Virginia Tech revealed their first two-deep depth chart for the 2021 season ahead of their Friday night showdown against #10 North Carolina which included a few unexpected surprises and notable changes. Here's a look at some of the offensive highlights along with the full depth chart below.
Virginia Tech has released its Week 1 depth chart. Some quick observations to follow.— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) August 30, 2021
Most notable listing? Freshman Kaden Moore as the starting RG and Silas Dzansi as the starting RT. Johnny Jordan as backup C, though I'd expect him some at RG too. #Hokies pic.twitter.com/tCgAcqyztO
Kaleb Smith over Jaden Payoute at WR
After the hype surrounding Jaden Payoute last fall camp was cut short by a season-ending injury, most expected that Payoute would take over the outside WR2 job entering this season. Instead, Kaleb Smith starts the season ahead of Payoute at least on the public depth chart.
Smith is undoubtedly a more proven player that has good athleticism and size while also knowing the system well and having valuable live game experience that Payoute simply doesn't have due to injuries.
Smith has proven himself to be a quality blocker as well that may seem him used more on early down situations throughout the season. There's no doubt that Smith shouldn't be overlooked as a veteran player getting a starting spot on the depth chart, but seen as a proven player who has made 9 starts and has 17 receptions in his Hokie career.
However, it's easy to envision a scenario where Smith is the starter but Payoute receives the majority of the passing down and situation opportunities given the large upside he brings with his big play speed. Freshman Jaylen Jones also seems poised to push for lots of time after impressing coaches since the moment he arrived with spring and being the top new arrival on the outside with Da'Wain Lofton working at the slot.
It's also easy to imagine James Mitchell receiving lots of reps at outside receiver with the Hokies either using a second tight end in a more traditional role, or bringing in Da'Wain Lofton or Raheem Blackshear as a second slot receiver.
Kaden Moore Starts at Right Guard, Silas Dzansi at Right Tackle
Silas Dzansi starting along the offensive line seemed inevitable, but most thought that if he was starting at right tackle, it would mean that Maryland transfer Johnny Jordan was starting at right guard or somewhere alongside Lecitus Smith and Brock Hoffman.
Instead, well-hyped freshman Kaden Moore has had one of the best camps of any Hokie and in his second season in Blacksburg, has laid to the starting right guard job.
Now we've seen some opening week surprises before from Vance Vice on the offensive line, but this is a tremendous statement that the hype behind Moore wasn't about future promise but present production.
Justin Fuente also had high praise during comments at Virginia Tech's weekly press conference today.
Fuente on Kaden Moore: "We've been pleased with Kaden. He comes from a great family and he's a great worker...he's worked really hard. We're excited about his potential." #Hokies— Mike McDaniel (@MikeMcDanielSOS) August 30, 2021
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente said no one on the offensive line had a better fall-spring combo than freshman right guard Kaden Moore.— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) August 30, 2021
Of course, it wouldn't be surprising to see Moore continued to be push by Johnny Jordan who had played center throughout his collegiate career prior to his arrival in Blacksburg. That adjustment might be what's holding Jordan back at the moment and absolutely makes this an intriguing position battle to keep watching throughout the season.
Meanwhile, Dzansi falls into the category of being the best right side offensive lineman that the Hokies were going to get on the field with whoever was the second best whether that was at right guard or right tackle. The question that now remains is can Dzansi show the improvement from the last time he was the starting right tackle to hold off younger competition with higher upside in Parker Clements.
Odds seem pretty good at the moment that Dzansi will comfortably control this job, but this could be a position to watch if Dzansi struggles early in the season.
Running Back Battle Remains Wide Open
This probably doesn't come as a surprise based on comments from RBs coach Adam Lechtenberg recently, but Virginia Tech's running back trio remains tightly packed together. This is undoubtedly a competition that will change and evolve week-to-week though the versatility of Raheem Blackshear gives the top 3 plenty of opportunities.
Jalen Holston does seem poised to be the first guy out there to start the season, but all three guys bring different strengths to the table that could cause reps to vary a lot until one truly separates themselves like Khalil Herbert did last season. Holston is definitely the between-the-tackles power back while Raheem Blackshear is that gadget back perfect for passing downs and getting him in space.
Keshawn King is the ultimate x-factor as the guy who can come in against a worn down defense and hit the home run over the top or be the perfect change-of-pace guy especially with a power back like Holston. He also may have the highest upside of the three and has had a resurgence of an offseason which you can read more on here.
This is undoubtedly a competition that will continue week-to-week and come down to whoever is producing the most in game that week.
Knox Kadum Wins Backup QB Job
While there was definitely some intrigue surrounding who would win the backup quarterback job, it was hard not to have Knox Kadum at the top of the list given his solid emergency play against Clemson last year when he was 4-6 for 64 yards and ran for 24 yards on 6 carries.
Combine that with facing an incoming freshman in Tahj Bullock who didn't arrival till the summer and a transfer who hadn't played QB in years in Connor Blumrick and this was Kadum's job for the taking.
Kadum definitely has shown some intriguing promise and bringing in Blumrick may have helped push Kadum even more though it's unclear how much traction Blumrick has gotten given how he hadn't played QB in years. He also proved to be a gamer with lots of toughness in that unexpected appearance last season which is definitely a plus on the mental side of it for a QB.
Looking ahead, it'll be interesting to see how much Tahj Bullock is able to push Kadum in what likely is a QB battle of the future after the Braxton Burmeister reign. Bullock definitely fits well as a dual-threat QB with a plus arm, but it's hard for any QB to climb the depth chart immediately upon a summer arrival and not a spring one.
However, Bullock definitely has plenty of the raw skills that you look for in a quarterback to be someone who can absolutely start pushing Kadum by the end of this season.