Countdown to College Football Kickoff: Top NFL prospects at Virginia Tech

Oct 5, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Mark Pope (6) has hot pass broken up by Virginia Tech Hokies defensive back Caleb Farley (3) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

College football is scheduled to return Saturday, August 29. Each day until then, will be evaluating the rosters of the best teams in college football, including all 64 within the Power Five conferences.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Head Coach: Justin Fuente (fifth season)

2019 Record: 8-5

2020 NFL Draft Picks: Dalton Keene, TE, New England Patriots – Third Round, No. 101 overall


Reliable as summer sunshine, the Virginia Tech Hokies finished last year as they have after every season since 1993 – by going bowling.

The fact that the Hokies lost the Belk Bowl (their third consecutive bowl game loss) to Kentucky obviously put a damper on the team’s 8-5 record, especially given that starting quarterback Hendon Hookier was locked down by the Wildcats for much of the game, throwing for a season-low 110 yards.

The news around Virginia Tech’s offense has only gotten worse since with big play wide receiver Damon Hazelton, Jr. opting to transfer to Missouri, taking his team-leading eight touchdowns with him. The Hokies only threw 24 passing touchdowns last season and more than half of them were caught by Hazelton and tight end Dalton Keene, who the New England Patriots nabbed in this spring’s draft.

The ground game is also wide open, of course, after starting running back Deshawn McClease opted to join Keene as an early entry into the 2020 NFL draft. Two of the Hokies’ leading returning rushers, in fact, are quarterbacks Hooker (356 yards, five TDs) and presumed backup Quincy Patterson (241, two) with 5-11, 182 pound sophomore Keshawn King the only back on the roster who had at least 40 touches a year ago. King, by the way, ran for a total of 340 yards on 79 attempts (4.3 average) with 119 of them coming in a September 14 win over Furman, an FCS school.

Solace can be found in the fact that Virginia Tech returns one of the most gifted defenses in the ACC with NFL prospects littered throughout, especially in the secondary.

Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Caleb Farley, CB, 6-1, 207, 4.45, rJR

It is perhaps appropriate that the Hokies offense in 2020 may rest on the right arm (and legs) of Hooker, as the defense is led by Farley, who finished behind only his future teammate as a Second Team All-State quarterback in North Carolina before making the switch first to wide receiver and later cornerback with the Hokies.

Farley turned heads in the opening days of Virginia Tech’s fall camp in 2018, pulling in a couple of long receptions at receiver before suffering a torn ACL which abruptly ended his season, forcing a redshirt.

If rehabilitating the injury and being asked to switch positions again to cornerback were not difficult enough, Farley also lost his mother, Robin Farley, to a decade-long battle with cancer.

Both the Hokies and others recognized the extraordinary circumstances Farley was going through and he was named an honorable mention selection as the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year after he returned to action, playing in all 13 games and registering 36 tackles, as well as seven pass breakups and two interceptions.

Farley’s triumphant return to the field was one of the feel-good stories for the Hokies in 2018, especially following a dramatic two interception performance against rival Florida State in his first game back.

Still, few anticipated his dramatic ascent last year, when Farley emerged as one of the best cornerbacks in the country.

Despite missing the final two games last season with back spasms, Farley led the ACC with 16 passes defensed, including four interceptions (second in the conference), earning First Team all-conference honors. Possessing an ideal combination of size, speed and ball-skills, as well as proven tenacity, Farley enters the 2020 season as a potential All-American and first round NFL prospect.

Strengths: Well-built athlete with broad shoulders, a tapered middle and long limbs. Ease of movement is obvious on tape with Farley alternately using a low and tight backpedal or sidestep in his initial drop and showing loose hips and greasy knees to change directions fluidly. Sudden accelerator with very good top-end speed, especially given his size. Excellent closing burst coming downhill, planting his leg and driving towards the ball to break up popular short routes like quick outs, slants and receiver screens.

Shows impressive instincts and route awareness, especially given his relative lack of experience. Comfortable switching off of his primary cover responsibility when the ball is in the air and attacking it, while demonstrating above average ball-skills for the position, including terrific hand-eye coordination and body control to affect the ball without driving through the receiver.

Plays up to his size rather than his quarterback background, providing plenty of pop as a tackler. Wraps his arms securely and drives his legs through contact with 43 of his 56 career tackles to this point solo stops. Appears to be an ascending player whose resiliency both on and off the field suggest he possesses the work ethic to take full advantage of his natural talent.

Weaknesses: Highly aggressive cover corner who likes to jump short routes, leaving him vulnerable to savvy double-moves. Almost too poised with the ball in the air, too often opting to wait for the receiver to make an attempt at a catch and then ripping at his hands, rather than turning and locating the ball himself. Can get too focused on his primary cover responsibility with a delayed reaction in run support. Willing and physical tackler but could be more aggressive in this area, with some standing around the pile on tape… Comes with legitimate durability concerns, finishing two of his first three seasons at the college level on the sideline with significant injuries. Unable to play in the final two games of the 2019 season due to back spasms, which Fuente later described as a season-long issue.

NFL Player Comparison: Jimmy Smith, Baltimore Ravens – Like the 6-2, 210 pound Smith, Farley possesses rare size for the position, as well as the agility and straight-line speed for coverage duties. Farley shows more exciting ball-skills at this point of his career than Smith - who the Ravens drafted in the first round back in 2010 despite his recording just three interceptions during his time at Colorado – but, unfortunately, similar struggles with durability, at least recently. When healthy, both are difference-makers with the talent and intangibles worth building around.

Current NFL Draft Projection: First-Second Round

The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Virginia Tech:

1. Caleb Farley, CB, 6-1, 207, 4.45, rJR

2. Divine Deablo, S, 6-2, 223, 4.50, SR

3. Rayshard Ashby, ILB, 5-10, 237, 4.75, SR

4. Justus Reed, DE, 6-3, 270, 4.85, rSR - Transfer from Youngstown State

5. Emmanuel Belmar, OLB, 6-2, 245, 4.65, rSR

6. Christian Darrisaw, OT, 6-5, 311, 5.10, rJR

7. Tre Turner, WR, 6-2, 190, 4.45, JR

8. Chamarri Conner, S, 6-0, 211, 4.50, JR

9. James Mitchell, TE, 6-3, 252, 4.65, JR

10. Jermaine Waller, CB, 6-1, 185, 4.50, JR

*All 40-yard dash times are estimates