Tag Archive: Derrick Hopkins


From now until the season starts I will be previewing the prospects from Big-12, ACC and Big East teams for the upcoming season. My colleague at NFL Draft Monsters Justin Higdon (follow him on Twitter @afc2nfc) will be covering the SEC, Pac-12 and Big-10 and you will be able to read those posts on NFL Draft Monsters. Check them all out to get ready for the 2013 NFL Draft by identifying the prospects you need to learn about!

Today I am previewing the Virginia Tech Hokies. I’m not going to lie, I expect the Hokies to win the ACC and finish in the top 5 this season, they are loaded with talent even if some of it (particularly at running back, along the offensive line and safety) is relatively unproven. Logan Thomas is poised for a huge second season as a starter and he is on my Heisman short list right now, partially thanks to the fact that, while unproven, I trust the group he has blocking for him and he has three senior receivers with significant playing experience returning this year. He will have weapons to throw to, and if Michael Holmes or J.C. Coleman step up at running back it will be business as usual for the Hokie offense. The offense might not be elite, but I think it will be good and potentially even explosive.

The real strength of the Hokies is their defense, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Their defensive line is one of the best in the country, and is headlined by James Gayle and J.R. Collins, two dynamic and explosive pass rushers. Bruce Taylor anchors the defense at middle linebacker, and as usual the Hokies have plenty of playmakers in the secondary. They are a little short on experience at safety, but cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum should be very good. The defensive line and the intense pressure they will apply on quarterbacks with just a four man rush will make for plenty of potential turnovers, and Bud Foster’s brilliant, aggressive scheme calls for lots of pressure from blitzing linebackers and defensive backs which will only turn up the heat even more. This is going to be one of the best defenses in the country, and it all starts up front. And with that, here are the prospects to keep an eye on:

Logan Thomas is on my short list for the Heisman this year, and I think he is ready to take a huge step forward as a quarterback. Photo Credit: MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times

Logan Thomas, QB*- Thomas enters his junior season and his second season as a starter with very high expectations. He had a great first season as a starter passing for 3,013 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 59.8% of his 391 attempts. Despite his 6’6”, 262 pound frame Thomas is very athletic and was actually recruited as a tight end out of high school due to his size, bulk and athletic ability. That means he’s a threat to run, particularly on the zone read, and while he regularly handed off to David Wilson on those plays he kept it for a few timely and memorable touchdown runs right up the middle of the defense, particularly against Miami. On the season he ran for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he will be depended on for even more production in 2012. The offense lost David Wilson, the reigning ACC player of the year, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale to the NFL but luckily for Thomas they have three senior receivers ready to fill the void and they all have significant playing experience. Thomas was brought along fairly slowly last year, but his growth was noticeable week to week and with all that experience as well as a full offseason on top of it I expect a special season out of him this year. I will have a full scouting report up on Thomas before the season starts, but his combination of size, arm strength and athleticism is rare enough to make him a potential top 5 pick if he progressed as I expect him to this year and decided to leave a year early. Many will make comparisons to Cam Newton, but as of right now the more accurate comparison is Josh Freeman in my opinion. But if he shows the uncanny ability to will his team to not only a high caliber bowl game but a national championship he will naturally draw even more comparisons to Newton than he does already.

Marcus Davis, WR- Davis is a WR I like quite a bit, he’s one of the most underrated receivers in the country, and I think he’s going to be the top target for Thomas this season. When I first saw Davis in the slot two years ago I thought he was a tight end he is so big, but he is a WR and a big one at that; he’s listed at 6’4”, 228 pounds and he looks like a guy who could run a 4.5 40 yard dash or faster. Last year he had 30 receptions, 510 yards and 5 touchdowns but I expect him to exceed that easily in 2012. He has speed, but at his height he is lethal on 50/50 balls and shows a lot of ability to adjust to the ball in the air, high point it and come down with it even in traffic. He adjusts to the ball well and seems to have pretty good body control, not to mention long arms and reliable hands. He catches the ball well outside of his frame and even if he isn’t asked to threaten defenses vertically at the next level his combination of size, athleticism and hands will make him a reliable contributor, not to mention the fact that he gives good effort as a blocker and due to his size and strength is quite effective at it. I’m not sure what his upside is just yet, but I am a big fan of Davis without a doubt. Keep an eye on him.

