Throughout the spring, a lot of the talk has not only surrounded Virginia Tech’s quarterback battle but also the supporting cast that the winner of the quarterback job will have to throw the ball to. Justin Fuente was consistent throughout the spring that his biggest concern was not with who would be quarterback but about the supporting cast around the starting quarterback.
While Fuente seems to be setting expectations low for the Hokies’ supporting cast, it appears that Virginia Tech’s group of wide receivers are more talented than people have assumed.
Obviously, any talk of the Hokies’ supporting cast must start with star Cam Phillips who is the one proven commodity in this Hokies’ offense. Phillips had a quiet start to the season but after having only 5 or more receptions twice in the first 6 games, Phillips had 6 or more receptions 7 times in the final 8 games including winning the Belk Bowl MVP with 6 catches for 115 yards and having double-digit catches in a single games twice last season against Georgia Tech (10 catches) and Clemson in the ACC Championship (12 catches).
Phillips thrived in the slot last year and while he would still be great in the slot, Phillips is moving to the outside where he has experience in the past and after making great strides in his development last season, should continue to be highly productive as one of the ACC’s best wide receivers. Phillips may not be a big, physical guy on the outside but he is a very well-rounded receiver that is an above-average route runner and has great speed to burn plenty of opposing defensive backs along with quick acceleration to create separation.
Phillips should be able to break Isaiah Ford’s career reception record as long as he stays healthy while Isaiah Ford’s single-season reception, receiving yards, and receiving touchdown records all are likely in danger with Phillips likely to be emphasized in the Hokies’ offense next fall and likely to be moved around a lot to get the best possible matchup for him.
After that, there is almost no experience among the Hokies’ top outside receivers with Eric Kumah getting a few snaps this past season including a couple of snaps against Arkansas in the Belk Bowl when Isaiah Ford had to briefly leave the field.
Eric Kumah has been praised repeatedly by the Hokies’ coaching staff this spring with injuries keeping Kumah out of the Spring Game. With Kumah even getting on the field in the Belk Bowl, it’s a great sign that Fuente and Holmon Wiggins were both comfortable with Kumah playing with the first team offense while Kumah has made lots of progress this spring and emerged as a frontrunner to be a starting outside receiver opposite Phillips.
Because Kumah was unable to play in the Spring Game, he is a little bit of an unknown to the public but all indications are that he will be ready to make a difference as a big, outside receiver that can win 50-50 balls and has won the trust of Justin Fuente which will be critical. Kumah has lots of promise and after having to be ready in case of injury last season for one of last year’s big three receivers, Kumah is ready to take a large role in the Hokies’ offense.
Phil Patterson may be behind Kumah on the depth chart along with not having received the same amount of praise as Kumah has from the coaching staff, but Patterson has shown this spring that he can be a quality receiver for the Hokies this fall on the outside that likely could start on a good amount of power 5 teams. Outside of his one miscommunication with Hendon Hooker in the Spring Game, Patterson had a good overall performance with no drops and a great catch on what was not a great pass from AJ Bush that forced Patterson to just about fully extend for a diving catch over the middle that would have been a much bigger play had Bush thrown an accurate pass to an open Patterson.
Patterson has shown he is a very good athlete with good speed and quality hands, making him someone that whoever the Hokies’ starting QB is can rely on next fall as a quality receiver on the outside.
Caleb Farley didn’t practice at wide receiver till after Kumah’s injury but despite only having a few practices there, Farley was getting first team reps over Patterson in the Spring Game and he shined.
Farley was arguably the biggest star of the Spring Game putting on a great performance with a couple great catches along with drawing three pass interferences from Brandon Facyson. Farley was arguably the fastest player on the field in the Spring Game while also showing he can go and win 50-50 balls while also running some solid routes especially for a guy that played quarterback in high school and only had a few practices at wide receiver. Farley has the potential to be a Freshman All-American at WR and we wrote earlier this week how Farley should stay at WR.
Caleb Farley has the potential to be a star WR that gets his name called in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft at the wide receiver spot and could take the ACC by storm on the outside for the Hokies’ offense this fall.
In the slot, two of the Hokies’ top guys were not available this spring with CJ Carroll out due to injury and James Clark still finishing up work at Ohio State before becoming a grad transfer for VT.
Carroll was the one wide receiver not named Bucky Hodges, Isaiah Ford, or Cam Phillips that was able to consistently touch the field with 18 catches for 258 receiving yards including a couple of big catches like his 62-yard reception against Notre Dame that helped give the Hokies some momentum in their impressive comeback in South Bend. Carroll reminds me a lot of a smaller Willie Byrn as Carroll, like Byrn, has earned a scholarship after being a walk-on and has proven effective as an undersized slot guy with great speed, quality hands, good agility, and toughness that helps him be productive and will allow to play a lot next season.
Ohio State grad transfer James Clark struggled for playing time with the Buckeyes and while it’s likely he would have seen a jump in playing time this fall, he elected to transfer after having 6 catches for 47 yards this past season. The former four-star WR from Florida is definitely more of an unknown but definitely projects to at least provide some solid depth but with a fresh start in his senior season, he definitely has the potential to push for the starting slot receiver spot.
Meanwhile, Kalil Pimpleton was the only on-scholarship player healthy and working in the slot this spring with Pimpleton showing lots of potential despite being undersized even for a slot guy at 5’7”. Pimpleton is simply a quick player who has great acceleration of the line of scrimmage and isn’t afraid of going over the middle and making plays. Pimpleton will give plenty of linebackers issues trying to cover him man-to-man as he is simply to fast even over only a few steps while he definitely has the speed to give plenty of defensive backs some problems.
Pimpleton has benefited from being an early enrollee and has positioned himself well to play as a true freshman with the Hokies having three receivers that they can use in the slot next season.
If Caleb Farley stays at WR, the Hokies appear to have seven guys who can be rotated in and out next season in Cam Phillips, Eric Kumah, Phil Patterson, and Caleb Farley on the outside plus CJ Carroll, James Clark, and Kalil Pimpleton in the slot; a number of receivers that would meet the ideal “7-8 receivers” target that both Justin Fuente and Holmon Wiggins have mentioned as ideal in the past.
Henri Murphy and Sam Denmark are two other guys to watch that could add to the Hokies’ “playable depth” at WR as the staff has liked the development of Denmark this spring going from being an athlete to developing into a receiver while Murphy has been banged up this spring but definitely is an intriguing talent with game-changing speed that makes him a threat to blow the top off defenses. Both of these guys have some work to do but Murphy is a guy to watch with his tremendous speed that should have him earn the Hokies’ top kick return job along with his versatility to play on the outside or slot allowing the Hokies to use him in some different ways on screens, jet sweeps, or to try and stretch the defense.
Virginia Tech will bring a lot of inexperience at wide receiver into next season but the talent and development for a receiving corps that is showing plenty of promise to not only have 4-5 good receivers but at least 7 guys who can be relied on to contribute at WR.