For the fourth-straight season, The Tech Lunch Pail has put together our list of the top 10 Virginia Tech football players as voted on by editor Tim Thomas, associate editor Matthew Atkins, and writers Dwight Lester, David Cunningham, Jackson Pugh, and RJ Garza.
Of note, only two players made the top 10 list for every vote on this list: Ricky Walker and Josh Jackson. In addition, 21 different players received votes with Damon Hazelton, Yosuah Nijman, and Houshun Gaines being among those to not make the top 10.
With that said, here's our countdown of the top 10 Hokies entering the 2018 season.
T9. WR Eric Kumah
There was a three-way tie for ninth in our rankings with junior WR Eric Kumah making the cut and receiving votes from four of our voters. The junior wide receiver struggled early in the 2017 season, but improved as the season went along and emerged as the Hokies' #2 wideout by season's end.
Kumah saved two of his best games for the end of the season with 6 catches for 82 yards against Georgia Tech and 5 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma State. Overall, Kumah finished the season with 28 catches for 324 yards and 2 touchdown after only having a 5-yard reception against Old Dominion during non-conference play.
Kumah enters this fall paired with Damon Hazelton as one of Virginia Tech's starting outside receivers with expectations being raised for these two to lead the charge in filling the void left by Cam Phillips. Kumah was able to step up as a productive compliment to Phillips last year, but Josh Jackson will be looking for his 6'2'' wideout to develop into a top target caliber receiver.
T9. OL Kyle Chung
Virginia Tech has one of its strongest offensive lines in years yet Kyle Chung is the only offensive lineman to make the cut on our list, showing how a big reason for VT's offensive line strength is the depth and consistency across the line. However, the Hokies do return some more high-end talent including starting left guard Kyle Chung.
The versatile Chung has bounced all over the offensive line throughout his Virginia Tech career, but Chung has found his spot the past two seasons. Last year, Chung emerged as the surprise starter at right tackle and grew into the position as the season went along. This offseason, Chung gave center another spot, but the development of Zachariah Hoyt has Chung moving over to left guard for his final season in Blacksburg.
Chung will be an important leader not only on the Hokies' offensive line, but also on the Hokies' offense as a whole as one of only three senior starters. That leadership factor is one of the reasons why Justin Fuente is excited to have Chung back for a sixth season and is a significant part of his role this season beyond his on-field performance.
T9. FS Divine Deablo
Divine Deablo didn't play much last year but when he did play, the former wide receiver showed that he the potential to be a dynamic free safety with an impressive feel for a position that he had just moved to months prior to the start of the 2017 season. Deablo only played in four games but had 8 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, and an interception against Old Dominion where Deablo suffered his season-ending injury.
The former wide receiver wasn't healthy this past spring, but with Deablo being named the starting free safety; it's clear that he is ready to go for the start of the season. With Deablo being back to 100%, he has been a popular pick as a breakout player for the Hokies not only among other VT analysts, but also among those that cover the ACC or college football as a whole.
Deablo was impressive in his limited playing time in 2017, but the redshirt sophomore from North Carolina appears more than ready to make a big jump and emerge as one of the ACC's best safeties. However, Deablo now has to meet the lofty expectations that have been placed on him while replacing a former first round pick in Terrell Edmunds who became a fan favorite along with his brother over the past two years.
8. WR Sean Savoy
Sean Savoy may not be among the starters, but the sophomore receiver from Washington D.C. should have a large role in the Hokies' offense after a strong freshman season. The speedy slot receiver started out strong, but struggled in the latter part of the season though given what he had to go through, it's incredible that he was able to keep playing and do so at any sort of productive level.
Savoy was second on the team in all major receiving stats last season with 39 receptions for 454 yards and 4 touchdowns. Savoy showed plenty of breakaway speed and acceleration in the slot that made him a threat on short passes and screens while also giving the Hokies the versatility to consistently use him on jet sweeps.
Though Savoy will not be a starter in the Hokies' opener, you can expect that he will have a heavy role on offense and be the fourth receiver for the Hokies when they don't want to use a tight end as a second slot receiver. In addition, get ready for Savoy and Hezekiah Grimsley to continue to compete for the starting slot receiver job throughout the fall.
7. WR Hezekiah Grimsley
Hezekiah Grimsley was quiet early in the season, but Grimsley emerged as one of the Hokies' top receivers at the end of the season with 5 catches for 56 yards against Virginia and 5 catches for 63 yards against Oklahoma State. Grimsley built on that momentum this offseason and though Phil Patterson had a flashy catch in the Spring Game, it was Grimsley who was the best receiver in that game.
Over the past several months, Grimsley has shown a consistent ability to create seperation in the slot while making strides in his route-running and some of the other more refined skills for a wide receiver. The fact that Grimsley was able to consistent show an ability to gain separation while also having better hands than Savoy showed last season has appeared to help him earn a starting job this season.
Now, Grimsley has emerged as the starting slot receiver over last year's starter Sean Savoy after having one of the best offseasons of any Hokie. Grimsley definitely has the potential to be a breakout player for the Hokies, but will also have plenty of competition for his job throughout the season from Savoy and C.J. Carroll.
6. DT Vinny Mihota
Vinny Mihota started out his career at defensive tackle before moving back outside to defensive end and earning a starting job there for the past two seasons. Now, Mihota has slid back inside to fill the void left by Tim Settle and as he returns to full health, the senior from Fredericksburg, VA is poised to have a starting role next to Ricky Walker on the interior of the defensive line.
