Disclaimer number 1, I try to do all of my work for TKP with as little bias as possible. It's tough, but I think I've gotten pretty good at looking at the recruiting side of the sport with clear lenses. I understand everyone is upset about the Davis decommitment, but let's not let that bit of news cloud our understanding of the 2020 class. You know, guys that are actually signed up to be Hokies.
Disclaimer number 2, this is gonna be a bit longer of a write-up than the others, for obvious reasons. So many questions and concerns have flown around the 2020 Hokie class, and justifiably so. In the midst of coming off a losing season for the first time since before I was born, to having a legendary coach retire, to the increase in momentum in Chapel Hill, a lot goes into why this class is the way it is.
I think it's important to look at the challenges that faced the Hokies for this class. For starters, the state of Virginia just didn't have the depth in this class. Outside of the top 3 or 4 guys, there wasn't much elite talent. Combine that with a lack of recruiting relations in the state on the coaching staff, and it's hard to imagine this class being anything but a bottom feeder.
Still, I like to analyze the numbers and not the feelings. So, here we go.
ACC Rank: 14
National Rank: 74
# of Signees: 19
Average Recruit Rating: 0.8498
Top Recruit: Alec Bryant, EDGE, Pearland TX (0.8958)
Biggest Need: Defensive Line and Wide Receiver depth
Three years ago, I sat in a press conference in Merryman during spring practices and asked Justin Fuente about the depth on the defensive line. He immediately laughed, shook his head, and said something along the lines of "we have a long way to go." This fall, the Hokies were in the same spot. Charley Wiles's departure from Blacksburg wasn't without cause. The Hokies are undersized and undermanned on the D-Line. A simple rundown of the size and weight of some new D-Line recruits and prospects shows you a whole lot. In this class, the Hokies signed 5 guys on the D-Line, all are listed as DE:
Derrell Bailey Jr. (0.8484) – Massive size at 6'6" 255lbs. Could be more of a run stopper as opposed to an edge player. This may be a good time to reiterate that per talking to new recruits, Justin Hamilton plans to have an edge DE for more pass rushing and coverage play, as well as a run stopping SDE, which will be more of a hybrid between DT/DE. Bailey could develop into a solid SDE/DT under this scheme.
Alec Bryant (0.8958) – The highest ranked player in the class, Bryant is a classic pass rusher with an incredibly quick first step. He was the 17th ranked edge rusher in the nation out of Texas. At 6'3" 240lbs., he has the size and pass rushing skills ready to see the field in the fall.
Robert Wooten (0.8721) – Another 6'3" edge rusher from Texas, Wooten is violent at the point of attack and plays with a bit more power than Bryant. I'd see him as more of an SDE at Tech, but it's not for a lack of quickness and twitch. An underrated skill in D-Lineman is taking on blockers. Dominant D-Lineman can affect a play by taking on blockers and not allowing them to create a crease for a runner. Wooten does that regularly, no one gets a push on him.
Justin Beadles (0.8519) – Bailey's size with Bryant's speed. Beadles has only played DE for two years, and he shows incredible hustle and stamina during games. Athletically, he's a freakshow. He matches that with tenacity and hustle. I know the Lunch Pail may be going into retirement, but this is an LPD guy if I've ever seen one.
Justus Reed – I'll hit on him later...
Overall, Tapp and Teerlinck saved this class by ditching Wiles's method of undersized, underrecruited lineman and looking for athletes that can develop into the kind of players that can really make an impact at a NY6 bowl level.
Fuente has a policy of needing 7-8 in his WR room that he can trust to put out on the field. Last year was really the first time he felt like the team had that kind of depth. Then, Hazelton, Grimsley, Patterson, and Pickney hit the Portal.
If you're running 3-4 WR's ever formation, having one backup at each of those spots already puts you at 8. Can you name 8 VT receivers that you want out there against Penn State this fall? It's a tough task, but the 2020 class has some guys that could surprise you. I'll hit on them in my next section.
Most Exciting Recruit: WR Trio of Saunders, Wright, and Rudolph
In the blink of an eye, the Virginia Tech receiving corps went from 2nd or 3rd best in the conference to Tre Turner and Friends. It's just life in college football in 2020. Three WR signees, however, have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in an offense that has highlighted freshman WR's in the past.
Tyree Saunders (0.8614) – Not only is he a great recruiter, but Saunders has some natural athletic talent and elusiveness that reminds me a lot of a guy named Eddie Royal. Saunders clocked in a laser-timed 4.40 40-yard dash last summer and is a track standout in the Jacksonville area. He'll most likely see the field in the slot where he can use his speed to attack the seam and run quick slant and hook routes. He'll be on the field this fall, and I think he's well on his way to being a fan favorite.
Dallan Wright (0.8424) – I'd compare Wright to a $2 mystery beer at The Cellar. You know it's gonna be a good one, but not sure how good. It's seems like such a steal, but you don't know why so many people aren't hip to it. Wright has some incredible open field ability. Just watch his film and tell me there are 192 WR's in the country better than him. I'll wait.
