Last year saw the debut of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, giving Virginia Tech the opportunity to give several freshmen live game experience without burning a redshirt. Several Hokies were able to contribute because of that rule including Quincy Patterson in his occasional appearances as the Hokies’ backup QB.
After a redshirt rule, Virginia Tech has multiple redshirt freshmen who are poised to make an impact in 2019 with the top candidate being someone who didn’t play at all last season despite the new redshirt rule. Here’s a look at our rankings of the top 5.
5. QB Quincy Patterson
While Quincy Patterson may have the most intrigue, it’s hard to imagine him having a significant role in 2019 outside of coming in during garbage time blowout situations as long as he once again claims the backup QB job. Though Patterson seems likely to have a large on-field role with Ryan Willis back, there’s still plenty of intrigue around Patterson not only because of his potential but also because of the proxy 2020 QB battle.
Patterson proved to be a power-running threat with the limited playbook he received while he looked like a freshman throwing the football at times. Now some had sky high unrealistic expectations that Patterson could be this instant star but the reality is most quarterback, even highly-rated ones, need time to develop, Trevor Lawrence being the exception.
After passing Hendon Hooker last fall, Patterson will be the favorite in a three-man proxy battle for the 2020 starting QB battle with Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister joining the competition in addition to Patterson and Hooker. Given the live game experience he gained last year combined with a full year learning the playbook, Patterson should be poised to take some big strides forward in his development as the Hokies’ QB of the future for now.
While Patterson may not make a big dent on the field, the big story with Patterson will surround the proxy 2020 starting QB battle that will begin during fall camp.
4. CB Nadir Thompson
Nadir Thompson is one of two cornerbacks on this list after the North Carolina native was unable to play last season due to injury. Thompson enters fall camp under-the-radar but he has shown the athletic characteristics not only as a potential sleeper to earn significant playing time at cornerback, but also as a serious contender to earn the Hokies’ punt returning job.
Injuries prevented Thompson from ever having a chance last season, but after avoiding any setbacks, Thompson is poised to have his opportunity to compete. Of course, there is plenty of competition at cornerback especially with players from the 2018 class including sophomore Jermaine Waller and redshirt freshman Armani Chatman along with sophomore Brion Murray and the now healthy redshirt junior Jeremy Webb.
While Thompson may be the underdog in that competition, his athleticism gives plenty of reason to believe that he can at least make a dent on the Hokies’ cornerback rotation.
Additionally, Thompson was a very talented punt returner in high school and with that job being wide open, in part due to the transfer of Bryce Watts, Thompson looks like a favorite for the job on paper. Of course, some of that may depend on his durability after recovering from injury but he definitely has shown the potential to be the difference-making punt returner that the Hokies have been lacking since the graduation of Greg Stroman.
3. OL John Harris
Offensive linemen usually take some time to develop with it being rare for any offensive lineman to get snaps as a true freshman, even with the new rule. However, John Harris took advantage of the new rule and now has put himself in an interesting position on the interior of a Hokies’ offensive line with plenty of opportunity to earn playing time at center and right guard.
Harris’ versatility on the interior should at least put the redshirt freshman offensive guard in a strong position to be the first backup for the Hokies on the interior of the offensive lineman, whether that’s at guard or center. Long term, Harris looks like a future multi-year starter who can spread up that process if he can surprise some people in camp beyond what he has done to date.
Of course, there is plenty of competition at those spots starting with returning starter Zachariah Hoyt who is far from certain to retain a starting spot whether at center or right guard. Additionally, the Hokies have plenty of other young talent in their first or second years on campus including incoming four-star OG Doug Nester that has plenty of fans intrigued plus former walk-on Austin Cannon who broke into the two-deep last season to represent the older offensive lineman.
The most intriguing competition for Harris comes from Coastal Carolina transfer Brock Hoffman. While he should easily be able to win his appeal after a shocking decision to decline his initial pursuit of a hardship waiver, Harris would be a guy Vance Vice would likely look to as a replacement should Hoffman’s appeal also get rejected (which seems extremely unlikely).
2. CB Armani Chatman
Armani Chatman was one of the many beneficiaries of the new redshirt rule last season playing in a pair of late season games against Miami and Virginia. In addition to that game experience, Chatman may have an advantage on fellow redshirt freshman Nadir Thompson given the fact that Chatman was able to go through a full season healthy rather than have a long injury recovery like Thompson dealt with.
Chatman did make a big impact on this year’s Spring Game with an interception in the end zone on a fourth and long. While it may have come from a really bad decision, the fact that Chatman was able to make a play is a great sign for a defense that was lacking in the turnover department last season.
Now Chatman does have a tough battle ahead for a starting job with Jermaine Waller looking like the favorite on paper along with Jovonn Quillen and a healthy Jeremy Webb. However, there’s plenty of opportunity for Chatman to at least break into the two-deep this fall with a chance continue climbing the depth chart as he gains experience given how wide open the Hokies’ cornerback situation is.
Additionally, Chatman looks like the type of versatile player who could see plenty of time on special teams to get some more game action that can help his development even more.
1. WR DeJuan Ellis
After moving from quarterback to wide receiver during the fall, there’s plenty of hype and intrigue surrounding DeJuan Ellis and his potential to contribute as a fourth or fifth receiver for the Hokies. From offseason videos of him working on his game to showing lots of potential in the Spring Game, Ellis has plenty believing that he could be poised to become a significant offensive contributor this season.
I just wanna ball 😭 pic.twitter.com/sFRV7iAAuZ
— DeJuan Ellis (@DeJuanEllisll) February 25, 2019
Of course, there’s plenty of reason to believe Ellis has a very high ceiling in the slot given his speed and athleticism that will give almost any defensive back plenty of difficulties. That speed and athleticism gave the belief that Ellis could be productive as a wide receiver or cornerback if things didn’t work at quarterback for him.
Ellis does have a great opportunity to earn playing time with Sean Savoy’s transfer opening up the backup slot receiver spot behind Hezekiah Grimsley. While there are some intriguing incoming possibilities including 757 WR Tayvion Robinson (who was a QB in high school), Ellis should have the advantage given the amount of time he has already spent on campus.
The other competition Ellis likely will deal with is the talented tight end duo of Dalton Keene and James Mitchell that looks more than worthy of receiving time not only at h-back and along the line of scrimmage but also in the slot. Given the Hokies’ receiving corps, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Hokies use plenty of four-receiver sets and with Ellis’ speed and experience operation out of the backfield, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ellis be used at times on jet sweeps and screens where his speed can be a dangerous weapon for the Hokies.
The ceiling is quite high for DeJuan Ellis with a chance to become the Hokies’ top backup receiver with a strong fall camp, a role that likely will bring him lots of playing time.