Mihota has never had the flashiest numbers but he's always done many of the little things well within the role that he has. Last season, Mihota had a decline in production with 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks but his ability to do the little things well was a big reason why he was able to consistently be productive.
Looking ahead, Mihota is still recovering from his knee injury and will likely be limited early in the season, but should be back to 100% and his normal role by the time the Hokies head on the road for games at Old Dominion and Duke. The question that remains is how well will Mihota adjust to his move to defensive tackle though the positive is that Mihota has shown plenty of versatility spending some time at DT last season in a rotational role and starting his career on the interior.
5. DE Trevon Hill
Trevon Hill may not have received as much attention as Ricky Walker or Tim Settle last year, but the 757 defensive end was very good in his first season as a starter with 46 tackles, 9.5 total tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 7 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble, and an interception in the Hokies' season opener last season.
Entering his second season as a starter, Hill returns as one of the conference's top defensive ends as a well-rounded DE who is a very good pass rusher and has developed into a quality run defender. Hill also had some of his best performances in big games with 6 tackles, 1.5 total tackles for loss, and a sack against Clemson; and 2 tackles for loss including a sack against Oklahoma State.
Hill has the benefit of also being a part of a strong defensive line with no weak point on it, something that should help him have a good amount of one-on-one opportunities. Looking ahead, Hill should be a guy that takes the next step and becomes an All-ACC caliber defensive end this season, but it remains to be seen if he will do so.
4. RB Deshawn McClease
Deshawn McClease struggled to receive consistent carries till the final three games of the season, but once he did receive consistent carries, the 757 native thrived. Over the final three games of the season, McClease had half of his total rushing yards while he also averaged at least 5 yards per carry in every game in which he had 10 or more carries per game.
On the season, McClease finished with 530 yards, 4.9 yards per carry and 3 rushing touchdowns while also having 66 receiving yards on 9 receptions. The biggest thing that McClease gave the Hokies' backfield was an explosive, speedy back that gave the Hokies some big play potential while also increasing the number of moderate gains that gave VT a more consistent running game.
Looking ahead to this season, McClease is candidate to become Virginia Tech's first 1,000 yard rusher of the Justin Fuente era even with the backfield rotation with Peoples. However, the bigger stat to watch will be whether McClease will be able to improve upon his rushing average and go from a 5 yards per carry back to taking the next step into the upper echelon averaging 6 or more yards per carry.
3. DB Reggie Floyd
Reggie Floyd made some memorble plays last season from returning an interception for a touchdown against North Carolina to making a game-saving tackle against Pittsburgh that set up the most impressive defensive goalline stand in college football last year. Overall, Floyd was a turnover machine finishing last season with 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 72 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 pass breakup.
Floyd proved to be a very versatile safety who fits the rover role well as an effective run defender and zone coverage defensive back. While Floyd isn't a free safety, he did show some comfort in the center field ball-hawking safety role at times, and could give Bud Foster some options to drop Floyd deeper and use Deablo on some blitzes or even use them both to provide extra help for the Hokies' young cornerbacks.
Beyond that, Floyd has been pushed into a role as a leader for the Hokies as the only returning starter in the back 7 for the Hokies. Floyd has stepped up in taking on that leadership responsibility and was one of four named as captains recently, three of whom represent the top 3 players on this list.
2. QB Josh Jackson
For the first time in the Justin Fuente era, Virginia Tech has a returning starter at quarterback in Josh Jackson. Though Jackson struggled during November, the Michigan native was one of the top freshman quarterbacks in college football and enters this season as one of the better returning QBs in the conference.
As a redshirt freshman, Jackson threw for 2,991 yards, 20 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and a 59.6% completion rate while also running for 324 yards and 6 touchdowns. Jackson came out strong to start the season with an impressive debut against West Virginia, but the Michigan native struggled in November, something that opened the door for a possible QB competition. However, it became clear relatively quickly that Jackson was preventing that QB competition from gaining much traction or publicity.
Jackson has now had a full offseason to build off his solid freshman season and should rightfully be expected to take strides both in his on-field production and leadership. So far, Jackson has appeared to take on a role as a leader for the Hokies after being chosen as one of VT's four captains by his teammates for the 2018 season, becoming the first VT QB to earn that honor under Justin Fuente.
1. DT Ricky Walker
Number 1 on this list shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone as Ricky Walker has clearly been Virginia Tech's top returner for several months no and will be one of the top defensive tackles in all of college football this season. Walker shared the spotlight with Tim Settle last season, but Walker now has the focal stage on the Hokies' defense on a defensive line that's the only area on the Hokies' defense returning more than 30% of their starters from last season.
Walker finished last season with 41 tackles, 12.5 total tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 6 QB hurries on his way to earning All-ACC Honorable Mention in a season where he could have easily earned a spot on the All-ACC Second or Third Team with his performance. Now, Walker enters the 2018 season as the ACC's best defensive tackle that doesn't play for Clemson with a great chance to push Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins for a spot on the 2018 All-ACC Team.
However, Walker's role goes beyond his on-the-field production as the defensive leader for the Hokies who was unsurprisingly named one of VT's four captains. His role in that leadership position may be even more valuabe both in the short and long term for a team full of youth especially on the defensive side of the ball with seven new starters, all but one of whom are freshmen or sophomores.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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