Evaluating Virginia Tech's 2021 NFL Draft Prospects

Ricky LaBlue

The 2020 NFL Draft in all of its virtual glory has passed. Tight end Dalton Keene was the only Virginia Tech player to be drafted, being selected in the third round by the New England Patriots.

This year’s version of the Virginia Tech Hokies has a few more players with serious professional aspirations and should they keep pace with what they’ve done in their career, they should hear their name called in next year’s draft. Hopefully that draft will have real boos for Commissioner Roger Goodell and not virtual ones.

Let us look at a few players and where they could be selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.

CALEB FARLEY, CORNERBACK 

Caleb Farley no doubt would have been selected in this year’s NFL Draft had he declared. It might not have been as a first-rounder, but he’d have found a home somewhere. Instead, Farley is back for his redshirt-junior season.

Pro Football Focus rated Farley as one of the best cornerbacks in the country in 2019 and there’s no reason to believe he won’t do the same thing in 2020. At 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, Farley has the ideal build to play on the outside against taller receivers. He possesses elite speed and he’s fluid in coverage.

Farley’s 2019 stat line was impressive, and it would be hard for him to surpass it. If Farley matches his four interceptions and 12 pass breakups from last season, he’ll be a lock as a first or second-round pick.

Projected draft position: First or second round

TRE TURNER, WIDE RECEIVER

“Big Play” Tre Turner earned that nickname because of his ability to get open downfield. Turner has averaged 18.1 yards per reception over his two seasons in Blacksburg and has caught eight touchdowns.

At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Turner has average size and won’t win any points for measurables. But he’s very talented at the catchpoint and is very productive in the red zone. Turner’s stat line would look a lot better if Virginia Tech involved their receivers more in the pass game.

That could be what holds Turner back. With Hendon Hooker behind center, the Hokies’ offense is predicated on running the football and throwing to tight ends. When Tech does throw to their receivers, it’s usually on screens, slants or fade routes. This lack of diversity in the passing game will show up on film and it prevents Turner from showing his route running ability.

Turner would benefit from more targets in 2020, as well as a bigger route tree.

Projected draft position: Fourth or fifth round

CHAMARRI CONNER, DEFENSIVE BACK

Versatile defensive backs are becoming a hot commodity in the NFL. As teams spread the field and put stress on defensive schemes, coordinators are looking for defenders who can not only hold their own in coverage, but be able to drop down closer to the line of scrimmage and impact the run game.

The college game made this transition sooner, where versatile defensive backs are a dime-a-dozen. Chamarri Conner is one of those versatile guys, playing the nickel/whip position for Virginia Tech.

Conner packs quite the punch at 211 pounds and looks more like a bruising running back than a nickelback. Still, he is competent in coverage and can be coached up in that regard. He is athletic enough to hold his own against tight ends and against some slot receivers.

If Conner puts up another 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks like he did last season, Conner could easily declare for the draft. With that said, his ceiling is probably as a Day 2 pick.

Projected draft position: Fourth or fifth round

RAYSHARD ASHBY, LINEBACKER

For non-Virginia Tech fans, Rayshard Ashby may be the best player in the ACC you don’t know about. At 5-foot-10 and 237 pounds, Ashby is a tank at mike linebacker. Last season, Ashby was named conference linebacker of the week five times and was named to the Second Team All-ACC.

Ashby posted career highs in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks in 2019. He’s best suited against the run and attacks the line of scrimmage well. He’s not the best option in coverage, which limits his ceiling in the NFL. Ashby projects as a two-down linebacker and because he’d probably be a liability on third down, Ashby won’t go very high in the draft. It’s a shame, really, because Ashby may go down as one of the best linebackers in Virginia Tech history.

Projected draft position: Sixth or seventh round

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