Our position-by-position preview of Virginia Tech football ahead of fall camp continues as we go to the defensive side of the ball starting at defensive end where Tech has one of their most wide open starting competition entering this fall camp. Check out our preview at DE along with the rest of our previews in our summary.
Projected Depth Chart at Defensive End Entering Fall Camp
- TyJuan Garbutt, ? (Was Pheldarius Payne)
- Cole Nelson OR Jaylen Griffin OR Eli Adams OR CJ McCray
- Mattheus Carroll, 2nd String DE Who Isn't Among The Top 4
- Kyree Moyston, Keyshawn Burgos
TyJuan Garbutt leads the way for the Hokies at defensive end as Tech's top edge rusher while the second spot was likely to be Pheldarius Payne's until his season-ending injury. The competition for the second starting spot is about as wide open as any with redshirt freshman Cole Nelson likely being the favorite for the job with fellow redshirt freshmen CJ McCray and Mattheus Carroll also involved plus veterans Jaylen Griffin and Eli Adams.
TyJuan Garbutt's Breakout May Be Coming In 2022
I've been on the TyJuan Garbutt breakout for a few years now especially after his first year as a starter going into the 2019 season.
However, Garbutt had to step away from football for a little bit during 2020 as his family dealt with some health issues. Garbutt would eventually return during the pandemic 2020 season as a backup given the fact that he had missed a lot of time.
After having a normal offseason, Garbutt bounced back in the 2021 with his best season as a Hokie as he had 30 tackles including career highs in 7 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles plus 3 QB hurries. Garbutt's bounce back was strong as he paired well with Amare Barno while also finding his own rhythm again that had many including myself believing that a breakout was possible in 2020 prior to the family health issues he dealt with.
Now, Garbutt is the main defensive end for the Hokies and though he will face more attention than any other defensive end for the Hokies, he also has shown signs he already is taking the next steps. That included an impressive Spring Game where he had 3 tackles including 2 for loss with a sack.
2021 proved to be an important year for Garbutt as a pass rusher with his 3.5 sacks showing major growth for someone who had been primarily known for his run stuffing abilities even with his speed and athleticism being among his greatest strengths which would profile more on the pass rushing side. Given the growth he showed early in his Tech career, it's reasonable to believe that Garbutt could have double-digit tackles for loss in 2022 and earn All-ACC honors.
Of course, if you've been reading The Tech Lunch Pail for a while, you know that I've been a believer of a Garbutt breakout into becoming an All-ACC player for years. But the combination of a solid 2021 with a smooth offseason sets him up well to take that jump to All-ACC level play in 2022.
Youth Movement At Defensive End
Virginia Tech's youth movement at defensive end is poised to kick off in 2022 with a trio of redshirt freshmen in the hunt for the starting job with Pheldarius Payne out for the season.
This trio includes the favorite for the job in Cole Nelson who has received loads of praise since he has arrived in Blacksburg last year across both staffs. Nelson worked his way into the defensive end rotation by the end of last season and definitely has arguably the largest ceiling for 2022 among those in this starting defensive end position.
If I had to make a prediction today, I would pick Nelson to start opposite Garbutt, but that's far from a certainty at this point.
Also involved in this battle is Marshall transfer C.J. McCray who arrived in Huntington as a LB before transferring after just a year there to Blacksburg with J.C. Price having seen McCray at Marshall prior to heading to VT. McCray didn't play much as a freshman in 2021 with only 2 tackles, but showed his upside in the Spring Game with 3 tackles. He is on the lighter side at 221 pounds on his 6'3'' frame, but definitely has room to grow which is part of his big upside.
Mattheus Carroll may be listed on the third string, but Carroll shouldn't be ruled out either given the impressive size he brings to the position at 6'5'' and 232 pounds which gives him plenty of upside. He had a pair of tackles last season and added another tackle plus a QB hurry in the Spring Game.
Tech also has a pair of very intriguing true freshman defensive ends in Kyree Moyston and Keyshawn Burgos after a 2022 recruiting class defined in part by Tech landing almost every major defensive linemen in the Commonwealth last cycle. Both also fit the mold of Tech bringing in bigger, longer defensive ends after years of having plenty of undersized standouts with some bigger, more physical DEs also having success like Ken Ekanem and James Gayle.
Virginia Tech has a promising group of young, bigger DEs coming up with Cole Nelson and C.J. McCray on the leading edge of this group set to start taking over their position in 2022.
Pair of Veteran Backups Get Their Chance At A Starting Job
Though the young guns have the higher ceilings with Cole Nelson likely being the slight favorite, Virginia Tech's veteran backups are definitely contenders to earn the starting job.
Jaylen Griffin feels like the more likely of the veteran duo to earn a starting DE job as Griffin has had the most reps of a VT DE not named TyJuan Garbutt. Over the past three seasons, Griffin has had 43 tackles including 8.5 for loss with 5.5 sacks plus 2 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries as a backup DE for the Hokies.
Griffin has solid size for a defensive end at 6'1'' and 264 pounds, and has greater experience relative to all of his competition which likely will be an important factor. Griffin also appears to have a higher floor and should end up as a second string DE at worst if he doesn't win the job.
Eli Adams should also not be overlooked as the South Carolina native has worked his way up the depth chart slowly but steadily like Griffin over his time in Blacksburg. Over the course of his three seasons at Virginia Tech, Adams has 35 tackles including 4 for loss with 0.5 sacks.
He's undersized at 5'11'' and 235 pounds, but he has some experience and solid production that makes him someone that can't be ruled out. His ceiling might be the lowest among those in this competition, but he does have one of the higher floors and likely will be in the two-deep come opening kickoff on September 2nd at Old Dominion.
Jaylen Griffin and Eli Adams may not have the highest ceilings, but they both have high floors and are known commodities who shouldn't be ruled out in the wide open defensive end competition.