DJ Coles, WR- Coles is another wide receiver I like, and he’s another big receiver for Thomas to throw to. He’s listed at 6’3”, 216 pounds and much like Davis he has impressed me with his hands, his ability to track the ball in the air and make tough catches look easy. He has reliable hands as well, and actually returns with the most receptions of any Hokie receiver with 36. He had 480 yards and 3 touchdowns on those receptions, and I think he is poised to surpass those numbers easily this year assuming he stays healthy. He had surgery to repair his PCL in January and is still recovering, but he claims he will be ready for week one. I hope he is, because he should be a key cog in Virginia Tech’s passing offense this year.

Dyrell Roberts, WR- A couple years ago Roberts was considered the most dynamic receiver the Hokies had to offer. I preferred Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, and eventually they became the top two receivers as Roberts’ bouts with concentration lapses moved him down the depth chart. Last season he only had three receptions for 45 yards before suffering a season ending injury. He’s back for another shot at it again this year, and the 6’2” 188 pounder may actually play a lot in the slot thanks to the two large receivers above him on the depth chart. Roberts has plenty of speed, I think he’s a sub-4.5 guy, but his hands are inconsistent and that always bothered me. If he has improved his concentration and his hands then he could be in for a big year, but I don’t think he will outproduce Davis or Coles.

Nick Becton, OT- Becton is a senior who played over 450 snaps last season and played in all 14 games, but he wasn’t an every down starter and will likely be starting his first full season this year. He is charged with protecting Logan Thomas’ blind side and if the 6’6”, 326 pound left tackle can keep Thomas upright he is going to garner plenty of attention from scouts. He’s a relative unknown right now, and I’m not that familiar with his game outside of the fact that he is very strong, has long arms and plenty of potential. He almost became a starter in 2010 but because his turf toe injury took longer to heal than expected Andrew Lanier took hold of the starting role and left Becton in a reserve role. But Becton reportedly outplayed Lanier down the stretch last season and while he doesn’t return with 14 games as a starter he played in all 14 and played a considerable amount. Early in his career he was apparently considered to be playing “too nice” without enough aggressiveness, but the other book-end tackle for the Hokies, Vince Painter, said that last year Becton “started playing like somebody was stealing his car.” I love aggressiveness and nastiness in offensive linemen, and if Becton has discovered that in himself he could be quite the sleeper at the left tackle position. I am very intrigued by his upside, and I am looking forward to seeing his lateral agility and kick slide, because right now he sounds like he could be a top 100 pick at left tackle if he has a consistent season this year.

Vince Painter, OT- Painter, much like Becton, has been waiting for his shot to start for a long time and now the fifth year senior is finally getting his shot. The 6’5”, 304 pound tackle is considered a physical freak, having been timed at 4.74 in the 40 yard dash earlier in his career. However, he never earned much playing time and his flashy tools were never utilized. Now he has his chance to show what he can do this year, and while I’m not as excited about his potential as Becton he could surprise people with his play this season. I know I’m rooting for him, he’s waited a long time for his shot at the starting lineup.

Brent Benedict, OG**- Benedict is a redshirt sophomore I believe, but he’s got a lot of potential. He originally went to Georgia out of high school but according to this article a knee injury he sustained during his senior year of high school carried into his freshman season at Georgia, and apparently he wasn’t happy with how the training staff helped him rehab his injury. He sat out last year, and is now poised to start at right guard this season. Benedict has impressive size at 6’5”, 311 pounds and I think he has plenty of potential as a drive blocker, but I don’t know much about him in pass protection. He’s a relative unknown to everyone outside of the Hokie program, so I am very interested to see how he looks in his first season as a starter. I think he has a lot of potential if he can stay healthy.

Andrew Miller, C*- Miller is a 6’4, 300 pound center and he will anchor the offensive line as the only returning starter with any, technically, starting experience. Miller has been named to the Rimington Watch List and I am excited to see him play more this season. He’s a tough player, he’s poised to become the leader of the offensive line, and he plays with nastiness which as I have mentioned a million times I really like in offensive linemen. I am very anxious to see how he develops in his second season as a starter because I think he has plenty of draftable upside as a center.

James Gayle has 1st round pick written all over him and he is just scratching the surface of his potential. He spent the offseason working to improve his hand usage and master the little things you need to learn to be a complete defensive end, and it should result in a 10+ sack season for him in 2012.

James Gayle, DE*- James Gayle is probably my favorite player on the Hokies’ roster, but that might have something to do with him growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and agreeing to do this interview with me earlier this summer. He’s a great kid, and if you haven’t read that interview you should. Gayle is a physical freak that has been hand timed in the 4.4’s despite weighing about 258 pounds at the time according to James. He claims he got his speed from his All-Big Ten running back father, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that. James is an explosive athlete that is still learning how to play the position despite leading the team in sacks with 7 last season (and he missed 3 games last year!). Gayle is just scratching the surface of his massive potential, and I think he is ready for a 10+ sack season this year for the Hokies. He is going to have such a strong start to the season in my opinion that I think he’s going to start demanding double teams or at least extra help, which is going to make the rest of his defensive line and defense that much more dangerous.

