Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
The NCAA's free year rule for this season has led to plenty of interest as to whether certain senior Hokies will or won't return for the 2021 season. So far, the Hokies have seen multiple players choose to pursue their pro career including Khalil Herbert, Divine Deablo, Oscar Bradburn, and Justus Reed with none of those being surprising decisions.
Rayshard Ashby was seen as a candidate to return in 2021 for Virginia Tech, but the veteran linebacker has decided not to return for an extra season.
Ashby's declaration ends a solid career for him that saw him start all but 3 games (35 of 38 games) over the past 3 seasons finishing with 294 career tackles with 34 for loss including 10 sacks plus 17 QB hurries and 5 sacks. This comes after a 2020 season where he had 69 tackles with 7.5 loss including 4 sacks plus 6 QB hurries.
Ashby may not have been as good this year as he has been in the past, but his play improved as the season went along and as he seemed to regain his conditioning more and more especially after having COVID in the leadup to the season and mentioning that he had some challenges in the aftermath of it.
Andy Bitter of The Athletic also had a great stat on how foundational and productive Ashby has been for the Hokies' defense during his three years as a starter.
How critical was Rayshard Ashby to the #Hokies defense in recent years?— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) December 24, 2020
Most tackles in a three-year span by a VT player in the ACC era:
340 — Vince Hall, 2005-07
294 — Ashby, 2018-20
279 — Andrew Motuapuaka, 2015-17
266 — Xavier Adibi, 2005-07
261 — Jack Tyler, 2011-13
Rayshard Ashby is an intriguing NFL prospect with his instincts and football IQ certain to help his stock but his size and athleticism potentially being a hinderance to his hopes. Currently, Ashby projects as a day 3 to undrafted guy with his athletic testing during the process being important to his hopes of being drafted this spring. Regardless, Ashby will get an NFL chance whether he's drafted or signs as an undrafted free agent.
With Ashby heading to the NFL, Dax Hollifield seems likely to step into the starting mike linebacker role where he's a better fit with Alan Tisdale becoming the clear starting backer. Keshon Artis could challenge Hollifield as well for that mike job and at worst, should be the third linebacker while there would be plenty of competition at linebacker beyond those three guys.
Ashby does leave some a player leadership void behind though Dax Hollifield definitely feels like someone who can absolutely step into that role well, at least inside the linebacker room.
More than that, Rayshard Ashby leaves behind a strong, productive career at Virginia Tech after being an underrated gem coming out of Richmond power L.C. Bird HS.