The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone with Dalton Keene being the lone Virginia Tech player selected while DB Reggie Floyd has since signed a contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Looking ahead to the 2021 NFL Draft, the Hokies have plenty of defensive players who could be drafted including one who has a realistic chance of going in the first round.
5. CB Jermaine Waller
There's a couple guys who could've landed in this spot including Chamarri Conner or one of VT's senior DTs, but Waller made the most sense for this spot for a number of reasons.
There's no doubt that Waller was quite productive outside and showed continued improvement on the outside finishing the season with 46 tackles, 2.5 for loss including 1.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 10 pass deflections on his way to earning All-ACC Honorable Mention honors. The metrics at Pro Football Focus consistently had more praise for Waller with PFF ranking Waller as the ACC's second best returning cornerback behind only Caleb Farley.
One of the things that could be very good or not for Waller is the fact that he is likely to receive more passes his direction with teams likely to first focus on avoiding a potential All-American in Farley. That will lead to more exposure for Waller early in the season to see if he can build on last season and continue to improve.
The unfortunate thing for Waller in some ways is that he isn't receiving as much attention as Farley though part of that is due to him having only one year of being a starter. Waller is definitely someone who could rise of this and develop even into a day 2 pick for next year's draft, but it also wouldn't be surprising if Waller is at the top of the 2022 NFL Draft defensive version of this for Virginia Tech.
4. DE Justus Reed
Any draft discussion with Justus Reed starts with the impressive size he brings to the position at 6'3'' and 270 pounds. That type of size can't be replicated on the edge and makes him a fit at the defensive end spot both in a 4-3 and 3-4, the type of versatility that could make him not only appealing to more teams, but also appealing to teams that have 3 down linemen packages for passing down scenarios to compliment a base 4-3.
Reed may have the highest potential range on this list as Reed has proven that he can be highly productive at Youngstown State and had strong performances against some of their toughest opponents including North Dakota State and South Dakota State. However, playing at the highest level of college football will be a much higher level of testing that will definitely draw scouts' attention with a big season having the potential to rocket him up this list as someone scouts would see as an early contributor.
One other factor that could affect his draft stock for some teams is his age given that he'll be entering his seventh year of college football. Now this won't be of a factor in the NFL as it would be in the NBA, but there could be some teams who wonder how far he really is from his peak and how much more developing he really has to do. Concern about his ceiling, especially if he doesn't have a big season for the Hokies, could be something that limits his ability to get drafted sooner than the late rounds.
Reed is definitely a unique NFL prospect who has the potential to even push for a second day selection with a strong season, but could also end up undrafted if his production doesn't remain at the high level that it was at Youngstown State.
3. LB Rayshard Ashby
I nearly put Rayshard Ashby at #2, but his size and potential concerns about his athleticism being below average in the eyes of NFL scouts have Ashby at number 3 on this list. However, while Ashby may not win the underwear olympics, there's no doubt that Ashby has the talent to play on Sundays and develop into a quality starting middle linebacker.
Ashby had one of the best seasons that we've seen from a Virginia Tech linebacker in recent memory with 120 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 5 QB hurries, and 3 forced fumbles yet somehow was snubbed First Team All-ACC honors.
In terms of the skill set that you look for in a middle linebacker, Ashby brings so much of that to a table as someone who is a very reliable tackler, has great instincts, and provides strong leadership in the heart of the defense. Ashby has also shown that he can be used in a versatile number of ways in pass coverage and do so at a fairly high level whether that's working as a spy, dropping into zone coverage, or rushing the passer on a blitz.
However, any discussion about Ashby does come back to the fact that at 5'10'', he is undersized for the position which could limit his ceiling to the second day of the draft regardless of how well he does this upcoming season. However, we have seen plenty of middle linebackers who are deemed undersized do quite well at the NFL level including Chris Borland who was on the 2014 PWFA All-Rookie Team as a 5'11'' inside linebacker, and seemed bound for a long, successful career before surprisingly retiring after one season.
