What could the Virginia Tech roster look like when the season starts?
In a normal year, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in July. But with the uncertainty we’re faced with amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s unclear when the college football season will be able to take place.
There is a thought that it might not be safe to start the season until the spring. Power Five schools appear to be moving towards such a delay. That sounds harmless enough, right?
The challenge that conclusion would present is that – even aside from the fact that we’ve already seen players from other sports opt out recently – the NFL Draft would likely take place while the season is still ongoing – and at a minimum, the pre-draft process would overlap with the season. Such a dilemma would make it difficult for top draft prospects (i.e., the best college football players) to play in a spring college football season. They’d also be accruing a year of academic service (which is what determines draft eligibility) regardless of whether they played or not.
As strong as Virginia Tech’s roster currently looks – particularly within the context of the ACC Coastal – its depth could be severely cut into if the season was delayed until the spring and some of its top contributors decided to forgo their remaining eligibility.
Being “the guy after the guy” is always a tough task, but here are some of the leading candidates to earn more prominent roles if some of Tech’s top players decide to enter the NFL Draft.
Brion Murray and Armani Chatman
By far, the most likely player to end his career early appears to be Caleb Farley, who is among the elites statistically and widely regarded as a first-round talent. However, he’s not the only man at this position who could enter the draft. Statistically speaking, Jermaine Waller is very comparable to Farley, and he has solid film. Most draft analysts have Waller either just inside or not far outside of their top 10 cornerback prospects, which means he has roughly a third-round grade at this stage.
Farley and Waller were both named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list, which is an award honoring the best cornerback in college football. If they both decide that their breakout 2019 season was enough to get them where they want to go, the Hokies would be in a bit of a pickle at defensive back. Thankfully, they have two potential replacements who gained valuable experience last season. Brion Murray and Armani Chatman would have big shoes to fill, but unproven players stepping up to the plate pretty much falls in line with the Hokie “DBU” tradition.
For some reason, Christian Darrisaw’s name isn’t popping up nationally as much as it is within the ACC, in which he is regarded as easily one of the conference’s best left tackles. Nonetheless, he would be draft-eligible and doesn’t appear to have a ton to gain – at least on the field – by staying in school.
Once again, Virginia Tech has a fallback option that has on-field experience. Luke Tenuta started the last five games of 2019 at right tackle, and he performed very well there. Whether he or Silas Dzansi makes the transition to left tackle remains unclear, but they would almost certainly be the starters at each side.
Alan Tisdale or Keshon Artis
Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield each seem more likely to stay in school than leave, but between the two of them, it’s also probably more likely that one of them enters the draft as opposed to both staying.
Determining a potential replacement at linebacker is somewhat of a twofold dilemma. First, we don’t know yet how many linebackers Justin Hamilton’s new defense will call for. If it’s three, Tisdale would be starting either way. If not, he’d be more of a backup.
In either event, Tisdale’s role would at least be elevated if either Ashby or Hollifield entered the draft. If both of them left, or if one did and Hamilton wants three linebackers, the most likely fill-in (especially at Mike or Sam – if they add one) would be Keshon Artis, although there could also be reps available for Amare Barno. Tisdale had a very strong 2019 season, and Artis arguably only hasn’t seen the field yet because of how good the guys ahead of him on the depth chart are.
Technically, all three projected starters at safety would be draft-eligible as soon as the upcoming season starts. With that said, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Devon Hunter wouldn’t want to stay, and Divine Deablo doesn’t have a ton of draft leverage either.
The one player who could forgo the rest of college is Chamarri Conner. However, it seems like regardless of the precise position that might open up, former four-star recruit J.R. Walker is next-in-line for starter’s reps – no disrespect to Tyree Rodgers. The only hurdle might be moving someone’s position to make room for him – although that might be favorable, considering how big (possibly oversized) Tech’s two deepest safeties are.
Jaden Payoute and Kaleb Smith
It seems premature for Tre Turner to wrap up his collegiate career, but there would be a considerable impact if he chose to do so. The Hokies are already replacing one starter from last season at wide receiver. Without Turner, the only returning starter at the position would be Tayvion Robinson (their slot receiver).
There’s a sense that Jaden Payoute will most likely win the current battle for No. 3 wide receiver, but there’s a chance it goes to Kaleb Smith. If Turner leaves, both would presumably become starters. Payoute hasn’t seen the field at this point, but as a former four-star recruit and track star, he has a lot of upside. Smith is less prolific athletically, but he was dependable when called upon in 2019.
With Dalton Keene gone, Gallo is already stepping into the No. 2 tight end role. But what if James Mitchell leaves? It seems unlikely, but he has the athletic profile to fit in the NFL, and he’s one of the ACC’s top returning starters at tight end.
In this scenario, Nick Gallo would be asked to go from no snaps to just about all of them, but there is intrigue surrounding him as a true dual-threat blocker and pass-catcher, which the Hokies seem to seldom have at their disposal.
Only time will tell whether any of these players might be needed in expanded roles, but it’s far more likely than in a typical season. In any event, the Hokies seem to have enough depth to somewhat seamlessly promote from within without losing too much productivity.