Our position previews ahead of the first fall camp of the Brent Pry era for Virginia Tech football continue as we head outside the box to cornerback where the Hokies have an intriguing talent pool with some quality veterans mixed with high-ceiling players.
Check out our breakdown of the Hokies' cornerback room along with the rest of our previews to date.
- Running Back
- Wide Receiver
- Tight End
- Offensive Tackle
- Interior Offensive Line
- Defensive End
- Defensive Tackle
Projected CB Depth Chart Entering Fall Camp
- Dorian Strong, Armani Chatman
- DJ Harvey, Brion Murray
- Elijah Howard, Nyke Johnson
The top of the depth chart seems pretty locked in with Dorian Strong and Armani Chatman set to lead the way for the Hokies. DJ Harvey has loads of potential and should be able to push both of them while Brion Murray is a steady veteran who provides some quality depth and should easily be in the two-deep.
Behind them is where some of the biggest competition should be with redshirt freshmen Elijah Howard and Nyke Johnson currently on that third string line. True freshman four-star CB Cam Johnson also feels like a guy to watch this fall who could push his way up the long term depth chart behind the top 4.
Can Dorian Strong Go From Quality Starter to Star?
You're probably seeing a common theme with some of Virginia Tech's top young talent through these position previews asking the same question of whether they can make the jump from quality starter to star? Well, Dorian Strong is another one who falls in that category for the Hokies.
There's no doubt that Strong surprised everyone as a true freshman in 2020. After arriving as one of Tech's lowest-rated recruits in a lowly rated recruiting class, Strong came in and surprised everybody in the COVID-riddled 2020 season with 22 tackles, 1 interception, and 5 pass breakups. He seized early season opportunities when most at the top of the CB depth chart were out due to COVID protocol and never gave up much of his playing time once those guys were back.
Strong followed that up with a strong 2021 getting his chance at a starter and playing fairly well with 23 tackles including 1 for loss plus an interception and 6 pass breakups. He was a steady starter overall for the Hokies with some moments of brilliance and other moments that weren't so great.
Though some who projected Strong to be a star in 2021 may have been underwhelmed, there's no doubt that he showed progress in terms of consistency while embracing his role as a full-time starter. It's important to remember that Strong hasn't been playing football as long as most of the players he's going against making his fast start to his collegiate career even more impressive.
With a steady 2021 after a roller coaster takeoff in 2020 in the rear view mirror, 2022 feels like a year where Strong can jump to that All-ACC star level player.
There's no doubt that Strong has the athletic tools to become a star while his growth trajectory suggests that he can make that star jump this year. Additionally, he now gets to be coached up by someone who has a tremendous reputation as a DBs coach in Derek Jones which should certainly help.
If Strong can make that jump to All-ACC level star, it could be his last season in Blacksburg as the athletic tools he brings to the table are what NFL teams want. Combine that with an All-ACC season and Strong could be a first 3 round draft pick in 2023.
That's an if but the tools are there for Strong, the question is can he make the jump from quality starter to All-ACC star and future NFL Draft pick?
The Underrated Armani Chatman
There has been plenty of critique at times for Armani Chatman and while he has some bad moments, Chatman has been a steady player throughout his time at Virginia Tech providing plenty of quality starts.
Chatman was pushed into a third cornerback/emergency starter last season due to the meteoric rise of Dorian Strong that started in 2020 plus Jermaine Waller's return to health. Now with Waller gone, the path is clear for Chatman to be a quality, regular starter for the Hokies.
The numbers back it up as Chatman has 15 pass breakups over his three seasons at Virginia Tech including 7 in 2021 plus his first career interception. Additionally, Chatman was actually among the elite in fewest yards allowed for players with at least 300 coverage snaps last season.
Fewest yards allowed in coverage last season (min. 300 coverage snaps)— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 18, 2022
1️⃣ Trent McDuffie: 111
2️⃣ Sauce Gardner: 122
3️⃣ Armani Chatman: 169
4️⃣ Kaiir Elam: 185 pic.twitter.com/gufHSWJsdz
It's important to note that the other 3 players featured by Pro Football Focus were all selected in the first round of the past NFL Draft making Chatman the top returner nationally in this stat.
So yeah, the stats back up the reality that Armani Chatman is a quality ACC starter who has All-ACC upside and forms an under-the-radar strong duo with Dorian Strong.
DJ Harvey's Massive Potential
DJ Harvey was the headline name in the 2021 recruiting class and though he didn't get many opportunities overall, he showed loads of potential when he got on the field.
Though the Pinstripe Bowl didn't go well at all for Virginia Tech, Harvey was one of the few bright spots for a depleted Virginia Tech team with a pair of tackles while passing the eye test again and again looking very comfortable in man coverage. Him and fellow freshman safety Jalen Stroman showed in that game that Tech's defensive backfield has a bright future with Harvey having the talent to continue on the DBU reputation.
He added another tackle in the Spring Game in what was a quiet performance which for a cornerback, is usually a good thing and a sign that his coverage forced Grant Wells and company to look elsewhere. He also was on the field to receive punts and appears to be the favorite to be the Hokies' punt returner this fall with WR Da'Wain Lofton being his top challenger.
There's no doubt that Harvey has loads of potential with his great athleticism along with the quality coverage skills that he's already shown. Though he's likely stuck behind Strong and Chatman on the depth chart for 2022, Harvey is clearly a future starter and should be able to provide quality depth alongside Brion Murray.
However, Harvey should have the opportunity to compete with the veteran Murray for playing time as a nickel cornerback with Harvey having the greater upside, but Murray having the greater floor.
Keep an eye on DJ Harvey who will be ready to impact the game in multiple ways in 2022 even though one of those will most likely not be as a defensive starter.