Our position-by-position preview of the Hokies before fall practice starts continues today with a look at Bucky Hodges and the tight ends.
Virginia Tech entered last season with three known options as the tight end spot with Bucky Hodges, Ryan Malleck, and Kalvin Cline. Now, only Hodges remains after Malleck's graduation and Cline's transfer to Texas A&M with the Hokies having a bunch of young, unproven players behind the redshirt junior from the 757.
Hodges is one of the top 5 tight ends in college football while also being arguably the top tight end prospect currently for the 2017 NFL Draft with a big season likely guaranteeing him a spot in the first round. Hodges chose to return to school last season despite having the potential to go in the second round and now, Hodges is very likely entering his final season looking to improve his draft stock even more.
Last season in some ways was disappointing for Hodges who saw declines in receptions and receiving touchdowns compared to 2014 and only a slight improvement in receiving yards. Despite that, Hodges was still the All-ACC Second Team TE and a Phil Steele Fourth Team All-American after averaging 40 receptions for 530 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns, and an average of 13.3 yards per reception.
Hodges may be the most athletic tight end in college football and is a matchup nightmare for any opposing defense as Hodges has tremendous size and a very good vertical in addition to good speed that makes it hard for linebackers and even some safeties to stay up with him. Hodges has developed into a very talented red-zone threat that will win a whole lot of jump balls while also being a big threat in the slot or even on the outside.
One area where Hodges made some big steps in 2015 is as a blocker as he went form someone who you wouldn't want on the field as a blocker to a solid, collegiate blocker that is seen as a serviceable blocker at minimum at the next level. Hodges still has room to grow as a blocker but Hodges seems poised to improve all-around and have his best collegiate season especially in Justin Fuente's offense.
Behind Hodges will be a three-man tight end battle between former QB Chris Durkin and two redshirt freshman tight ends, Xavier Burke and Chris Cunningham.
Xavier Burke prepped for a semester at Fork Union before arriving in the spring of 2015 in Blacksburg and now has had a lot of time to mature and develop. Burke doesn't have great size at being only 6'2'' while also being listed at 270 pounds though that could mean he will be used in more of a blocking role.
Burke is an intriguing talent as someone who was even seen as a four-star recruit at some point but his size makes him more of a h-back that needs to develop into a good blocker along with being an effective route runner to make his biggest impact. However, Burke is an intriguing talent that could definitely find himself a role.
Chris Cunningham was the more lowly-regarded tight end that redshirted this past season but Cunningham is right with Burke and Chris Durkin in battling for playing time behind Hodges. Cunningham is also undersized at 6'2'' and doesn't have as much weight as Burke at 242 pounds as listed by hokiesports.com but Cunningham does seem to be able to have good skills for a potential h-back as a solid blocker and pass catcher.
Cunningham has shown a solid work ethic as well and was definitely a small surprise this spring as being very competitive with Burke and Durkin. Cunningham has put himself in strong position to contend for the backup tight end spot this fall though he'll have to keep pushing to earn that spot.
Chris Durkin made the move from quarterback to tight end starting in the fall before completing the move fully at the beginning of this past spring which many said reinvigorated him. Durkin has the highest ceiling of the trio and has been working hard to try to jump ahead of Burke and Cunningham.
Durkin has better size and athleticism that the other two tight ends while also showing the potential to be a very good pass catcher. Like Hodges, Durkin's blocking skills may take more time to develop especially with his past as a quarterback but the opportunity is there for Durkin to have a big role this fall.
TE Depth Chart Prediction
- Bucky Hodges
- Chris Durkin
- Xavier Burke
- Chris Cunningham
No surprise, Bucky Hodges will be the number 1 tight end and you can expect him to be on the field a whole lot at just about every spot from being at a traditional tight end spot to even being stretched all the way to the outside. Behind Hodges will be very close but Chris Durkin's upside and athletic skills make him the number 2 guy though Xavier Burke and Chris Cunningham will likely be used over Durkin on short-yardage and run-blocking plays.
While there is a lot of youth at the tight end spot, the Hokies have one of college football's best tight ends in Bucky Hodges leading the way.
Our position-by-position preview continues on next with Wyatt Teller and the offensive line.
Check out the home of our 2016 Virginia Tech Football Preview right here.