The 2018 regular season confirmed what most of us thought prior to the season — Virginia Tech had too many obvious holes in their defense to realistically compete for an ACC title.
And sure enough, Virginia Tech’s problems caught up with them. Young and inexperienced defensive backs allowed chunks of yardage each week through the air while a thin defensive front struggled to generate a consistent pass rush and failed to slow down opposing rushing offenses.
As they attempt to do every year, Virginia Tech’s recruiting class aimed to fill holes on their roster and prepare the roster for future success. Rather than running through each of the 19 new Hokies’ signees, I want to hit on some trends in this class that should be intriguing moving forward.
Three JUCOs join the roster
Virginia Tech signed three junior college players on Wednesday, all of whom play defense — outside linebacker Amare Barno, defensive tackle DaShawn Crawford and cornerback Brion Murray.
Each of these signings fills an immediate need. Barno has experience as a pass rusher and as an outside linebacker who could help in coverage. Crawford gives Tech an older and experienced option at defensive tackle, which is now the thinnest position on the roster. And Murray represents a possible starter at cornerback.
Using JUCO players to fill holes on the roster isn’t ideal. You’re bringing in players that for one reason or another weren’t able to contribute at the FBS level as freshmen. These players are coming to Tech as hired guns, players that will be gone in just a couple seasons.
But adding these players is often necessary, especially for schools that can’t add top-flight talent each and every recruiting cycle. Virginia Tech is the exact kind of school that could benefit from JUCO recruiting, and they successfully scoured the junior college circuit this year.
As long as Tech doesn’t become reliant on these sorts of players, they’ll benefit from adding a two or three JUCO players each cycle.
Continued emphasis on wide receivers
Virginia Tech signed four receivers on Wednesday, earning signatures from Tayvion Robinson, Jacoby Pinckney, Jaden Payoute and Elijah Bowick. Justin Fuente has made the recruitment of talented receivers a priority and he’s found success thus far.
For reference, here are Fuente’s receivers that he’s signed a Virginia Tech.
- Class of 2017: Sean Savoy, Hezekiah Grimsley, Kalil Pimpleton
- Class of 2018: Tre Turner, Darryle Simmons, DeJuan Ellis
For those scoring at home, Justin Fuente has signed 10 players in three seasons that ended up playing wide receiver. Oh, and the staff took in Damon Hazelton from Ball State, too.
Both Savoy and Pimpleton have since left the program, but the coaching staff has placed an emphasis on recruiting receivers. Tech’s over-recruitment of receives has created serious depth at the position, helping to deal with injuries and attrition.
Of this year’s group, Robinson and Pinckney have the most pedigree. Robinson is a four-star prospect (per the 247Sports Composite) and holds seven other Power 5 offers. Robinson gives Tech an athletic option in the slot, an area left a little thin with Savoy and Pimpleton’s departures.
Pinckney began his recruitment as a near five-star prospect, but is now a three-star recruit. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Oklahoma were among his offers and Pinckney finished his last three high school seasons with over 2,500 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns.
The speedy Payoute is the highest-ranked prospect in Virginia Tech’s Class of 2019, but he played quarterback throughout high school and is considered a raw prospect. Bowick comes with the least amount of fan-fare of the group, but was a two-time all-state selection in North Carolina and caught 17 touchdowns as a senior.
Fuente has struggled in other areas of recruiting, but he’s done well recruiting wide receivers to this point. The receivers’ room is much deeper than it was when Fuente arrived, and the talent level is high too.
Tech boosts the defensive interior
Not only did Virginia Tech immediately plug some of their defensive holes, they added more options at defensive tackle.
JUCO prospect DaShawn Crawford will provide some immediate help after totaling 15 tackles for loss last season at Jones County Community College in Mississippi. But Josh Fuga, Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard help the long-term prognosis too.
Fuga, Kendricks and Pollard are all mid-to-low three-star prospects, so none of them should be counted on as freshmen. However, one of them could prove able to contribute next season, filling in behind Jarrod Hewitt, Xavier Burke and Crawford. Robert Porcher IV and Jaevon Becton could help as well after another year in the program.
No one on the roster is going to be able to replace Ricky Walker by themselves. However, with a collection of players, Tech might be able to make Walker’s absence less noticeable. At least there are numbers now at the position, and Tech has plenty of guys to develop into solid contributors.
Don’t forget the misses
As important as it is to learn who decided to join the Hokies, it’s almost as important to remember who Virginia Tech missed out on. It helps put the cycle in perspective.
None of Tech’s misses were as tough and as important as Devyn Ford. Virginia Tech pushed for Ford’s signature for years and was believed to be the leader in his recruitment for quite some time. That was, until, Ford took his official visit to Penn State.
Ford’s decision represented two things — another miss on an elite, in-state prospect and another miss on an elite talent at running back. Tech still signed two backs, Keshawn King and Tahj Gary, but Ford was the real prize.
The top player on the defensive side of the board, Brandon Smith, signed with Penn State as well. Tech’s premier defensive line target, Savion Jackson, signed with NC State. Sheridan Jones signed with Clemson and Cam’Ron Kelly signed with Auburn.
Every school misses on some of their top targets and Tech was no different in this cycle. Even though the Hokies missed out on some of the guys highest on their board, Tech did address multiple needs and added much needed maturity to their defense. The old National Signing Day isn’t for a few weeks, so there’s still time for more additions.