1. Jamison Crowder, SENIOR, RECEIVER
He’s arguably Duke’s best player and starts the season ranked as our No. 1 pick, and makes it clear that for the Blue Devils to repeat last year’s success, they’ll need their most dangerous weapon to continue to play at an elite level. Crowder will definitely need some help from his fellow wide receivers as he’ll be keyed in on by each and every defensive coordinator on the schedule. If Duke can develop a reliable second option, Crowder could put up even bigger numbers as a senior.
2. Laken Tomlinson, SENIOR, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
Tomlinson is our pick for the Blue Devil to be drafted highest in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s been a staple along the offensive line for several seasons, and enters the 2014 regular season as the leader of a veteran group of big, agile, and strong athletes. With some questions at running back and in the passing game due to personnel losses, it’ll be crucial for the offensive line to open holes and protect the passer. That’ll start with a team captain anchoring the line.
3. David Helton, SENIOR, LINEBACKER
Duke was already facing questions on the defensive side of the ball this season with the defensive line uncertain and the relative youth in the defensive backfield. And that was before the team lost one of its best playmakers in Kelby Brown. The loss of his his running mate has moved Helton to the Mike LB position. And while the position responsibilities aren’t a big change from where he was a season ago, Helton’s biggest challenge will be matching Brown’s leadership, play recognition, and communication. Production shouldn’t be a problem because, as Coach Cutcliffe noted: “David Helton was the leading tackler in the ACC for a reason.”
4. Anthony Boone, SENIOR, QUARTERBACK
After spending his last two years splitting a large number of snaps, Boone enters his fifth year as the team’s unquestioned signal caller. With Brandon Connette gone to Fresno State, Boone will likely be the primary option up and down the field. One thing Duke expects of its starting quarterback is to value the football. Cutcliffe touched on that Tuesday saying he expects Boone to “be the best he’s been in ball handling, the best he’s been from an accuracy standpoint, the best he’s been with his footwork and the best he’s been running the football.”
5. Jeremy Cash, JUNIOR, SAFETY
Cash returns for his second full season in Durham coming off a debut campaign that earned him second team All-America honors by USA Today. Cash is the unquestioned leader of the defensive backfield and combined with linebackers Brown and Helton to provided the Blue Devils with three players with more than 100 tackles. With Brown lost for the season, look for Cash to assist Helton with not only production, but also the communication duties.
6. Shaquille Powell, JUNIOR, RUNNING BACK
Powell steps in for Jela Duncan as Duke’s top running back to begin the season. Losing Duncan raises some questions for “The Stable”, but Powell is more than capable of helping Duke produce something close to a balanced offense in 2014. He’s averaging 4.9 yards per carry over the course of his career, but he’s never carried the ball more than nine times in a game - something that will probably change before half-time against Elon.
7. Carlos Wray, JUNIOR, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Wray and Jamal Bruce will start the season as the two interior defensive linemen. He came into Duke regarded as a very good athlete who could run and pressure the opponent. He played in 10 games as a true freshman, then in every game last season. That limited stint as a freshman seems to have encouraged him to get bigger and stronger - something he’s done to the the tune of leading the team in a few weight categories and being cited for his year round commitment to conditioning. Duke didn’t get a lot of pressure on opposing signal callers last season, and for the Blue Devils to improve on that point this year it starts up front where Wray is our pick to make an impact.
8. Ross Martin, JUNIOR, KICKER
Martin was fantastic as a true freshman in 2012, making 87 percent of his kicks, but that number dropped in 2013 with Martin making 13-of-19 on the year. Things straightened up for him as the season wound on, but the Blue Devils will be hoping for consistency to be the name of the game when the ball is tee’d up on Saturday.
9. Devon Edwards, SOPHOMORE, SAFETY
He’ll factor in at the rover position on defense, but where most people remember Edwards’ contribution is on special teams where he’s an All-American. That’s not to say he’s not a capable defensive back, he is. He’s an opportunistic ball hawk who is quick enough to run with opposing targets and strong enough to jam them at the line when he rotates over to cornerback. But, again, Edwards has been simply special as a returner and big play guy. He found the end zone four times last season - twice on interceptions and twice off kick returns. Sports the second highest vertical jump on the team.
10. TBD, TBD, WIDE RECEIVER
Duke needs a secondary target in the passing game. Will it be Max McCaffrey? Issac Blakeney? What about Johnell Barnes or Terrence Alls? What about some of the unproven freshmen such as Trevon Lee and Chris Taylor, will they eventually shed the proposed redshirt? Or maybe this is the year Anthony Nash realizes the stores of potential he has as one of the fastest big receivers you’ll find. Either way, someone needs to step up as the secondary target for Boone. This need becomes even more pressing with the loss of big play tight end Braxton Deaver.