J.R. Collins, DE*- Collins is another one of my favorite Hokies and I think he and Gayle are one of the best, if not the best, defensive end tandems in the entire country. Gayle spoke very highly of Collins when I spoke with him and Collins is a kid who might be a little undersized at 6’2”, 252 pounds but he is lightning quick, fast and has a relentless motor as James will attest to. Collins had 6 sacks last season, and I think he and Gayle may combine for over 20 this year, I’m dead serious. Collins doesn’t have the height and frame that James does, but I still love his upside as a pass rusher.

Antoine Hopkins, DT- Antoine and his brother are flying WAY under the radar thanks to Gayle, Collins, Bruce Taylor, Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum but the Hopkins brothers are not going to be overlooked much longer. Antoine is listed at 6’1”, 318, but he is squatty, powerful and pretty quick for his size. He had 4.5 TFL and 2 sacks as a sophomore but missed over half of the season last year because of injury. Hopefully he is back to 100% by now. If he is, Virginia Tech could have a defensive line on par with the best in the country, even LSU.

Derrick Hopkins, DT*- Derrick is Antoine’s little brother but he is pretty big in his own right. Like his brother he doesn’t have ideal height, being listed at 6’0” even, but weighs 305 pounds and is a squatty defensive tackle. He wins leverage battles naturally because of his height and when he gets into your pads he can use his strength to walk you into the backfield, which helped him produce 51 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks and a pass break-up as a sophomore. Now a junior with an entire 14 games of starting experience under his belt he is the fourth cog on a defensive line that should be able to generate pressure even without any of Bud Foster’s brilliant scheming.

Bruce Taylor, MLB- Taylor is one of the elder statesmen of the defense, returning for his senior season with 23 career starts. He would have more had he not missed time last season with a foot injury, but regardless he is still a quality middle linebacker prospect thanks to his size and productivity. He is listed at 6’2”, 253 pounds and despite missing 6 games last season he had 53 tackles, 2 TFL and 5 sacks. The year before as a sophomore he was even more productive, totaling 91 tackles, 9.5 TFL and 6 sacks as well as four pass break-ups. I’ve never been blown away by him in pass coverage, but I need to see more of him before I come to any conclusions. Right now I have a 3rd or 4th round grade on him, and I’m excited to see what he can do with a full season of healthy football.

Tariq Edwards, OLB*- I honestly haven’t seen much of Edwards but I want to see more of him. He’s only a junior this season, but last year as a sophomore he had a great season totaling 71 tackles, 8 TFL and 3.5 sacks as well as 2 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. The 6’2”, 232 pound linebacker is an impressive player, but he is coming off a surgery to remove a screw from the rod that he had surgically implanted in his leg. The hope is that it will alleviate some pain he has been having, but obviously that is a situation to keep an eye on. Hopefully he comes back healthy and has another big season.

Antone Exum, CB*- Exum is a player that James specifically told me to look out for, but he’s hard to ignore thanks to his 6’0”, 219 pound listed size especially now that he is at corner. James told me he runs about a 4.35 despite being 220 pounds which is extremely impressive even if it is hand-timed, and he is obviously quite the athlete. He played free safety last year and led the team in tackles with 89, had 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 10 pass break-ups and an interception. He’s a playmaker and I can’t wait to see how he does as a corner, but even if he isn’t a great fit there I think he projects very well to the safety position at the next level.

Kyle Fuller, CB*- Fuller is yet another playmaker on this defense and while he isn’t quite as filled out as Exum he’s still pretty big for a corner. He’s listed at 6’0”, 188 pounds and I believe he has legit sub 4.5 speed. Plus, like James said, he plays even bigger than he is and loves to hit. That helped him gather 65 tackles, 10 TFL (10 tackles for loss for a corner is out of this world), 4.5 sacks, 7 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a sophomore. I’m expecting him to take an even bigger step forward as a junior, and with all the talent VT has in the front 7 there are going to be plenty of poor throws, decisions and opportunities for turnovers for this secondary and I expect Fuller to take advantage of them.

Advertisements

James Gayle is one of the best defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker prospects in the country, but somehow he seems to be flying under the radar. That won’t last long, as he is primed and ready for a double digit sack season as a junior.