Lakeem Rudolph (0.8491) – The lone VA guy! Rudolph is my sneaky pick to develop into a real playmaker in this class. He's 6'4" 200+ already, and that bodes well for an offense that loves nothing more than a good fade route to the isolated side of the field. Also, Rudolph could very well see himself on the defensive side of the ball. He a rangey safety that can play both the Rover and FS spots. Rudolph may be a good candidate to redshirt and find a position, but if WR depth becomes an issue he'll almost have to be called on. Also, go read Joe's write-up on Rudolph's commitment. Great story about a kid coming back from some tragic adversity.
Early Contributor: Justus Reed, EDGE, Clearwater FL --> Youngstown State
Out of all of the new Hokies this season, there's no question which one will be called upon to have the biggest role. Reed is a really enticing edge rusher with an NFL future. I don't care if he was in FCS, the Arena League, or the XFL, 12.5 sacks in a season is damn good. French did a great film review on Reed, so I'll direct you that way if you want more information on his game. It looks like Reed will rush into the starting lineup against Liberty. He adds instant pass rush and playmaking abilities, an area where Hokie edge players struggled last season. If he can put together another double-digit sack season, Tech has the talent to be back in the Top 25 in total defense. For reference, Tech was 42nd in yards per game last season, 46th in points per game allowed, and 38th in the Beta_Rank Total Defense measurement (don't come in here with that S&P+ stuff).
The Portal giveth, and the Portal taketh away.
I've already hit on Justus Reed, the talented edge player from Youngstown State/Florida. Joining Reed are two really interesting running back talents:
Raheem Blackshear (Rutgers) – Blackshear is a RB/WR hybrid guy that can act as a Swiss army knife for Cornelson. He showed really good ability at Rutgers, which is not an easy place to look like a good football player. Blackshear still needs to be cleared by the NCAA, so whether he'll suit up next season or not is behind the magic 8 ball. If he were to see the field, Blacskhear could make a real impact in the screen and jet sweep games. Hopefully that could take some wear and tear off Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson.
Khalil Herbert (Kansas) – DeShawn McClease declared for the NFL and left a ton of production open at the RB position. Fuente, for better or worse, uses a multiple RB system. I could very well see Herbert and King leading the team in carries next season. Herbert shows really good vision and can simply take over games at points. He has 187 against BC last season, 291 against West Virginia in 2017 and 137 against Ohio in the next game. He played second fiddle to Pooka Williams Jr. at Kansas, who's one of the more underrated skill players in the country. Herbert 700 yard season potential, it's just a matter of whether he'll get the volume of carrier or not. Grouping him with King, Blackshear, and a dynamic Hooker in the backfield could bode well for a Hokies offense that has become increasingly reliant on the run game.
The late addition to the class is another Kansas transfer, Evan Fairs. The WR from Texas (#TX2VT) has some really promising film...but it's from practice. Injuries really plagued him while in Lawrence. Fairs will be immediately eligible, however. And at 6'3", he could be a real asset in the fade route game that Cornelson holds so dear to his heart.
Sam's Grade: C
This class is caught somewhere between a low ceiling and a high floor. Coming into signing day, I don't think Tech could realistically score anywhere higher than a "B-", or slightly below average, on my personal scale. The in-state talent wasn't there, the Bud retirement, a lack luster season, and not to mention a lack of open scholarship spots, everyone around Tech recruiting knew this class was going to be unique in a slightly negative way.
Some key misses in state, most notably KeAndre Lambert and Antuan Powell, really hurt this class. I already stated what I thought were the two most glaring needs for this class, WR and Edge. Lambert, a WR, and Powell, an edge rusher, are heading elsewhere. Tech also brought in 3 RB's, two via the transfer portal. There was a 5 star RB in Richmond, VA, this class that is heading to Notre Dame in Chris Tyree. This Tech staff didn't just swing and miss, they struck out looking.
Okay that's the negative, let's pick the vibes back up. I really like some of the guys in this class. Tech was able to find guys to add depth to the defensive line and receiving corps. Some of those guys, most notably Alec Bryant and Tyree Saunders, could have an impact as early as September. Dallan Wright is a guy the staff is really excited about. Some suspension issues sort of derailed his recruitment, so if he can stay clean-cut he can be a solid option. Another sleeper is Dorian Strong. I think the staff really sees potential in him. Strong was receiving a lot of P5 interest last fall but told everyone to back off because he was a Hokie. And let's not forget Wilfried Pene at the tight end spot, he's just a raw athlete.
There's a lot to be excited about in class, even though it may seem like a disastrous ranking. We've mentioned 5-6 guys that can make an impact this fall, while most of the other's will be able to redshirt and learn the tricks of the trade. Whilst systemic issues ranging from program funding to tone deaf social media managers may be blamed for this specific class's lack of star power, there's one key ingredient to recruiting that needs to be at the forefront of every Hokie's mind: winning.
Syracuse – C
Boston College – B
Pittsburgh – B+
Louisville – B-
Virginia – B-
Virginia Tech – C