonathon Loyd, the Deacons’ defense could forget about Rahming on many occasions throughout this one.

Marquis Waters

A multi-positional talent out of high school, Waters was a stellar contributor on both ends of the ball. He was an elusive catch catcher out o the backfield, allowing himself to make big plays down the field. On the flip side, he was also an excellent defensive back, wreacking havoc in limiting the opponent’s chunk plays on all sides of the field.

As he’s transitioned over to college ball, Waters has been able to become a fully-functional strong safety for the Blue Devils. He has a ferocious tackling approach to his game. Through development, he has been able to lay down powerful hits from the safety position. Whether that’s from a receiver on the inside or a running back on a sweep, Waters has been able to make his presence known long after the play is over.

This attack approach is also been seen in the run defense game. A speedy back, Waters can exploit holes on the defense and ravage them up with efficiency. Outside runs are where you’ll find the sheer impact that Waters brings to the table. He has been known to stop the big plays outside, and this policy of containment as grown evermore since his days in high school.

You would think that a high-hitting safety would receive a few tackles here or there, but nothing too serious. But, he’s surprisingly only fourth on the team in total tackles, behind the Blue Devils’ established linebackers.

Waters adds a whole new dimension to the defensive end. He provides the elusiveness and tackling ability to help stop plays from developing into anything big. Although his true skills may not be shown as much, since the Deacons rarely run outside pitches, I still believe that Waters can make an impact on the field. Whether that’s through special teams or in the passing game, where he’s second on the team in pass deflections, there’s no doubt that he will make some sort of impact come Saturday.

In all, I expect both Rahming and Waters to be contributing factors in this one. They have the experience and understandings at their respective positions to be an antagonizing force on both ends of the field.