Tom: First of all James, thank you for your time, I really appreciate the chance to talk with you more in depth and I know you’re busy.

Tom: What was your favorite thing about playing for Virginia Tech last season?

James: Probably the fans, just the Virginia Tech atmosphere and playing at Lane Stadium. I’d rather play in our stadium than anywhere else in the country.

Tom: You’ve been productive both seasons you’ve been at Virginia Tech even though last year was your first full season as a starter, do you expect an even more significant break-out year this season?

James: Definitely. I think the thing that hurt me last year was my injury, I missed 3 games and I still led the team in sacks. I’m healthy now though.

Tom: What is your accurate height, weight, and 40 yard dash time?

James: 6’4”, right now I weigh about 266 or 267 and the last time I ran I ran a 4.45 40 yard dash time, but I think I only weighed 257 or 258 at that point.

Tom: You “only” weighed 257 or 258 pounds and you ran in the 4.4’s, Josh Gordon just ran a 4.53 in the 40 yard dash at his pro-day and got drafted in the 2nd round of the supplemental draft and he weighs 40 pounds less than you!

James: Well I’ve always been fast though, even when I was in high school I was running in the 4.4’s but I guess I never got slower since all I’ve gained since coming to Virginia Tech is muscle.

Tom: Do you have any statistical goals for yourself or the team?

James: For the team I just want to be the #1 defense in the nation, or at least top 5. For myself I just want to have a better season than I did last year and continue to improve. I think if I stay healthy I’ll be better than I was last year and put myself in a good position.

Tom: What was it like watching Logan Thomas progress and grow as the season went on last year?

James: It was great. It was great watching him get acclimated to defenses but I think it was the Miami game where he really showed everyone what he could do.

Tom: Did he look even better in the spring?

James: You can tell he’s more comfortable and I think he’s getting better every day.

Tom: Everyone just kind of assumed he was going to play tight end when he was coming out of high school and now he’s one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation, it’s crazy.

James: I knew he was going to play quarterback because I played in an all-star game with him in high school, haha.

Tom: Well then you knew something I didn’t! Now did your defensive coaches mention anything to you about things you were doing well during spring ball?

James: Yeah they said I’m starting to get the little things down like my technique and my angles. I feel like I did an overall better job of that in the spring than I did in the past.

Tom: What kind of technique stuff did they specifically say you were improving on?

James: Just when I’m pass rushing taking the right angles. I usually just get by with my speed but that’s not going to work with every tackle so I’m just trying to get better with my hands and trying to take better angles to get to the quarterback.

Tom: That’s great to hear, that’s what you need to be a complete defensive end. You’re going to be scary when you get that technique down James.

James: Haha, well I’ve been working on it all summer.

Tom: What do you think your greatest strength is as a football player? Maybe your speed?

James: Yeah my speed, I’m just a natural pass rusher.

Tom: What about some of the things you think you need to work on? Obviously you’ve already mentioned technique.

James: Yeah, I mean I really haven’t been playing football that long to be honest my first season was my junior year in high school so basically I didn’t really have anybody to actually coach me up or teach me the position. Then I redshirted when I got to Virginia Tech and they don’t really teach you anything when you redshirt so I was just learning how to play the position my redshirt freshman year.

Tom: Do you have any mentors for the defensive end position? People you’ve patterned your game after?

James: Oh yeah definitely. Coach [Charley] Wiles the defensive line coach, Cornell Brown has been really instrumental and then I watch a lot of film of Bruce Smith since he played here.

Tom: What is one thing that every defensive end has to have in order to be successful?

James: I think he has to be aggressive. That’s something you can’t really teach a guy to be honest. There are a bunch of guys that have ability but they’re not aggressive, but then there are guys that have less ability but are more aggressive and I think that’s important. I feel like that’s something you can’t teach, but I think that also goes for every position.

Tom: Are there any players on defense that stuck out to you during the spring? Anyone I might not have heard about?

James: Antone Exum. I think he’s going to be one of the best corners in the nation this year, him and Kyle Fuller. Antone runs a 4.3 and he’s like 225 pounds. He’s a good corner. Kyle is really good too he plays a lot bigger than he is. I’ve seen him lay some guys out that he was much smaller than.

Tom: Anyone on offense that has especially impressed you?

James: The running backs J.C. Coleman and Michael Holmes, then Logan Thomas. The receivers too, I know Marcus Davis is going to have a big year. For the most part our offense is going to do pretty well.

Tom: I’m sure Hokie fans will be encouraged to hear that the running backs look good since you just lost David Wilson and Josh Oglesby.

