Virginia Tech has never been much of a place to recruit tight ends, nor use them as planned. As of now, be thankful for Bucky Hodges and Ryan Malleck- we had some thinner years with a bunch of average or converted tight ends like Greg Boone, Chris Drager, Eric Martin, and Randall Dunn. When Drager was probably the best of those and he was a former defensive lineman, you know that things have been stretched terribly thin. In the past two years, Tech has done a manful job of restocking the lines with new talent, making us deep in numbers but incredibly shallow in experience:
- Ryan Malleck (R-Sr.)
- Bucky Hodges (R-So.)
- Kalvin Cline (R-So.)
- Dakota Jackson (R-Jr.)
- Xavier Burke (Fr.)
- Matt Hill (R-Fr.)
- Chris Cunningham (Fr.)
At present, Jackson is sort of buried on the depth chart, Malleck will graduate, and Bucky is a legitimate NFL draft prospect at the end of the year if he's successful. You have to think that one, if not two or three (if Jackson ends up simply never really contributing) are discounted for further purposes after this year. However, being that this is Virginia Tech and we're not looking at needing or using that many tight ends, you have to figure that Cline is going to be back to the starting job next year if Hodges bolts. Right now, we'd be taking one roster spot for depth. As of right now, Tech has honed in on one prospect in particular...
Jovani Haskins (Bergenfield, NJ. 235lbs, 6'-4", Tight End)
Haskins is a classic case of a guy that doesn't spend a ton of time at one position enough to get a solid read on him as a whole. I could see you sticking him at DE, QB, or TE, but I agree for the most part that TE would be his best position. A four star on 247 and a three on Rivals and ESPN, Haskins is the new prototypical tight end- long, lanky, athletic, good ball catcher, not afraid to go over the middle and get wailed on by safeties and linebackers. He's got the frame for either QB or TE, but due to the QB action we've already got, he's definitely going to be put on the line. I do like the versatility, and I do like the fact that he's not afraid to in-line block and fight man-on with defensive ends in the running game. He's definitely in that 3-4 star range as an athletic tight end that's worth having on your team. Right now we're competing with in-state school Rutgers for him.
As for defensive ends, Virginia Tech has always turned mediocre ingredients into good quality players. We've had a few 4-stars play DE on a Foster defense- Ken Ekanem, Jason Woirlds, Stephen Friday (1 year), Chris Ellis- but most of the time it's 3-star guys that are lighting up the quarterback. At present, our depth chart for DE is actually decently stocked...
- Dadi Nicholas (R-Sr.)
- Ken Ekanem (R-Jr.)
- Seth Dooley (R-So.)
- Vincent Mihota (R-Fr.)
- Jeremy Haynes (R-Jr.)
- Laird Gardner (Sr.)
- Harry Boston (R-Fr.)
- Darius Fullwood (Fr.)
- Houshun Gaines (Fr.)
- Trevon Hill (Fr.) (Note: Will miss season due to injury)
Note: Melvin Keihn has been granted his release from the program
So for graduating two, we're fairly stocked with depth for the next year or so. DE will be a bit of a project in next year's recruiting, but for now, you're only looking to add one or two depth pieces at most. Projecting forward I'd say your likely 2016 starters are Mihota and Ekanem (if he doesn't get an idea to bolt to the NFL depending on the season, which is his right), which means that you're looking for a new starter in 2017. Either way, here are the two main prospects that Tech can conceivably sniff around. The first one is actually already committed to Florida, but he was at last week's barbeque event and Tech is still right after him:
JaQuan Bailey (Jacksonville, FL. 230lbs, 6'-3.5", Defensive End)
Bailey has a vision and nose for the ball, which is why he gets lined up in linebacker positions as well as on defensive end. He's got the prototypical Virginia Tech defensive end lanky/long frame- none of our ends are built like bricks, the closest you could argue is Nicholas being as large as he is. But for his size, Bailey brings the lumber on all of his hits. I like the fact that he has his head on a swivel on open field plays, looking for someone to hit, but there are a lot of unnecessary out of play leveling that seem to go on, which at the major college level might draw flags more often than not. He sort of reminds me of our former nemesis on Georgia Tech, Michael Johnson. He'd be an interesting pickup, but he doesn't seem to show a go-to block shedding move, relying more on speed and athleticism rather than technique. You can teach, but will he learn?
The second one I can't link hudl for- much the same as Holloway in my wide receivers preview, but the film is of someone that probably should be getting more hype than he is as a relatively anonymous player. I have a feeling this is Grassfield's policy, as Holloway is his teammate.
Patrick Jones II (Chesapeake, VA. 235lbs, 6'-5", Defensive End)
Jones is not easily moved off his spot, and has a good sense of the ball's whereabouts as well. If anything, he and Bailey could be twin prospects. They both get off blocks and get around plays quickly, can close from the backside, see the play develop well, and move in space well. They also have that same tendency to unnecessarily level people. What I could say about Jones that I can't about Bailey is that Jones shows a bit more traditional bull-rush/strength moves that Bailey doesn't seem to feature. Both can tackle, but I actually like the trash that Jones has to pick through more often rather than Bailey, who often has highlighted plays where he's unblocked due to formation and direction. Either player would be a good get, in my opinion, as a depth defensive end, possibly someone who contributes in their redshirt junior or senior year as a starter but gets intermittent snaps between now and then.
But as far as other possibilities, Virginia is light on defensive end talent this year, and other players (Zach Gilbert, Nick Coe, both of North Carolina) seem to be lined up to go elsewhere- Pitt, Auburn, UNC, among others. Things can always change as the season progresses, but right now, Tech isn't pounding the DE drum that hard, which is good, because no one's heavily pounding back.