Recruiting is in inexact science. There are home runs and there are whiffs. There is Kendall Fuller and Tyrod Taylor, and then there is Joel Caleb and Holland Fisher. There is Kam Chancellor and then there is Austin Clark. You can never completely sure. Recruiting is about the future. Two to three years down the road - where are you going to be deep and where are you going to need depth.
If you’re trying to win ACC Championships while plugging holes in September with freshmen you signed in February, you aren’t going to have much success. If you’re plugging holes with guys who have developed for a few years? Much better chance.
So in evaluating a class, I like to look three years in the future. That gives most of these guys a redshirt year and a redshirt freshman year to develop before they enter the lineup in a big way their redshirt sophomore. Theoretically, that’s the best way to run a program. Obviously you’ll have some kids play earlier, some play later, some never play at all, but when recruiting a class, you’re trying to make sure you don’t get caught in a bind in a few years.
So let’s flash forward to August 2019. Justin Fuente is entering this fourth season in charge and he needs a full depth chart to compete. This 2017 class filled some holes for that roster, but it also left a few glaring ones. This will show us what positions will be huge priorities in 2018, and which positions Virginia Tech just cannot afford a bust at from what this class.
Things change, and walk-ons can fill a spot, but if Virginia Tech wants to win a national championship, they need depth across the board. At this point, this is how it looks (the numbers in parentheses are what Tech needs to feel comfortable with their depth).
QB (2): - Confidence Grade: A
1) Josh Jackson – Junior (RS)
3) Malik Willis
Virginia Tech is set at quarterback. It is Jackson v. A.J. Bush for the next few seasons, starting this spring, before Hooker could figure in. I’m a firm believer you should always recruit one quarterback per year, but the Hokies should be set for the foreseeable future. Virginia Tech also brought in Ryan Willis as a transfer this offseason, but I think it’s clear the staff sees Jackson and Hooker as the future. No worries here, particularly with the reputation that Fuente/Cornelson have for developing quarterbacks.
RB (2): Confidence Grade: B-
1) McClease – SR (RS)
2) Fox – SR (RS)
3) Jalen Holston – SOPH (RS)
4) Terius Wheatley – SOPH (RS)
There are four scholarship tailbacks set to be on the roster. McClease has yet to make an impact and is coming off a serious shoulder injury. Fox has yet to show that he will be a factor. Holston is a great prospect and Wheatley could be a sleeper, but the pressure will be on Holston to develop. If McClease can’t recover, Fox never makes it and Wheatley busts, Tech will be woefully thin at tailback in 2019.
They’ll continue to recruit Ricky Slade despite his commitment to Penn State, but there’s certainly cause for concern here. Holston got interest from Georgia, which is a very good thing because Georgia can produce some talent, but they’ll need more options. They’ll obviously be looking for some talented tailbacks in this class, because, as we saw with Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie, you can never be sure.
WR (6): Confidence Grade: A
1) Patterson – JR (RS)
2) Denmark – JR (RS)
3) Kumah - SR
4) Deablo – SR
6) Caleb Farley
8) Sean Savoy
Fuente talked a lot about playing 6-8 wide receivers when he arrived. He played three this year, so he can make do with less, so I am going on the low side at six as far as needs. Tech has eight scholarship guys on the depth chart for 2018 with potential for position changes, but there’s some room for error, plus with another two classes before then. With the offense Tech runs, I don’t think they will ever have trouble finding wide receivers, which is why my confidence is so high here.Ultimately, if Tahj Capehart wanted to play wide receiver, this is why his flip isn’t as big of a loss as if he was set on cornerback (more later). Tech has the time and depth to withstand losing him at this position.
Little side note here: Aside from Farley, the three guys Tech signed this year are true wide receivers. That’s big. For years, Tech tried to turn athletes like Marcus Davis into top wideouts. Instead, they saw much better success with pure receivers like Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale, Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips. Farley and Pimpleton are two of my favorite recruits in the class, but Farley in particular will have to overcome not playing receiver in high school.
TE (2): Confidence Grade: A
1) Cunningham – SR (RS)
2) Burke – SR (RS)
3) Drake Deluliis – SOPH (RS)
4) Dalton Keene – SOPH (RS)
These are more like H-backs than tight ends and Tech got two good looking ones, plus Cunningham, who proved his worth in the redzone this year. Burke may never make an impact because he’s not as good as receiver, but the depth here should be fine. Keene and Deluliis seem like the kind of athletes that will give defensive coordinators headache as Fuente moves them all over the field.
OL (8-10): Confidence grade: C
1) Jackson – JR (RS)
2) Plantin – SR (RS)
3) Hoyt – JR (RS)
4) Hopple – JR (RS)
5) Smith – SR (RS)
6) Silas Dzansi – SOPH (RS)
7) Lecitus Smith – SOPH (RS)
8) Aiden Brown – SOPH (RS)
9) Christian Darrisaw – FR (RS)
More than anything, offensive line recruiting is a crapshoot. That’s one of the reasons my confidence grade is so low. Tech has struck out on four stars like Tripp Carroll, Aaron Brown and Austin Clark. They’ve hit on guys like Augie Conte. They’ve done well with guys who have an extra year, which gives you hope for Dzansi and Darrisaw. Smith is listed at tight end, but with the kind of tight end Fuente is looking for, he seems destined to slide down the line.
But really, at this point, no one has any idea if these guys are going to be good enough in 2019 to first be a really good starting five and second to have enough depth to withstand an injuries. Tech needs to come up big with offensive linemen in the 2018 class. A lot of the current guys were lightly recruited. Tech needs to identify the top 2-3 guys they can realistically get (i.e. not a 5-star stud from Texas) and go toe-to-toe with UNC, Clemson, Tennessee, Maryland, etc, and get them to build that confidence up.
That’s one of the reasons why I think Mehki Becton was a particularly big loss. That was a guy Michigan wanted. If you’ve learned anything over the last 10 years, its that Jim Harbaugh can really coach football. If he’s willing to signoff on offering a guy, I think he’s a big loss.