Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Virginia Tech has some star offensive players returning this season including Hendon Hooker and Tre Turner, but the Hokies also have plenty of strong breakout candidates moving into larger roles this year. Here's a look at the top 3 offensive breakout candidates for the Hokies this upcoming season.
3. TE James Mitchell
With Dalton Keene in the NFL, James Mitchell is now the focal point at tight end and poised to be one of Tech's featured receivers along with Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson.
It was quite close between all three players on this list since all three have shown the talent to have strong 2020 seasons and leave their mark on NFL scouts.
Mitchell grew a lot between the 2018 and 2019 seasons going from primarily backup tight end and special teamer to earning 8 starts and impressing with 21 receptions for 361 yards and 3 touchdowns. Mitchell also had 5 carries for only 7 yards, but 3 touchdowns as well with those jet sweeps coming around the goalline.
His role should grow a good amount this upcoming season with Mitchell being the clear top tight end who should consistently be on the field whether there are 1 or 2 tight ends. Nick Gallo should also take on some of the h-back role at times, but most of those times should come when both are on the field with Mitchell being the clear tight end of choice for one tight end packages.
Additionally, Mitchell could be a primary 50-50 ball guy for the Hokies especially with Damon Hazelton gone, and Tech's projected top 4 WRs (Turner, Robinson, Changa Hodge, and Jaden Payoute) not being big, outside targets first like Hazelton was.
James Mitchell's role in the offense is poised to grow even more with the Southwest Virginia native becoming a focal point of the offense for SWVA's favorite team.
2. WR Tayvion Robinson
With Damon Hazelton and Dalton Keene no longer in Blacksburg, there's more opportunities to go around with slot WR Tayvion Robinson being a top candidate to see a lot of growth after an impressive freshman season.
Robinson proved to be quite the versatile playmaker that Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen value a lot as he had 31 receptions for 404 yards and a touchdown plus 11 carries for 132 yards (12.0 yards per carry). His great speed along with his now proven ability to make plays in space and one-on-one matchups (whether on routes or with the ball already) is the type of game-changing characteristic that will scare defensive coordinators this season.
Robinson should also benefit from the fact that most teams will primary focus on Tre Turner, giving Robinson matchups against #2 cornerbacks or even nickelbacks who may not have the speed to stay up with Tech's speedy slot playmaker.
Additionally, Robinson didn't take over as Tech's punt returner till late in the season but once he did, he was one of the best punt returners in America. He averaged 14.2 yards per punt return on 13 punts (185 total yards) earning some Freshman All-American honors as a punt returner along the way.
Tech has had some very good punt returners including Greg Stroman most recently, but Robinson has shown the potential to be the best punt returner Tech has had in a long time and potentially be an All-American on special teams. His burst, agility, and aforementioned ability to make plays in space have all proven valuable returning punts while his confidence should be quite high after his impressive finish to the season.
Robinson has shown the promise to breakout into an offensive and special teams star for the Hokies this fall after an impressive freshman season last year.
1. RB Khalil Herbert
For Khalil Herbert, there's nothing holding him back now from being the featured back now that he no longer has to battle a two-time All-Big 12 First Team RB for carries. Combine that with this potentially being his final season of college football and the time is now for Herbert to showcase that he has the skills to be a high-end running back who can play in the NFL.
Khalil Herbert has shown dynamic potential at Kansas with 5.4 yards per carry and 14 rushing touchdowns over his four seasons in Lawrence including 384 yards and an 8.9 yards per carry average in 2019. Herbert also put up some of his production against Power 5 competition including 187 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries against Boston College.
Herbert may not be the tallest running back, but he is built more than well-enough to be a guy who can handle a high volume of carries and be a regular, between-the-tackles guy at 5'9'' and 205 pounds. Compared that with Keshawn King who is definitely a great speed back, but not necessarily a between-the-tackles guy at 182 pounds.
Herbert also may have more motivation than anyone else to prove that the only thing that had held him back from being a star running back in the Power 5 was a lack of opportunity because of the presence of a two-time All-Big 12 First Team RB. Herbert also knows that an impressive season combined with his relatively low volume for his career would intrigue NFL scouts greatly and likely boost his draft stock a lot.
Khalil Herbert has shown that he has the talent to be a high-end, featured Power 5 running back, but he now has the clear opportunity to show that in Blacksburg. Expect Herbert to take full advantage of that chance.