Here we are again. The day where we finally end all the speculation and things get real. Virginia will be contacting all those verbal commitments and having them sign their Herbie Hancock to a Letter of Intent. This year’s class comes with fanfare at the top end and depth at a few key spots, but a little marred with some huge ‘what ifs’. London & Company knew coming in this year that by maxing out their last 2 classes, this one would be a little smaller, 18 versus 25. And while Virginia swung for the fences at a few positions and missed the mark, they were able to recover and put together a fringe Top 25 class. The good thing is, while there were a few changes towards the end of the process, it was a very uneventful day as far as surprises. So what are we in store for next year? As we have been looking at our predictions from the past two classes, lets break down this year’s class.
2011 was about grabbing speed and bodies. 2012 went big at need spots. If we look back at 2013 we will look at playmakers. Virginia got some key players at RB, QB, DT, and DB, areas of serious need. They then stocked the rest of the shelf with WR and LB and called it a day. But, as we alluded to, there were some ‘could have beens’. It started early in 2012 where UVa missed out on the Top 3 QBs in Virginia, who went to Penn State, Stanford, and Virginia Tech. Then Virginia were out bid on some key prospects at OL, DT, and DE, and a late defection of a DB opened the door for Virginia to pick up a FB for the first time in 3 years. The numbers game is a hard one to play when you only can cap out at 75%, and that shows up on the “class rankings”. And while a lot of these players might not see the field this season, a few will be able to jump in right away and contribute.
Immediate Impact (players who might not redshirt and could see the field 1st year; Starter or 2 Deep)
Taquan Mizzell, RB (Virginia Beach/Bayside): It is not a surprise to anyone who the head of the class is in 2013. Generally considered by many to be one of the top running backs in the nation, his nickname “Smoke” should be all that you need to know. KP clearly will lead the running back depth next year, but Richardson was slowed to injuries, Shepard didn’t get a ton of touches, and Morgan redshirted. Mizzell has the opportunity to split time with Parks. Not only is Smoke elusive out of the backfield, he is great split out at wide receiver and catching out of the backfield, something that the Hoos need with the loss of Perry Jones. To cap it all off, he is excellent in the return game, an area that is hurting bad for an electric returner. And now that Larry Lewis is taking over as RB/ST coach, it is most certain that Mizzell will be on some, if not all, return teams.
Tim Harris, S/CB (Richmond/Varina): Whether Harris ends up at Safety or Cornerback, look for him to have an immediate impact from Day 1. He is the highest rated defensive back since Nicholson in 2011, and with a backfield this year full off rookies and walk-ons, it would be hard pressed to say he couldn’t at least break the 2 deep right away. While he might not have elite speed (4.5 40), his 6-2 frame works against possession receivers or across the middle taking up space.
Donta Wilkins, DT (Dumfires/Potomac): Talk about a need position. With the news that Braithwaite would not be on the team next season, the interior line just got a lot thinner. What sets him apart from most other DTs already on the roster is his size. At 305 as a senior in high school, he is a space eater. Other younger recruits of years past like Croce and Dean were speed/motor guys, he can really help run stopping up the middle, and could even line up a the 0 (above the center). As London likes to put the DLs in a 3-to-4 man rotation, he will get a shot to make an impact early.
Kirk Garner, CB/S (Olney,MD/Good Counsel): Good defensive backs are hard to find, and the Hoos have 3 great ones in this class. Garner will seen more as a safety, but like Harris, will get some looks by the new staff all around the backfield. Again, with the players available for UVa, Garner should be able to find his way into the rotation, even if it is nickel or dime sets.
Tyrell Chavis, DT (FUMA): If the name sounds familiar, it should. He was recruited in the 2012 class, but needed a year at Fork Union to finish out his academics. With a year playing with the post-grad team, he is another big body the Hoos could really use. While Chavis and Wilkins will battle it out for playing time, most players coming from FUMA don’t typically redshirt, so he will be ready to go this year. Again, his size is comparable with Wilkins in that he is a true defensive tackle that can fill up space and is another run-stopper that the Hoos could really use.
LaChaston Smith, LB (Statesville, NC/South Iredell): It is tough to pull a defensive player out of North Carolina, especially one as good as Smith. It is also as impressive to find one that already has graduated high school and is currently at UVa. He is the only player in this class that will grey-shirt and only non-QB to do so in the London Era. That additional time with the staff should give him a leg up come the fall, especially with Tenuta’s new system. Scouts knocked his height (6-0 on a good day), but on the field, he’s been impressive, and his background as an outstanding running back in high school gives him great vision and ball hawking abilities. On a LB depth chart that is losing 2 starters, he could break into the 2-deep before the fall.
