We knew coming into the 2020 season that Virginia Tech’s depth at wide receiver was a problem. But did we know it was this thin?
The Hokies are an offense centered around running the football. That much is indisputable. That said, it is fair to say that Virginia Tech’s lack of depth at receiver is a contributing factor to that reliance on the run.
A top-heavy distribution
Eleven different players have caught a pass in 2020, even Hendon Hooker. But the passing game has been concentrated around three receivers — Tre Turner, Tayvion Robinson and James Mitchell.
Sixty-four percent of Virginia Tech’s receptions have been made by these three players. Let’s compare that percentage with some other ACC teams…
- Wake Forest: 93 receptions by top three receivers / 134 pass completions = 69 percent
- Boston College: 114 receptions / 191 completions = 60 percent
- North Carolina: 100 receptions / 170 completions = 59 percent
- Miami: 96 receptions / 173 completions = 55 percent
- Clemson: 116 receptions / 221 completions = 52 percent
- NC State: 85 receptions / 164 completions = 52 percent
- Notre Dame: 63 receptions / 136 completions = 46 percent
The Hokies rely on their top weapons more than every single other team listed, save for Wake Forest. That percentage looks worse when you consider how many snaps Turner has missed because of a nagging leg injury.
Virginia Tech had hoped to address that in the offseason, acquiring graduate transfers Evan Fairs and Changa Hodge. Fairs, who played four seasons at Kansas and Hodge, a standout at Villanova, were supposed to supplement the Hokies’ talented duo of Turner and Robinson.
Instead, Fairs and Hodge have made just one reception combined. They’ve failed to find themselves anywhere other than the sidelines for most of the season, being seldom used on offense.
Kaleb Smith has done his best to solidify the No. 3 wide receiver role and his effort has been admirable. However, Smith has caught just seven passes and outside of blocking, hasn’t impacted the offense in a significant way.
Here in lies the issue — Virginia Tech does not have more than three weapons that can consistently be relied on in the passing game. And it forces Virginia Tech to build their entire offense around running the football.
The future at receiver
This issue isn’t likely to be fixed anytime soon. Virginia Tech has been reluctant to throw any of their younger receivers on the field. Elijah Bowick has played almost exclusively on special teams, Darryle Simmons played against only against Louisville, Tyree Saunders hasn’t seen the field and neither has Dallan Wright.
The Hokies are 4-4 and there’s little left to lose that hasn’t already been lost. Virginia Tech should try to work in some of their younger receivers, even if it is in limited situations. The Hokies need to create depth and their two senior options, Fairs and Hodge, haven’t done so.
It’s doubtful that Fuente, Corneslen and receivers coach Jafar Williams try to work in anyone else this late into the season. They’ve found their group and they aren’t changing. So moving forward, what does the receiver position look like?
Everyone is allowed to return, thanks to the NCAA’s decision on eligibility. Assuming this is the case — which is a poor assumption — the Hokies have plenty of bodies. But are they any good?
Simmons will be entering his fourth season in the program. Is he going to be ready to contribute then? Will either Fairs or Hodge return, given their minimal usage this season? If they don’t, will Saunders or Wright be ready to go after an abnormal redshirt season? Is Jaden Payoute going to be healthy?
This is usually the point in which the writer of the article should have offered a solution, but I don’t have one. There’s reason for uncertainty regarding current players sticking around, meaning the Hokies may have one or two giant holes to fill, not including the issues already present. There’s no evidence that the solution is on the roster at present time.
Virginia Tech’s receiving corps has fallen a long way from the days of Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges. The Hokies’ receiving corps has a long road to hoe before Tech creates a deep and productive group.