James: Yeah it’s pretty different because when I came here I played against three All-American running backs. I played against Darren Evans first, then Ryan [Williams] and then David [Wilson]. So I’m pretty sure one of those guys is ready to step up next.

Tom: You’re getting some hype coming into the season, do you feel any added pressure because of some loftier expectations?

James: No not at all. I feel like I’m just going to play my game. I feel like the expectations that people have for me coming into the season aren’t any higher than the expectations I already have for myself, so it’s not any different. I feel like I should be one of the best defensive ends in the country and I feel like I should be an All-American.

Tom: I know you saw me mention that you and J.R. Collins are one of the best defensive end tandems in college football, what do you think makes him so dangerous?

James: J.R. Collins is relentless. I totally agree that we’re a great tandem too because I think that J.R. Collins’ name should be up there with any of the best defensive ends in the ACC this year. He’s relentless, he’s hard-nosed and if I could pick anybody to play on the opposite side of me it would be him.

Tom: That’s a glowing recommendation. And I was just looking at your defensive line depth chart last night and it occurred to me that you guys could have one of the best defensive lines in the country as well. Do you think that’s possible?

James: I definitely think it’s possible. I feel like if it weren’t for my injury last year we would have been one of the best in the country from a pass rush standpoint.

Tom: And then you have the Hopkins brothers. You guys have a lot of returning experience on that defensive line.

James: Yeah the Hopkins brothers! I feel like our defensive line is going to be one of the best of the country. Both of them are really good players, and then we’ve got Luther Maddy who started last year as a true freshman at defensive tackle, so we essentially have a couple starters at second string.

Tom: Ok, who are the rotational guys behind you and J.R.?

James: Tyrel Wilson is the guy behind me, he did well last year. And behind J.R. is Zack McCray, plus we have another defensive end named Dadi Nicholas who redshirted last year.

Tom: Did you say his first name is Dadi? That’s AWESOME!

James: Yeah his first name is Dadi, haha.

Tom: What is it like playing for Bud Foster in his aggressive defense? I imagine it’s pretty fun.

James: Oh definitely, because I feel like I’m a pretty aggressive player so coming to school with an aggressive defensive coordinator it just matches. So I really enjoy playing for him.

Tom: Are you comfortable buzzing into coverage? Foster likes to bring zone blitzes so I know he asks you to drop sometimes.

James: Yeah definitely I feel really comfortable dropping into coverage. At first when you don’t do it for a while it’s weird but I’ve been doing it all summer since I’ve been working out with the DB’s so I’m comfortable doing it.

Tom: Uh-oh… I hope they don’t move you to safety James. You’ve got the speed for it after all.

James: Hahaha. I don’t think I’m ready for some of these little receivers though!

Tom: Is there one game this year you are particularly looking forward to? Maybe Clemson?

James: Oh yeah definitely Clemson. They had our number last year but this year they gotta be ready to go to war.

Tom: You and Tajh [Boyd] go back to high school I’m sure you want to get a W against him.

James: Oh Tajh? Yeah definitely. I’ve been playing him since high school but I’ve never been able to beat him.

Tom: I think this year might be the year then James.

James: Yeah, hopefully.

Tom: You’ve got a pretty good football pedigree with your dad Jimmy playing running back at Ohio State from 1979-82 and your Uncle Shaun playing DB for the Buckeyes and in the NFL from 1984-95 as well. Do you think that has helped you pick up the game so quickly?

James: Absolutely. I feel like I have strong football bloodlines since both my father and uncle played at Ohio State. I think my dad was an All-Big Ten running back so that might be where I get my speed from. Actually in high school my father was one of the fastest backs in the nation. I think that’s where the speed came from.

Tom: I definitely think that could be where you got your speed from.

James: Yeah I’d say that’s it, haha.

Tom: I read in an article that before you started playing football you were “more of a video game guy” and that after you got done with video games you said “I think I’ll just play football.” How did that come about?

James: I really wasn’t that interested in playing football when school first started so I just played video games. Then I got tired of that and just decided to play football, but I had never lifted weights or anything so I was like 160 pounds at the end of my 10th grade year. So I just started lifting weights and eating right and by the beginning of my senior year I was like 210. Now that I’m over 260 I’ve put on over 100 pounds of muscle since high school.

Tom: And you haven’t lost any speed, that’s the scary thing. Now, do you still play video games? If so, what’s your favorite game to play?

James: Nah, I guess I kinda played myself out of that. I guess I play some NCAA. They’ve got me rated as one of the best defensive ends on the game so that’s good.