Micah Kiser, LB (Baltimore/Gilman): For the same reasons that Smith will succeed, so can Kiser. He is more of a prototypically outside linebacker, and has the ability in space to be a great WLB and the physicality to be a SLB as well. Again, it will depend on the off-season shuffle with the current roster, but Kiser should get into the mix this year.
Malcolm Cook, S (FUMA): Cook was an interesting player to watch develop in 2012. Relatively off the major radars to start his final year at FUMA, he really shot up the recruiting rankings during the year. Every coach that gets his hands on him says that he has a great football IQ and a real hard hitter. Like Nate Lyles hard hitter. Like Dex hard hitter. Now pair that with blitz happy Tenuta, and look for someone that can creep up to the line of scrimmage and do some damage. Putting him a strong safety would be the way to go and should impress on the college level as well.
Eventual Impact (good probability of redshirt and impact will be seen in 2nd+ year; 2 Deep to Role Player)
Andre Levrone, WR (Olney/Good Counsel)
Zack Jones, WR (Chesapeake/Oscar Smith)
Keeon Johnson, WR (Kannapolis, NC/A. L. Brown)
And now begins our run on wide receivers. Virginia picked up 3 commitments from Wide Receivers in this class, and all three are considered about the same as the rankings are concerned. Levrone played with QB commit Brendan Marshall on Good Counsel and was one of his primary targets with Kendall Fuller on a team that finished 19th on MaxPreps Top High School teams in the country. Keeon stands at 6’3”, 200 pounds and is the largest of the commits. His game reminds me of Caanan’s from a year ago and can be a great possession receiver or a perfect target for goal line stands to jump over smaller defensive backs. Finally, if the name Zack Jones looks familiar, it should be. He is the younger brother of graduating RB Perry Jones and sports 4.5 speed, which should bode well in the Hoos’ revamped vertical game in the coming years. The only thing holding back any of these players are the 11 receivers currently on the roster. Only 2 of the 5 WRs recruited last year saw anytime last year, with Gamble being the only one with more than one reception, and he spent a year at FUMA to be ‘college ready’. If I had to bet which one might see the field first, it would have to be Zack Jones, just based on speed and known pedigree. But again, it would not surprise me if they all redshirted this season.
Max Valles, TE (FUMA): This was a tough spot to put Valles for two reasons. First, he has had a year of prep, and players from FUMA are usually ready for action. Second, he will most likely be slotted at tight end, which will only bring back Mathis and McGee with playing experience. This will open up a huge door for Valles, because the Hoos will need a true blocking TE that can roll out to the flat and catch the ball, and if he can show the new staff he can be the best of both worlds, he can see plenty of time this year. But the knock is not so much on him as it is what the new OC Fairchild is bringing to UVa. He will like to run the ball, but has said he will adapt to the personnel on the team. And with a ton of WR, there might not be that many opportunities to see the field.
Zach Bradshaw, LB (Damascus, MD/Damascus): Bradshaw took the long road to UVa. The Hoos were in the running for the ATH from Maryland with several other teams, but ended up verbally committing to Penn State. When all of the sanctions were leveed, he re-opened his recruiting, and Virginia was there that day to pick him up. Like most athletes, he excelled at slots on both sides of the ball, but with the receiving/tight end slots pretty much full, he will be utilized at linebacker in Charlottesville. And with his 6’2”, 200-pound frame with sub-4.6 speed, he should get some looks at Will Linebacker with fellow commits Smith and Kiser, but it usually will take a year to completely fill out in that role.
Sadiq Olanrewaju, OT (Salisbury, CT/Salisbury School): If you like huge offensive tackles, then you will fall in love with Olanrewaju. Already at 6’6”, 280-pounds, he has a college tackles body in his senior year of high school. His tape shows great prowess in the passing game with decent speed against the edge rushers. It might be hard to crack the 2 deep this year with Moses back and Whitmire, Johnson, Mooney, and Karl all at least a year in the college training rooms. All 3 OL recruits last year took the shirt, and that might be the way that the guys in this class will go.
Jack McDonald, OG/C (Boston/Boston College): You know the Hoos put the full-court press against Jack to get him out of Massachusetts and, more importantly, Boston College. Heck, he went to BC High School and was has been wearing maroon and gold for 4 years. And if you know BC, you know they crank out offensive line products like Peeps at Easter. McDonald will get some looks at various interior line spots and actually has an easier shot of making the 2-deep than the other ’13 OTs, but as we say every year, it is always better to shirt along the offensive line for a year and bulk up before getting out there.
