Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Caleb Farley stunned the college football world yesterday when he became the second CFB player (and most notable player by far) to opt out of the 2020 CFB season, declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft in the process.
That left a hole in Virginia Tech's starting defense at cornerback, but the Hokies do have some options to replace him in 2020. With that said, here's our ranking of the contenders to replace Farley.
3. Grad Transfer/Surprise Breakout
Virginia Tech does have some intriguing younger cornerbacks including Nadir Thompson and Nyquee Hawkins who could both be surprise breakout candidates. These two seem like the top candidates currently to battle for the fourth CB spot on the two-deep with Thompson having the advantage oe being in the program a year longer though both do have plenty of potential.
A grad transfer is also definitely possible even with the season currently less than 1.5 months away.
With more and more FCS conferences postponing their seasons hopefully to the spring with a chance they are outright cancelled, lots of talented seniors are jumping in the transfer portal looking for an opportunity to play this fall.
One potential player that Tech could pursue is Harvard CB Isaiah Wingfield, who VT Director of Player Personnel Mark Diethorn briefly followed on Twitter yesterday prior to Caleb Farley's announcement. Wingfield was an All Ivy League First Team cornerback last season and has already received ACC interest with Wake Forest being his lone offer currently.
Beyond Wingfield, it wouldn't be surprising to see Tech look to add at least more CB depth via the grad transfer market especially since they should have 5 open scholarships as the Two Deep VT podcast pointed out yesterday. That type of flexibility should make trying to add a grad transfer cornerback a priority at least for depth purposes even this close to the season.
2. Brion Murray
Brion Murray initially signed with the expectation of working in a nickelback role, but it didn't take long for him to slide into a traditional cornerback role. Murray slowly worked his way up the two-deep last season and earned a start in last season's Belk Bowl across from Chatman with Caleb Farley and Jermaine Waller both out.
The Belk Bowl proved to be a shining moment for Murray as he was dominant in limited pass coverage opportunities and had an interception that game. Murray also finished the season as a whole with 11 tackles as he earned some playing time on special teams as well.
The junior CB from Delaware could be a future starter for the Hokies if Jermaine Waller has a big season and turns pro with more scouts likely to have their focus on Waller with Farley gone. Of course, Murray will have his eyes set on trying to beat out Armani Chatman this season for the second starting CB job and with a new CBs coach in Ryan Smith, you would have to think there may be a little more opportunity to climb ahead of someone who has been in front of you.
There's no doubt that Chatman is the favorite to land the second starting CB job, but Murray showed in the Belk Bowl last year that he definitely will be ready to push Chatman for it.
Speaking of which...
1. Armani Chatman
It shouldn't come as a surprise to see Armani Chatman at the top of this list after he served as the top backup cornerback for Virginia Tech, earning starts against UVA and Kentucky due to late season injuries.
Chatman did have some rough moments that stand out in fans' memories, but the 757 native was solid overall and showed lots of promise with the metrics backing that up as Tech Sideline's Chris Coleman pointed out.
Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: Armani Chatman had the ninth-best PFF rating of all Power 5 freshman cornerbacks (minimum 200 snaps) in the entire country last season, and that’s out of 48 qualified players. Farley's heir apparent had a very strong season.— Chris Coleman (@ChrisColemanTSL) July 30, 2020
Chatman put up solid numbers in his limited role with 22 tackles and 2 pass breakups. Combine that with ranking among the top 10 freshman cornerbacks in the country and it's safe to say that Chatman has shown he absolutely has the potential to be a quality starting cornerback this season.
Of course, Chatman's development will definitely be tested as teams will likely look to avoid projected #1 cornerback Jermaine Waller, one of the ACC's top returning CBs, and see if Chatman can step his game up just as Waller did across from Farley. If he can grow as many other VT CBs have from their first to second playing seasons, then Tech likely will still have one of the best cornerback duos East of the Mississippi.
Chatman will face competition from at least Brion Murray, but the odds are favorable that Chatman starts across from Waller whenever Tech kicks off this season.