Virginia Tech’s Long Term Question Mark at Cornerback

The Virginia Tech Hokies have been known for producing tons of great defensive backs with the Hokies having at least 1 defensive back selected in 18 of the past 19 NFL Drafts including Chuck Clark this past season. That seems almost certain to become 19 of the 20 NFL Drafts with Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman both being fairly well-regarded and both currently seen as day 2 or early day 3 picks with Facyson having a chance to even get into the first round.

Virginia Tech has a very strong trio of cornerbacks for 2017 with the senior duo of Stroman and Facyson along with junior Adonis Alexander, but with Stroman and Facyson graduating and Alexander possibly a big season away from leaving early especially with a couple mock drafts mentioning him as a possible first round pick (including Walter Football), Virginia Tech could lose a lot of talent at cornerback with a lot of unknowns in line to replace them.

With Khalil Ladler shifting to rover this spring, the Hokies don’t have a lot of depth currently at the cornerback spot with Tyree Rodgers and Jovonn Quillen being the only other on-scholarship cornerbacks for the Hokies this spring. Bryce Watts will join the Hokies this summer but there is definitely a major question mark looming at cornerback if the Hokies lose all three of their top cornerbacks.

Now Virginia Tech has had plenty of defensive backs come in as true freshmen and be productive for the Hokies including Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson, and Adonis Alexander with Fuller and Facyson combining for 11 interceptions as true freshmen in 2013 and Alexander having 55 tackles and 4 interceptions. However, both Fuller and Facyson had the benefit of playing behind Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller on the outside while Alexander was the starting rover in 2015 before shifting out to cornerback this past season.

If Alexander were to leave early for the NFL Draft, there would be a real possibility that a true freshman would be used as a starter immediately instead of getting to take on a smaller role like Fuller and Facyson had on the outside as true freshman. While a true freshman could definitely prove plenty capable of starting as a true freshman, it still would be a risk and a major question mark going into that season.

One positive difference in this scenario would be the fact that the Hokies would have three cornerbacks who have at least had a year to be coached up by Bud Foster and Brian Mitchell in Rodgers, Quillen, and Watts but only one of those three is likely to receive a little consistent playing time this upcoming fall outside of any garbage time in blowouts.

Rodgers and Quillen both are intriguing talents who have the type of length that you want nowadays with both cornerbacks being at lest 6 feet tall while both looked solid against backup receivers in the Hokies’ Spring Game. Rodgers definitely appears to be the better of the two cornerbacks at this point with Rodgers having been the fourth cornerback last season but also redshirting as well with VT avoiding using him in a game.

Bryce Watts is a very good athlete with great speed who will likely redshirt this fall but definitely has the athletic talent to be developed into a very good cornerback by Brian Mitchell. However, Watts will likely need some time especially as someone who spent a lot of time at wide receiver while in high school and a redshirt seems very realistic for him.

While the Hokies do have three promising cornerbacks that will have had a year or two in the system being coached up by Brian Mitchell, they will still all be unknowns who also don’t have the same type of recruiting pedigree that Fuller and Facyson had as four-star recruits. Virginia Tech does have a cornerback commit from Braxton Clark and seems likely to also gain one from DJ Crossen, but Clark likely will need some time though Crossen definitely has the potential to come and break into the two-deep at cornerback at minimum.

However, there are a lot of unknowns for the Hokies at cornerback beyond next season that makes Adonis Alexander’s NFL Draft decision arguably the Hokies’ most important one aftet this season. Alexander has the potential to be that veteran, number 1 cornerback in 2018 that could be one of the best not only in the ACC but also across the country as an athletic, long cornerback with very good ball skills and a very aggressive mindset that has 6 interceptions in 2 seasons.

These young cornerbacks will have the benefit of likely having a pair of returning starting safeties with Terrell Edmunds likely to be back in 2018 unless his draft stock explodes this season while whoever wins the rover battle will also be back. While that definitely alleviates some concerns, the youth at cornerback may also push Bud Foster to use his safeties more in man coverage or shift to more zone coverage, something that Foster does seem comfortable running but something that is also not the bread and butter for a Bud Foster defense.

If Alexander leaves, Virginia Tech could also look at moving a couple of former cornerbacks back to the outside including Edmunds and Mook Reynolds. While moving Edmunds would be unlikely, it could be a possibility if the Hokies don’t have any cornerbacks step up and prove they can be the top guy for the 2018 season with VT also having some talented young safeties including Devon Hunter who is likely the future at free safety when Edmunds leaves Blacksburg.

Mook Reynolds has helped Bud Foster reinvent the whip linebacker spot into more of a nickelwhip/fifth DB that has utilized his skills quite well. However, Reynolds spent his freshman season at cornerback and while he would be clearly be an above-average run-defending cornerback, Reynolds has also shown that he has solid man coverage skills that would make a move back outside more doable and potentially smart if the Hokies needed a more proven player on the outside.

What Virginia Tech needs the most is guys like Tyree Rodgers and Jovonn Quillen to continue to improve and step up in the fall to earn those backup spots and not simply get them because there isn’t much depth at the cornerback spot. Both guys have shown they have the work ethic with Quillen earning playing time on special teams as a true freshman while Rodgers seems to be ahead of Quillen on the cornerback depth chart.

In 2017, Virginia Tech will have one of the best trios of cornerbacks in the country but after this season, there could be some major question marks at that spot especially if Adonis Alexander were to follow Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman to the NFL and leave early.

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