With Virginia Tech having several starters opt out of the bowl game as they begin their NFL pursuits, hit the transfer portal, or likely be out due to injury; the 2021 Pinstripe Bowl is creating opportunities for a few younger Hokies to earn more playing time than they've received all year.
Here's a look at three young Hokies who we may see a lot more of in the Pinstripe Bowl than we've seen all year.
WR Jaylen Jones
While much of the freshman attention at WR was on Da'Wain Lofton, Jaylen Jones also received loads of praise from the staff throughout the offseason leading up to the season. Despite that, Jones didn't receive many opportunities during it due in part to injuries and just a lack of Tech coaches giving him opportunities.
That's changing for the Pinstripe Bowl and potentially in a big way with Tre Turner opting out to begin his NFL Draft prep and Tayvion Robinson transferring to Kentucky.
That led to Jones being listed as a starter on Tech's depth chart, but most still saw Da'Wain Lofton and Kaleb Smith as the two primary guys. However, Lofton's status for the game is unknown based on the most recent updates from interim head coach J.C. Price after Tech's practice on December 26th.
A couple players who weren’t at practice today and whose Pinstripe Bowl status remains TBD: WR Da’Wain Lofton, CB Brion Murray, CB Nadir Thompson. #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) December 26, 2021
Jones now may be poised to be one of the top 2 receiving targets alongside Smith though Tech has also been working Raheem Blackshear at practice. Additionally, Changa Hodge has been getting healthy lately and the veteran wideout is likely also poised.
However, it's quite notable that Jones was listed as a starting outside receiver over Hodge and shows that Jones has continued to make strides and show that he could be Tech's #1 outside WR in the not too distant future.
After having only a 15-yard reception during the regular season, Jones is poised to have a lot more opportunities coming in his way at Yankee Stadium to finish out his freshman season.
DE Cole Nelson
Of the three players on this list, Cole Nelson is the freshman who received the most playing time working his way into the defensive end rotation behind starters Amare Barno and TyJuan Garbutt in a limited role. With Barno opting out and Jaylen Griffin out due to injury, the opportunity is there for Cole Nelson to play a whole lot against Maryland.
Nelson has received a decent amount of playing time over the closing stretch of the season receiving double digit snaps in three of Tech's final 4 games including a career high 18 snaps against Duke. He's had some production with 3 tackles on the season but this game presents a big opportunity for Nelson to make some plays happen.
There has been plenty of praise for both Nelson and Mattheus Carroll who should slide into the rotation while preserving his redshirt, but Nelson looks like the top candidate to be at worst, the #3 DE for Tech and potentially rotate in and out almost evenly with Eli Adams.
Nelson has shown plenty of promise already this season and this game feels like a perfect opportunity to give him some more valuable playing time. This game is also a great opportunity for Nelson to show that he has the skills to become a quality starting DE for the Hokies in 2022.
Expect to see a lot of Cole Nelson in the Pinstripe Bowl in what could be a launch pad for him looking ahead to 2022.
CB DJ Harvey
DJ Harvey is the lone player on this list who will finish the season under the 4 game maximum allowing him to avoid burning his redshirt. However, Harvey may be poised for a big role in the Pinstripe Bowl after being the headline recruit in Tech's 2020 class.
With Jermaine Waller opting out to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft, Harvey jumped into Tech's cornerback depth chart, but Brion Murray and Nadir Thompson were also not at Tech's December 26th practice with both of their statuses up in the air for the game.
If Murray and Thompson are both out for the Pinstripe Bowl, expect DJ Harvey to be the third cornerback behind Dorian Strong and Armani Chatman, giving himself a golden opportunity to show what he's capable of. That could in part come in some dime packages where Tech actually brings in a third cornerback which certainly be Harvey as we saw the Hokies do late in the season with a combination of Waller, Strong, Chatman, and Murray.
Harvey has only played six snaps all season, but there's no doubt that he has shown the potential and it wasn't accidental as to why he was a four-star recruit.
There's been plenty of hype surrounding him and now may be his first chance to prove that he has what it takes to continue to grow the DBU tradition in Blacksburg.