Tom: What is one thing you would like the world to know about you that it may not already know?

James: Man, that’s tough. I guess that I can actually run a 4.4 because every time I get on the internet I see people saying I run a 4.7 or something like that. I want people to know that I have that kind of speed because that’s what I take pride in.

Tom: I had definitely read that you had 4.4 speed, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to believe that a 260 pound defensive end had 4.4 speed, that shit scares me.

James: Well I’ve seen guys at 270 be timed in the 4.5’s! It’s possible, there are guys that can do it. I guess we’ll see if I get my shot at the combine.

Tom: Well I predict that you will, that’s my prediction. It’s not bold, but it’s a prediction.

James: Haha, we’ll see.

Tom: I just want you to realize how unfair it is that you can run a 4.4 at that size, even a 4.5 would be just disgusting.

James: Well I’m very confident I can run a 4.5. I’ve never ran a laser 40 time, but I know I can do it.

Tom: Well that’s about all I have, do you have any questions for me?

James: No I don’t think so.

Tom: Well thank you for your time James, I appreciate the chance to talk with you a little more in depth. When does camp start up for you?

James: August 7th, I’m getting ready.

Only a couple weeks away! I’m ready for some football. Well good luck with the rest of your training and good luck this season!

James: Thanks! It was great talking to you.

Tom: You’re welcome, it was great talking with you as well. Take care.

Get ready guys, this is a long post. It’s over 4,000 words long. You might have to break this one up since it will take a while to read. Enjoy the info!

Logan Thomas: Thomas started a bit slow, but overall I was very impressed. He made some legitimate NFL throws last night and continued to flash his great arm strength that made Virginia Tech want to groom him as Tyrod Taylor’s replacement instead of playing him at tight end like he wanted to. He believed that was his best shot at the NFL, but clearly Virginia Tech was right to play him and develop him as a quarterback. He has size and athleticism that is reminiscent of Cam Newton and is equally difficult to tackle in the backfield and when he scrambles for yardage with his legs. His accuracy is the thing he needs to improve on the most, but it looks much better and more consistent than it did when I saw him earlier in the year. He’s still raw and developing but he’s got tons of upside. As he continues to work on his mechanics and develop pocket poise he could develop into a potential first round quarterback prospect. He’s definitely intriguing, but while he has plenty of upside due to his great combination of size, arm strength and athleticism he still has to continue to work on his fundamentals. As he continues to do that he will become more consistent and really start to legitimize himself as a NFL prospect. It will be fun to potentially watch him in the ACC Championship game as well as a potential BCS Bowl Game. I have been waiting for this Logan Thomas to show up all year as I listed him as a potential break-out player for this season in his first year as a starter, so it is encouraging to see him continually developing week to week.

Bryn Rynner: I was very impressed with Rynner in this game. He didn’t have an elite stat line as he was only 14/26 for 224 yards (8.6 yards per attempt) and 1 touchdown, but he didn’t throw an interception against a pretty talented Virginia Tech defense even if they were missing a few players because of injury. He made some impressive throws, displayed a live arm, and extended plays effectively thanks to his athleticism. He’s not a very big quarterback, but I was impressed by his quality arm strength and accuracy. I think he and North Carolina have a bright future as he continues to develop.

David Wilson: Wilson has world class speed first of all. That is obvious the second he touches the ball. He can run between the tackles, he has surprisingly good leg drive given his size, he has reliable hands out of the backfield and he seems to have pretty good vision to find cutback lanes and other seams to run through. The problem with him is that because of his speed he will try to make big plays happen a bit too often when he needs to just gain yardage. This usually happens when he tries to bounce plays outside when he can’t find room to run inside. That doesn’t work against faster defenses though, which resulted in a TFL or two against North Carolina. Wilson is a very versatile weapon though, and given the shelf life of running backs I think he should declare after this year. I think that given the correct situation he could have a Demarco Murray type impact on a roster. He’s a dynamic player who has proven he can be the feature back in college. I’m not positive he can do this at the next level, but he has the potential to be a game changer.

Giovanni Bernard: Bernard scared me when he left the game with an injury but it was reported as only a mild concussion which is great news. Hopefully he will be back for the game against Duke, but as long as he is healthy long term I’d be just fine with him missing it. He is UNC’s first 1,000 yard rusher since 1997 which is almost unbelievable to me, but he has “star” written all over him in my opinion. He has very impressive burst, he runs hard and with good pad level, he has the speed to break off long chunks of yardage, he has good hands out of the backfield (35 receptions in his first year) and has helped legitimize UNC’s offense by establishing a running game that has been borderline non-existent for years. He and Rynner are going to be very fun to watch for the next two or three years assuming Rynner comes back for his senior year and Bernard stays through his junior year since he will be draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore after next season.

