After having very good freshman seasons, wide receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips made plenty of strides this offseason, and have become one of the top two or three starting wide receiver duos in the ACC.
Ford has had the better of the two starts to the season with 8 catches for 130 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Phillips has also been productive with 7 catches for 90 receiving yards in the first two games.
Ford and Phillips are every-down wide receivers, and that is almost literally what they have been doing this season. The sophomore duo are the only two wide receivers that have received playing time with the full first-team offense this season.
The backup wide receivers have only played in fourth quarter garbage time against Furman when the Hokies decided to rest their starters. Virginia Tech has used all three of their talented tight ends with the first-team offense along with Travon McMillian in the slot.
The Hokies need to find a #3 wide receiver soon to step up and give the Hokies depth they desperately need behind the two sophomores.
The man closet to breaking through in that role seems to be Kevin Asante who had a 13-yard reception against Furman on Saturday. However, Asante hasn’t shown the best hands in the past with multiple drops in fall practice scrimmages.
Asante profiles as a slot receiver, but he still isn’t the best route runner along with not having great hands. Asante is probably the best route runner of the backup wide receivers, but Zohn Burden’s expectations are high for being fairly complete as a route runner.
Demitri Knowles has had a fairly big fall over the last two seasons after having 45 catches for 641 receiving yards and 3 receiving touchdowns in 2013. Knowles only had 3 receptions last season, and only played in the fourth quarter against Furman where he had a seven-yard reception.
Knowles has a lot of speed and his hands are not too bad, but his route-running is poor, and clearly hasn’t improved enough for him to earn playing time. Zohn Burden is not going to let anyone touch the field just because of one good season two years ago.
C.J. Carroll is undersized at a listed height of 5’7”, but Carroll has shown a lot of toughness and good speed while also being listed as a backup wide receiver along with joining Greg Stroman deep on punt returns. Carroll is still fairly raw, but he has shown the work ethic to give himself a chance.
Joel Caleb is looking more and more like a four-star bust as he can’t breakthrough on the depth chart. Deon Newsome has a lot of speed, but is in the same boat as Demitri Knowles with not being a good route runner, and losing his role as the jet sweep man. There was been a lot of interest in what Jaylen Bradshaw could do, but Bradshaw has been a disappointment.
The Hokies need someone to step up at the #3 wide receiver spot, but Zohn Burden will make sure that they have what it takes. The good news is that the Hokies already have four wide receiver commits from the Class of 2016 that will replenish the depth at the position in Blacksburg.
Maybe Kevin Asante or Demitri Knowles will claim the job, but plenty of questions remain.