If there is one position on the 2019 Virginia Tech football team that is deep, talented and without worry its wide receiver. While much has been made about the attrition since January, well, the depth and talent has played a major factor in those departures.
Eric Kumah had a solid career for the Hokies the past three years. He was a good ACC receiver. Yet, he realized he wasn’t moving ahead of Tre Turner and Damon Hazelton at outside receiver. So, he entered the portal. Sean Savoy departed late last season and while his was more of a personal issue in nature, he faced an uphill battle to get back to where he was as a freshman. Savoy, like Kumah, had shown he possessed the ability to start at this level. Unfortunately for Savoy, he was miscast as a punt returner last fall and his season never seemed to get going. That wasn’t his fault.
And then there is four-star prospect DeJuan Ellis. Ellis was a big-time get for the class of 2018. He was transitioning from high-school quarterback to wide receiver and things appeared to be going well until this summer. True freshman Tayvion Robinson has wowed coaches and teammates alike since arriving on campus and will play this year. Right now, he is the top backup to Hezekiah Grimsley in the slot, therefore, Ellis entered the portal instead of competing for playing time.
This year’s roster features the aforementioned Hazelton, Turner and Grimsley in the starting lineup. In his first year after sitting out one season after transferring, the 6’2”, 215-pound Hazelton played a starring role. He led the Hokies in receptions (51), yards (802) and touchdowns (eight). He was also second on the team, averaging 15.7 yards per reception.
As good as Hazelton was, Turner is the guy on the verge of breaking out into superstardom. The 6’2”, 190-pound sophomore didn’t start early in the season as he was behind Kumah, but once he finally received his opportunity, he was outstanding. He finished with 26 receptions for 535 yards, averaging over 20 yards per catch and scored four touchdowns. He showed his big-play ability in the win over Virginia. He is Tech’s No. 1 wide receiver.
Tre Turner is ready to shine for Virginia Tech this season. pic.twitter.com/H2D1TzBmRb— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 8, 2019
In the slot is Grimsley. The 6’0”, 185-pound junior from Williamsburg proved to be a tough and reliable option last season. He made five starts for the Hokies last season, catching 31 passes for 382 yards and a touchdown. He also scored a rushing touchdown. His block in the season-opening win over Florida State was a thing of beauty.
The top backup to Turner and Hazelton is junior Phil Patterson. Patterson has shown flashes during his first two years. He’s fast with good hands and continues to get stronger. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make more of an impact this year after catching just 12 passes last season. Redshirt freshman Darryle Simmons should see more time this season. The 6’2”, 212-pounder from Philadelphia, offers good size and athleticism to the position.
Another player to keep an eye on is walk-on redshirt freshman Kaleb Smith. He has opened eyes with his performance throughout last season and into this summer. Will he play a role this season? I wouldn’t rule it out.
Then, there is the true freshmen. There are a few of them who have bright futures with the Hokies. Robinson is electric. The 5’10” freshman from Virginia Beach has been electric this summer. He could be a matchup nightmare in the slot and it’s not just about straight-line speed. He has elite quickness and is elusive. He has forced coaches to make him a part of the rotation this season. He could also be a factor as a punt returner.
Next, there is Jaden Payoute, Jacoby Pinckney and Elijah Bowick. All three offer massive potential. Payoute was Tech’s top recruit along with Doug Nester in the class of 2019. A multi-sport star in high school, Payoute, at 6’1”, 210 pounds, has great size and incredible athleticism. He is transitioning to wide receiver so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Hokies redshirt him this fall. However, don’t be surprised if the coaching staff finds a way to get him on the field.
Bowick and Pinckney are more polished than Payoute at the receiver position. While not quite as athletic, both have the potential to make an impact this fall, especially Pinckney. He has the combination of size, athleticism and strong hands to be a great receiver for the Hokies sooner than later. All three players received a lot of attention later in the recruiting process but all stuck with the Hokies.
Now, at tight end, the Hokies are just as talented. First, there is junior Dalton Keene. The 6’4”, 251-pound junior has started 25 of 26 games in his first two years. After catching just 10 passes as a freshman, Keene caught 28 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns last season. He is dominant blocker who is also a major threat in the passing game. He had some huge plays last season like the catch against Virginia to set up the game-tying score or his 67-yard touchdown against Duke. Keene will have an even bigger role this fall.
Next, there is 6’3”, 252-pound sophomore James Mitchell. He played in every game last fall, mostly on special teams. No offensive player has received the amount of hype that Mitchell has this offseason. And you should believe that hype. He is the modern tight end who can be dominant in the short passing game, but also be a factor downfield. Expect to see plenty of two tight-end sets with Keene and Mitchell. These two give opponents major headaches.
There is also 6’5”, 250-pound sophomore Drake Deiuliis. He received a medical redshirt in 2017 and played in just four games last fall. He has the athleticism to play outside receiver and could get time there this fall. Don’t discount Deiuliis’ potential.
True freshman Nick Gallo, younger brother of Eric, is another future stud for the Hokies. The Hokies should redshirt the 6’4”, 242-pound Gallo due to the depth in front of him, but he is an outstanding receiver and will make his mark at some point in the future.
As you can see, the Hokies are in good shape at wide receiver and tight end. Of course, one or two injuries can flip the script and force Justin Fuente to dip into that inexperienced depth. Overall, there is reason for optimism and excitement with this group.
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