There are plenty of negative topics to discuss in regards to Virginia Tech’s 2019 season. Tech has little to no depth along the defensive line and at defensive back, while any hope of having a proven producer at running back for the 2019 season has faded.
While all of these have been covered extensively, one unit getting little attention is the Hokies’ group of receivers. This is a shame, cause this unit is quite good and despite the many weaknesses the Hokies have, the receiving corps may prove to be Virginia Tech’s saving grace.
Yes, Virginia Tech lost second-leading receiver Eric Kumah, who transferred to Old Dominion. And I’m here to tell you Kumah’s absence will likely fade into irrelevancy this season.
Virginia Tech’s receivers include proven producers (Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner), reliable receivers with starting experience (Hezekiah Grimsley and Phil Patterson) and several receivers with a ton of upside.
The two-headed monster at the top is what makes this unit click. “Big-play Tre” Turner was everything he was advertised to be as a four-star freshman from North Carolina. Turner averaged over 20 yards per reception last season, finishing the year with 26 catches, 535 receiving yards and four scores. To top it all off, Turner added another 101 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.
Turner doesn’t have blazing speed, but he’s an exceptional receiver at the catchpoint, often winning 50-50 battles. He found his way behind defenses frequently in 2018 and though he’ll garner more attention from opposing defenders this year, he isn’t the only weapon to worry about.
Damon Hazelton found himself seeing the field less and less in 2018 for no known reason, but Hazelton will get plenty of opportunities in 2019. Hazelton caught touchdown passes in eight of Virginia Tech’s first nine games in 2018, proving to be a reliable and explosive option for Ryan Willis. Like Turner, Hazelton doesn’t have the flashy speed, but he’s a physical receiver who can often bully smaller defensive backs.
Hezekiah Grimsley not only has a cool first name, but he has reliable hands and isn’t a bad third option for Virginia Tech. Grimsley only caught 31 passes for 382 yards in 2018, but his usage will increase with Kumah out of the picture. Grimsley can line up on the perimeter or in the slot, giving the Hokies versatility in packages and alignments. Phil Patterson only has 21 career receptions, but he gives Tech an older option at receiver who has some speed and athleticism.
The wild cards come from Virginia Tech’s younger receivers, starting with DeJuan Ellis. The former quarterback redshirted last season but flashed in this year’s Spring Game. He found himself open several times and given his elite speed, Ellis has the potential to breakthrough this season. Don’t be surprised if Ellis has a Turner-like freshman year.
Even behind Ellis, there is a full stable of receivers ready for a shot. Darryle Simmons is a physical wideout who arrived in Blacksburg with some accolades. Freshmen Tayvion Robinson, Jaden Payoute, Elijah Bowick and Jacoby Pinckney represent one of the deepest and highest-ceiling receiver classes that Virginia Tech has ever signed.
There are many causes for concern as Virginia Tech approaches 2019, but the group of receivers isn’t one of them. This unit will pose significant threats to opposing defenses all season long, giving Ryan Willis plenty of options on offense. Willis may not be a total stud at quarterback, but this receiving corps will give him every opportunity to produce in his final season.