Ryan Houston: Houston is a huge power back for North Carolina, however this year he has slimmed down a bit. He is still listed at 6’2”, 245 pounds but he has definitely shaved off extra weight and you can see it. He’s in much better shape. I think he has draftable ability as a late round pick but is more likely to be a UDFA. He runs so hard and has such fantastic leg drive thanks to his great size and strength, but he’s not going to run a good 40 yard dash time in my opinion but he has ability. He’s great in short yardage and on the goal line, and because those are the only carries he ever seems to get that explains his less than impressive ypc average. I’m rooting for him, but we’ll see what happens after the season.

Josh Oglesby: I think Oglesby has ability. It would be in the 7th round or as an undrafted free agent but I think he has some talent. He’s not going to be a feature back in the NFL, but I think he can make a team as UDFA and stick as a special teamer. He is a physical back that could be used in short yardage situations and could help soften up defenses with a few touches, plus I don’t think he has bad hands out of the backfield. He has been productive when he gets touches and provides a more powerful back as a complement to Wilson’s game-breaking speed. He’s not likely to get drafted at all, much less high, but he’s worth at least paying attention to in my opinion.

Jarrett Boykin: Boykin is a guy I have been high on for a long time and he was actually involved in my first set of posts when I started my blog over a year ago in June of 2010. Boykin is a senior wide receiver for Virginia Tech that has potential as a solid #2 in the NFL thanks to his combination of size, quality athletic ability and very big and reliable hands. He’s not a burner and he’s not an athletic freak, but he’s been the cream of the Virginia Tech wide receiver crop for years and is the top receiver in VT history both in receptions and yards (though Danny Coale is a close second in both categories). He’s got NFL potential but is probably a fourth round pick at this point. He had a big day against North Carolina with 10 catches for 106 yards. He seems to have one or two drops on catchable passes a game despite his very reliable hands, so it makes me wonder if his hands aren’t quite great or if he just lacks concentration on a few plays per game. Either way he is more than draftable and I think he has a great shot at a long NFL career because of his team-first attitude, quality work ethic and reliable hands.

Danny Coale: Danny Coale is an undersized Virginia Tech receiver who, despite less than ideal speed, always manages to catch deep passes to the surprise of opposing defenses. He’s got great hands, he’s very tough, he makes catches in traffic, and he has great quickness. He’s more quick than fast which helps him create separation, but he’s smart, will go over the middle and make catches when you need them just like Boykin will. He won’t go as high as Boykin because of his lack of size, but he has made some fantastic catches at Virginia Tech and much like Dane Sanzenbacher of Ohio State (now with the Chicago Bears and getting some playing time…) he might get drafted late or not at all, but he will stick on a NFL roster. I guarantee it.

Dwight Jones: Dwight Jones has NFL size and pretty good speed but he leaves something to be desired as a receiver. He has pretty good hands but he body catches more than I would like to see and he doesn’t run very good routes consistently. He has NFL ability, but I have a 3rd round grade on him right now. He definitely has upside and he has been very productive for North Carolina especially this season with 68 receptions, 1,018 yards and 8 touchdowns. He will definitely get drafted, but I don’t think he is anything beyond a solid/quality #2 in the NFL. He’s definitely not a #1, and I don’t think he will be the gamebreaker he is at times for UNC even with a #1 caliber receiver opposite him.

Erik Highsmith: Highsmith is a 6’3”, 190 pound junior wide receiver on North Carolina. He has some upside due to his size and reliable hands, but he is more of a possession type of receiver. He doesn’t threaten much vertically but he’s reliable when he can create separation and get the ball thrown his way. He has had a career high 41 receptions, 608 yards and 4 touchdowns so far this year. He will likely be the #1 or #2 receiver next year with Jones graduating and while I don’t have anything beyond a 5th round grade on him at this point I do think he has draftable talent. I could see him being a nice #4 receiver in the NFL, one of those guys you can bring out on the field on 3rd down or in the red zone that you know will catch it if you throw it his way and that can find a hole in a zone for a first down conversion. He won’t make the streaking touchdown necessarily (though he did have a huge gain to set up a late UNC touchdown as they attempted a late comeback) but he will be in the NFL.

