Who will be the most important to getting the Justin Fuente era off to a good start? As we've done the previous three seasons at our previous home, we've counted down the players we believed were most important to Virginia Tech's success. And this season is no different, as we've compiled the top 16 for 2016.
Each of our staff members compiled a list of who they believed were the 16 most important players for the Hokies this season. Each player then earned a score based on where each staff member ranked them (16 points for a first place vote, 15 points for second place, 14 points for third place, etc.) and the points were added up for a true staff ranking. Tiebreakers included most higher votes and most overall votes.
For each of the next 16 days, we'll reveal each of our top players. Be sure to chime in on our message board with your thoughts and who you think should be the most important players this season.
No. 1 Isaiah Ford
Jason Stamm, Publisher
It's hard to believe that with all the success Virginia Tech had in the Frank Beamer era, it never had a player haul in 1,000 yards in a season. That changed last season, when Ford topped that mark easily in the Hokies' Independence Bowl win over Tulsa. That's set the stage for what could be an even bigger 2016 for him.
If Ford could achieve that success in more of a pro style offense under Beamer, how much more could he succeed in a spread offense under coach Justin Fuente? As a staff, we think he could and if he stays healthy, will put up even bigger numbers this season. The rest of the media agrees, as it made him the only Virginia Tech player on the ACC's pre-season all-conference team.
Ford is one of the best receivers to ever come through Blacksburg. He's put in a tremendous amount of work off the field and since he decided to focus on purely football and not playing basketball, his level of play seems to have gone up as well.
It's true, that Ford's success hinges on the Hokies' quarterback play and is a case why Jérod Evans should be No. 1 on our list. But Ford is a threat to break a big play every time he touches the ball. Expect to see Fuente use a few creative ways to get him the ball, not just your typical passes from Evans.
There's little doubt that Ford would be taken next spring in the NFL Draft. He could return for his senior season, but depending on just how well he does this season, it may be foolish for him to return. Virginia Tech fans should appreciate just the talent it has in Ford, while he's still in a Hokies uniform.
Max Esterhuizen, Editor
Ford was named to the 2016 Maxwell Award watch list, which is given annually to the nation’s top player – regardless of position – after having arguably the most productive season ever for a Virginia Tech wide receiver. Ford had 1164 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, but also went 2-3 passing and had 51 yards rushing.
Ford is on pace to break the all-time receiving touchdowns record, held by Antonio Freeman, who had 22 touchdowns as a Hokie. Ford is up to 17 receiving touchdowns. Regardless of the player behind center, Ford will be the top target down the field. He such a threat receiving down the field that he doesn’t have to consistently make plays; his ability to make plays will open up the field for other receivers, such as Phillips, Hodges, Wilson, and Rogers.
In what could be his final season in Blacksburg, look for Ford to set the all-time receiving touchdowns record and potentially pass Jarret Boykin’s all-time receiving yards record of 2884.
Doug Bowman, Senior Writer
Virginia Tech has zero depth at receiver, so keeping Ford on the field is the first most important thing. He and Cam Phillips are going to put up big numbers, as they have done during their first two years. However, this year they get to play in a wide receiver-friendly offense, which has to be exciting for both of them.
Ford is going to rewrite all the Virginia Tech record books this year. While the Hokies are lacking depth at a number of positions, they have some really talented players at a number of positions. If you include Hodges as one of Virginia Tech’s top receiving threats, that’s a pretty potent big three.
Kelly Porazzo, Staff Writer
Ford has always had an impact on the offense, but soared above all others when he rolled up 227 yards receiving and a touchdown in the Hokies' bowl win over Tulsa. Ford exemplifies the total package: impressive speed, quick footwork, and great athleticism.
In 2015, Ford became the first Virginia Tech player to have more than 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. He expressed in interviews through the year how he wants to act as a sponge with Fuente in order to absorb the material and execute. Hopefully his connection with the new starting quarterback is even stronger than with Brewer, so he and the rest of the offense can shine.
Delaney Hall, Staff Writer
This should be a no-brainer. Ford leads by example every time he hits the field. He finished his 2015 season with 1164 yards and 11 touchdowns and set single-season school records for catches and touchdowns. Ford also became the first Virginia Tech player to have more than 1,000 yards in a single season.
HopefullyFuente’s new, fast paced offensive style won’t be too hard for Ford to handle. Hokies fans can only hope that Ford’s success in previous seasons will transpose to the 2016-2017 season.