Personally, I think Rayshard Ashby is a day 2 caliber NFL Draft prospect, but NFL scouts can overthink these things sometime when a player doesn't meet certain prototypical things, and that could have Ashby ending up as a Day 3 steal even with a strong senior season.
2. S Divine Deablo
Divine Deablo got the edge for this spot over Rayshard Ashby for a couple of reasons. First, there are already publications that see Deablo as a top 100 prospect for the 2021 NFL Draft including CBS Sports which lists him as both a safety and linebacker, ranking him 81st.
Secondly, it's his size, athleticism, and potential versatility at the next level that likely will have some NFL scouts seeing him as a Swiss Army knife player similar to guys like Isaiah Simmons.
Deablo is primarily a free safety, but he has spent more time playing out of the box which started when he filled in at whip linebacker during the 2018 season. That experience seemed to pay off as Deablo has developed into a solid tackler and a much more effective safety in the box than he had been earlier in his career.
However, Deablo's biggest strength is when he is allowed to drop into coverage and be that deep, ball-hawking safety with good instincts and a great ability to run down vulnerable deep balls turning them into incomplete passes or interceptions.
The one clear weakness that Deablo has is in man coverage where it's clear that he isn't a great fit. Any team that likes to use their safeties a lot in man coverage will not be a good fit whatsoever for Deablo.
If Deablo can become adequate in man coverage, then his draft stock could take off and have him even push for first round consideration as a versatile athlete who teams can use in a myriad of ways depending on how their roster forms. If not, Deablo's athleticism and ball-hawking will keep his floor at day 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
1. CB Caleb Farley
There is no player that will have NFL scouts' attention more at Virginia Tech than Caleb Farley this upcoming season with many people already rating him around the first or second round including Pro Football Focus having him going 11th overall in their first mock draft.
Farley grew a lot from his first to second season as a starter reaching heights almost no one expected as he emerged as one of the best cornerbacks in college football. Farley was simply dominant on the outside with 4 interceptions, 12 pass deflections, and 20 tackles on his way to earning First Team All-ACC honors.
His success made some wonder if Farley might jump into the 2020 NFL Draft, but his decision not to sets him up to make a run at the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft just like other great VT cornerbacks like DeAngelo Hall and Kyle Fuller.
There's no doubt that Farley will enter this season as one of the top All-American candidates in the country at cornerback and a certain Preseason All-ACC recipient. Farley proved to be one of the most dominant man coverage cornerbacks in the country, and the Hokies were able to allow Farley to consistently be one-on-one and not have to worry at all about him.
NFL scouts will also likely be intrigued by the fact that he has tremendous size for the position at 6'2'' and 207 pounds, well above-average speed and athleticism, and has only been at cornerback for a couple of years after playing quarterback in high school. That combined with his already impressive play that the tape and metrics back up, and it's a recipe for being one of the top cornerbacks in the 2021 Draft and a first round prospect.
There are a couple things that could hold Farley back depending on how the upcoming season plays out. First, he does have a small injury history from the knee injury that caused him to miss the 2017 season, and helped lead the Hokies to moving him back from WR to CB. Second, Farley's tackling has been below average and NFL scouts could be concerned about the physicality he brings to the table.
Farley also appears to know that his tackling is an area where he has lots of room to improve and, based on his social media, is focused on doing just that.
To all the politically correct users that follow me please let this one go. I’m focused on the right things this is just me talking to myself— Caleb 👑 (@IamCalebFarley) May 1, 2020
“I will be the BEST tackling, fundamentally sound, film studied cornerback in college 2020”
Lord willing 🙏🏽❤️
Could Caleb Farley become the fourth Virginia Tech defensive back to be selected in the first round alongside DeAngelo Hall, Kyle Fuller, and Terrell Edmunds? The potential is absolutely there for Farley to make that a reality, and even push Hall's record to become the highest-selected defensive back in program history.