Role Players (very high probability of redshirt and will be a decent player down the line; Role Player or Situational)
Corwin Cutler, QB (Virginia Beach/Ocean Lakes)
Brendan Marshall, QB (Olney/Good Counsel)
I have nothing against either one of these signal callers, but there are so many factors that point to a 99.9999% chance that both will redshirt, and it will be at least 2015 before we talk about either one for at most a backup role. First off, I’m going to step off topic and talk about the fact that the Hoos were not able to lock down any of the 4 or 5 star recruits to come out of Virginia last year, and there were a trio that went elsewhere. But, the Hoos did recover from that massive recruiting blow and easily picked up the next 2 highest ranked prospects after that. Cutler and Marshall run different style offenses, but both excel with their arms. Cutler lead Ocean Lakes to the playoffs this year before hurting his knee right before the playoffs. He has a great upright throwing style and can mix up the 3 and 5 step drop throws. He did run a few option looks and has 4.6 speed, but likes to throw out of the pocket first. Marshall has a very big, fluid motion to his passes, and is has a forward lean to most of his dropbacks. The knock on Brendan is that he tends to rely only on arm for distance, rather than a full push-off of his back foot. He has good mobility, but he will sit in more of a ‘Big Ten’ offense than Cutler. Both have tremendous upsides and will benefit from the redshirt, which both have said that they will take coming in to UVa. The other hurdle that both will face at UVa is a stocked QB depth chart. Sims has 2 years left, Watford has 3, and both Lambert and Johns will be coming off redshirts with all 4 years left. If either Lambert or Johns will be the signal caller in ’13 or ’14, neither could really compete until their senior year, which is why placing QBs are extremely difficult. And UVa has been more difficult to place than others as of late.
Projects (will redshirt for one reason or another. Future status undecided)
Eric Smith, OT (Decatur, GA/Columbia): Hoos had room for Smith after Henson switched over to the Tar Heels. Smith did not have a massive amount of D-1 teams looking at him outside of Arkansas and FIU, and did not get a lot of looks on film. Still, Virginia has been constantly watching Georgia as of late, and found a great project in Smith. Big ole hogs are always welcome.
Jack English, DE (Richmond/St. Christopher’s): When Virginia puts their foot in the door, they like to pry it open. Last year it was prospects from Canada, trying to ride the Pasztor wave. This time around, the Cavs are looking to go 2 for 2 on mining the small private St. Christopher’s school in Richmond. All Wahoo fans know of the heroics of Jake McGee from a year ago, who is the other former Saint on this team. English represents the defensive end recruiting effort for London this year, and Mike loves the motor on this guy. There is little doubt he will redshirt this year. The only issue will be what will the depth chart look in ’14, with Virginia might be moving some moving some DT’s out to DE’s by that year.
Connor Wingo-Reeves, FB (Richmond/Monacan): This is a late addition to the class as Virginia was able to flip Connor from his Temple commitment. With Swanson possible moving to tight end, the Hoos might look at CWR as the only legit FB option on the team along with Scrobz. Again, what kind of sets will Fairchild run, and if the Hoos go jumbo, might we see someone else on that team as lead block. It will be interesting.
George Adeosun, OT (Alpharetta, GA/Alpharetta): Talk about someone whose recruiting took off in the last few weeks. George went from a William & Mary commit to taking trips to UVa, Oklahoma, and then Arizona State. And as he was walking on the plane, Georgia offered him. That was Saturday. But the Hoos were first to the well, and with the focus on a strong academics, UVa was the benefactor. He will play tackle and you would have to believe that if so many quality teams got into the mix late that he has some polish to him already. But the concern is what changed so much in the last 2 weeks to make the difference?
Eric Tetlow, OT (Richmond/Godwin): Sometimes it’s good to have insomnia. This story broke about 2:20am this morning and was really out of nowhere. Tetlow is a 6’6” 300-lb tackle right in the middle of UVa’s hotbed. The issue was that Tetlow had been a Wake Forest commit since the beginning of November. Seemingly wrapped up, the Hoos offered him late in the game, and the night before signing day, he flipped to the Hoos. From the tape, he looks very solid, especially on the pass rush, but since we have had such a short time with him in the fold, (and offensive line redshirt yada yada yada), we will place him right here.
It is easy to focus on the top of the class and think what could have been if half the top players UVa was going after came to UVa. But the reality is that this is another solid, deep class that will make an impact across the defense and at running back right away. The big question will not sit with this class, but with the new class of coaches this year. Another sub-.500 year and this might be the highest rated recruiting class for a few years.