Last year, Cam Phillips had a breakout season as the Hokies' slot receiver but with Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges gone, Phillips has moved outside opening up the slot for competition. The slot receiver battle really didn't get going this spring, but now should with Ohio State grad transfer James Clark here and CJ Carroll healthy after missing the spring due to injury.
The Favorite: CJ Carroll
CJ Carroll has come a long way from starting out as a walk-on but the 5'7'' slot speedster enters this fall as the favorite to be the Hokies' top slot receiver after having 18 catches for 258 yards and 9 carries for 46 yards this past season. Carroll's playing time increased as the 2016 season went along and with Carroll gaining the trust of Justin Fuente.
Carroll was out this past spring due to injuries, opening the door for early enrollee Kalil Pimpleton to get most of the reps in the slot but despite that, a healthy Carroll should be the favorite to be the starting slot receiver.
Carroll's rise has been quite similar to that of Willie Byrn as a quick, tough walk-on with great speed along with solid hands and being able to get separation on quick passes that can help VT get 7-10 yards or even some big plays as he did on a 62-yard gain off a simple slant pass against Notre Dame.
Carroll may have a limited ceiling in part due to his size, but Carroll has shown great work ethic in earning his scholarship and a significant amount of playing time. Carroll has earned everything up to this point and is in the driver's seat to be the Hokies' starting slot receiver, having a great chance at becoming the latest walk-on to earn a starting role in Blacksburg.
The Grad Transfer: James Clark
James Clark comes from Ohio State looking for an opportunity to gain major playing time at the highest level of college football after struggling to do so in Columbus. Clark had 6 catches for 47 yards last season and while Clark likely would have had a larger role at Ohio State this fall, the Florida native decided the grass was greener elsewhere.
Clark was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and is definitely a talented athlete who has a great opportunity to play and produce as a senior in Justin Fuente's offense.
The biggest challenge Clark will face is adjusting to a new offense and learning the playbook with only fall camp to do so in practice with his teammates. This is the one thing that could limit Clark's ability to earn playing time, but if he can pick up the playbook quickly, he will make a large push for the starting job.
After transferring from Ohio State, Clark has exactly the opportunity to earn exactly what he want, a starting receiver job at a power 5 school.
The Early Enrollee: Kalil Pimpleton
With CJ Carroll hurt, James Clark not on campus, and Henri Murphy working outside; Kalil Pimpleton was the #1 slot receiver this spring and proved to be productive showing great speed and quickness that make him a very intriguing prospect athletically. Pimpleton is purely a slot guy at 5'8'' while also being quite similar to Carroll as a quick, speedy receiver who could be very effective on quick passes and might be able to blow the top off of defenses at times as well on stop-and-go routes.
Pimpleton has had the advantage of getting to learn the playbook this spring, something that could help him earn some playing time even if he isn't a starter. However, Pimpleton is still raw as a receiver and with VT now having Carroll healthy and Clark on campus, it makes it that much harder for Pimpleton to earn a starting job over two experienced players.
Pimpleton will likely be a starting slot receiver for the Hokies in a couple of years with a chance at earning that job sooner than could have been imagined.
The Talented Kick Returner: Henri Murphy
Henri Murphy made this list, but I doubt whether he actually will be involved in the battle for the slot receiver job especially after Murphy worked on the outside this past spring. Murphy seems to profile more as a slot guy given his speed, but he is also quite raw as a receiver.
Whether Murphy does end up competing for the slot receiving role or not, you can expect the former JUCO player to likely have a role at minimum as the Hokies' featured kick returner. Murphy also has the speed to work out of the slot for jet sweeps and screens, plays that would use his speed to his advantage and minimize the emphasis on his technical receiving abilities.
If Murphy can improve his technical skill set as a receiver, he could have a chance to earn the job though it's also unknown if he'll even work in the slot or stay outside.
Prediction: CJ Carroll
James Clark will likely play a lot and could even push for the starting slot job by the end of the season but with Clark having to learn a new playbook, and Carroll being a proven guy who's been in the program for a few years, it's his job to lose. With Justin Fuente also liking to have 6-8 receivers, both Kalil Pimpleton and Sean Savoy may have opportunities to play as true freshman even if they don't make the two-deep.
Carroll is a solid, productive receiver that may not be the biggest or best athlete, but gets the job done and can make plays happen as show by how he averaged over 14 yards a catch. Carroll did well on jet sweeps and the former walk-on may get the ball on some jet sweeps once again this fall.
While Cam Phillips moving outside means that the Hokies will be downgrading in the slot this fall, the Hokies have some solid receivers that will be able to be good options to go to in the slot led by former walk-on CJ Carroll who has shown he is more than capable of being a productive ACC wide receiver.
Our countdown will continue on with the one major position battle on the defensive side of the ball.
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