Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Virginia Tech had one player selected in the 2020 NFL Draft with Dalton Keene making history as the earliest selected tight end in Hokie history. Looking ahead to the 2021 NFL Draft, Virginia Tech has a lot more potential drafted prospects including on the offensive side. Here's a look at our ranking of the Hokies' top 5 2021 NFL Draft offensive prospects (check out our defensive rankings here).
5. TE James Mitchell
James Mitchell broke out on the scene last season playing in 13 games while starting 8 on his way to finishing the season with 21 receptions for 361 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns plus 4 rushing touchdowns. This came with Dalton Keene still on the Virginia Tech roster with the Hokies adapting and using two tight ends a lot more.
Now with Keene and Damon Hazelton gone, Mitchell's offensive role is bound to grow even more both at tight end and overall in the Hokies' passing game.
Like Keene, Mitchell has proven to be a versatile athlete who is much more receiver-first relative to Keene who was more h-back first before being a receiver. His athleticism and receiving abilities make him more of a modern TE/jumbo slot WR who could give plenty of issues for smaller cornerbacks and slower LBs, giving teams the type of mismatch that NFL scouts look for.
Part of the concern with his game is the fact that he is more of a receiving tight end first and has room to grow as a more traditional tight end. Mitchell definitely has the potential to continue to grow into that, but the Hokies may be more apt to use Mitchell in a receiving-first role with the departures of Damon Hazelton and Dalton Keene, and having Nick Gallo to work as a second TE who can also take on some of the h-back role when VT goes with two TEs.
James Mitchell may need more time to take his draft stock to a higher level, but the 2020 season should provide a great starting point for him to be the focal tight end for VT.
4. RB Khalil Herbert
Three through five on this list feels like a toss-up given the range that all of these players could have with Herbert being the only one entering his final year of college football.
Herbert showed plenty of talent at Kansas, something that helped him earn one of only 15 4* ratings from 247 Sports' transfer portal rankings, landing at #13 in the rankings. That shouldn't be a surprise given how Herbert ran for 389 yards and averaged 8.9 yards per carry in four games this past season before deciding to redshirt and transfer with Pooka Williams Jr ahead of him on Kansas' depth chart. Overall, Herbert averaged 5.4 yards per carry during his career at Kansas while never averaging under 4.3 yards per carry in a single season.
One of the most beneficial things Herbert has going for him is the fact that he has ran the ball no more than 120 times in a single season in college and only exceeded 100 carries twice. For NFL teams concerned about wear and tear with running backs, that should not be an issue whatsoever for Herbert.
Now one concern for Hokie fans about Herbert may be the fact that he wasn't starting at Kansas and there is some validity to that in general. However, RB is an exception in terms of position quality for Kansas as the Jayhawks have Pooka Williams Jr who is already a two-time All-Big 12 First Teamer in two seasons in Lawrence.
Herbert will face plenty of competition from Keshawn King who has lots of star potential because of his speed, but Herbert seems likely to lead what could be a two-headed monster for the Hokies. The question is though can Herbert reach the full potential he's shown and become a starter for the Hokies or will he once again be beat out by a younger tailback for the primary role in King.
3. QB Hendon Hooker
Hendon Hooker may be at #3 on our list, but Hooker may arguably the hardest to predict on this list. Of course, there is the small possibility that he could lose the starting job to Braxton Burmeister or Quincy Patterson given the expected QB competition in fall camp. However, the current situation makes it even harder to imagine Virginia Tech changing QBs away from someone like Hooker who has proven to be a QB that protects the football and is way more than just a game manager, but a QB who can go out and win games.
Hooker has a lot of things going for him that NFL evaluators will love to see. One of the most notable things is his decision-making that was overall well above-average for most of the 2019 season with Hooker consistently minimizing mistakes and bad throws. To play in 10 games, starting most and have only 2 interceptions is impressive at any level especially the highest level of college football.
Hooker also showed some impressive touch on his passes seeming at ease to effectively place the ball in the right spots to make sure that only his receiver had a chance to make a play rather than throwing and hoping it wasn't wrong.
Additionally, Hooker is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in college football which shows from his arm strength to his high-end speed that makes him one of the most dangerous QBs as a runner in America. In many ways, Hooker is a modern dual-threat QB who has proven that he can be a capable threat as a passer and a runner at a consistently high level in both.
Now Hooker does have room to grow with becoming a more consistently accurate QB. Part of his late season struggles were due to the wear and tear he took, something that he will also have to do a better job of managing. The other test will be whether Hooker grows from year 1 to year 2 as a starter, especially now that teams will have tape on him to understand his tendencies.
Hooker may be new on the NFL QB scouting scene with a big second year having the potential to make him one of the top QB prospects in the country and a potential pick on the first 2 days of the draft. However, this year will be critical on determining whether he could be a high draft pick or if he could be a day 3 pick that has scouts pushing him to change positions because of his size and athleticism whether that's fair or not (hint: it probably isn't).
2. WR Tre Turner
There's no doubt that Tre Turner is Virginia Tech's most dangerous offensive weapon, and with Damon Hazelton and Dalton Keene gone, expect Turner's offensive volume to increase even more in 2020.
One of Turner's strengths is his versatility as he had 34 receptions for 553 yards and 4 touchdowns plus 231 rushing yards and 1 touchdowns on only 24 carries. Turner proved his ability to be a productive, versatile playmaker who is most dangerous once he's in space and able to either burn by defenders or make them miss tackles.
More and more have NFL teams embraced trying to get their best playmakers in space and even embracing receivers who can be used in a multitude of ways. One of the best examples is the San Francisco 49ers' Deebo Samuel who we saw in the Super Bowl used in a versatile number of ways including on jet sweeps and screens where he helped provide a significant spark to San Francisco's offense.
One thing that may hurt Turner is the fact that he hasn't had the high level volume of production that you would expect from a day 1 or 2 receiver along with the fact that his average yards per reception went down from 20.6 to 16.3. Now there's no doubt that Turner has plenty of big plays in him and that some of it was due to offensive playcalling using him more on screens, but Turner needs to have more volume of overall catches and big plays in order to take the jump to day 1 or 2.
1. OT Christian Darrisaw
Christian Darrisaw may not be the name some fans would expect at the top of the list, but Darrisaw has proven to be quite the capable starting left tackle with 25 starts in his first 2 seasons in Blacksburg. Along the way, Darrisaw has proven to be extremely reliant on the left side of the Hokies' offensive line and the most consistent blocker.
Darrisaw has good size for the position at 6'5'' and 311 pounds while being comfortable both as a pass blocker and run blocker. He has also emerged as a leader along the offensive line because of the significant role he gained early on and is poised to continue to be a leader on the line.
He has also earned plenty of national respect including Freshman All-American honors from 247 Sports in 2018 plus Second Team All-ACC honors from Phil Steele and Third Team All-ACC honors from Athlon this past season.
Darrisaw definitely has shown the promise to develop into a day 1 or 2 pick with NFL Draft Site having Darrisaw currently going in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. However, Darrisaw has risen higher than anyone imagined when Tech was his only FBS offer and definitely has the potential to continue to riser higher than imaginable to become a day 1 or 2 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Darrisaw's future is in the NFL with this season being important for his draft stock both in the 2021 and 2022 drafts, whenever he decides to go begin his NFL career.