Marcus Davis: Davis is a developing receiver on Virginia Tech. Not a lot of people realize this but Logan Thomas is losing two senior wide receivers to graduation after this season.  Davis has emerged as a legitimate #3 target at wide receiver for Virginia Tech (though he has almost identical numbers to D.J. Coles, another quality junior receiver) and has almost matched his career totals from his previous two seasons in just this one year as a junior. This year he has 20 receptions (had 24 in first two years), 330 receiving yards (had 364 yards in first two years) and four touchdowns (had three in first two years). He’s 6’4”, 228 pounds and the first time I saw him play I thought he was a tight end because while he was very big he was also moving incredibly fast. If he is a legitimate 6’3”, 225+ pounds then I think he could have a future at that position, but he probably wants to stick at receiver. While he has played a key role for Virginia Tech this year and I like his hands and his size I think he is going to match his career production again in one season as a senior next year. Logan Thomas will be in his second full season as a starter as a junior and if he continues to develop he could be a Heisman candidate next season much like Cam Newton was as a junior at Auburn last year. Davis will be one of his top two receivers along with D.J. Coles and they should help keep the passing game from dropping off. If VT can replace David Wilson at RB, should he actually declare, then their offense could be very dangerous next year. Davis has a lot to do with that, so look out for him.

Dyrell Roberts, WR, Virginia Tech: Dyrell Roberts only caught three passes on the season but it was brought to my attention by a reader’s comment that Roberts broke his arm early in the season and has the option of choosing a redshirt (since he never redshirted) or a medical redshirt. It’s unfortunate for him because it was the second season in a row he sustained a season ending injury, but it sounds like he will be back next season. He was widely considered VT’s best and most explosive receiver until last season, though I always maintained that Boykin was the best. He is listed at 6’1″, 196 pounds and a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.53. I’d be surprised if he didn’t test faster than that as I believe he has the speed to test defenses vertically, but his hands have always been a huge question mark for him. It will be interesting to see what he does next year, and I for one am hoping he can stay healthy. Thanks to Jim for bringing this to my attention!

D.J. Coles: Coles is another big, athletic receiver for VT. He’s a junior this year and at 6’3”, 224 pounds he has totaled 26 receptions, 331 yards and two touchdowns. That accounts for almost all of his career statistics, but that doesn’t mean he lacks ability. In fact, I think Coles is ready for a break-out receiver next year. I can’t decide whether he or Davis will emerge as Thomas’ #1 target next year, but I think they are both going to have break-out years. Coles’ will be more noticeable because he had such a miniscule impact last year with only three receptions. But he is ready for big things and I think he will be targeted early and often by Thomas next year because of his quality size, very reliable hands and his knack for making the great catch. He adjusts very well to the ball in the air as well and tracks it well off of the quarterback’s hand. He’s going to blow up next year, so watch out for him.

Travis Bond: Bond is the junior right guard on North Carolina and he impressed me a lot in this game. He’s 6’7”, 340 pounds so he absolutely has NFL size and he helped get a consistent push against VT’s interior defensive line. He’s much bigger than all of their defensive linemen and he helped generate a consistent push in the running game, especially when Bernard was still in the game. Even after that they generated enough push to get Blue some yardage even though he’s the #3 back. I didn’t get to evaluate him much in pass protection, but I believe Bond has a NFL future. Just have to figure out what kind of one it is.

Jonathan Cooper: Cooper is another NFL offensive guard prospect on North Carolina. He plays left guard at 6’3”, 305 pounds and he also had an impressive push against VT’s defensive line. I didn’t see him in pass protection either, but he’s a quality junior draft prospect as well and warrants some attention. One noteworthy thing about UNC’s offensive line is that they will return every starter but their center next year and they will be a very experienced group with three seniors (LG, RG and RT) and a junior at LT. A sophomore will likely step in at center, but that’s an experienced group up front that should help clear a lot of running lanes for Bernard next year. I can’t wait to see that.

Quentin Coples: Coples is a very impressive prospect. I think he has a lot of versatility to play inside or outside at the next level, but I’m not sure which scheme he would fit best in yet. I think he would be effective as a 4-3 LE, but I don’t think he would generate a ton of sacks. Regardless, I think he has good edge speed considering his 6’6”, 290 pound frame, very strong and powerful hands, he displays consistently good hand usage to disengage from blocks, and overall has plenty of upside. I’m not sure he will be a top 5 pick like some are suggesting, but he definitely has top 15 pick written all over him at this point. Just haven’t quite seen the dominance that many were expecting.

Donte Paige-Moss: Paige-Moss has been tabbed by many as an overrated prospect on the Tar Heels and I tend to agree. He has fantastic athleticism and was considered a potential break-out player by some, but has not been starting for the Heels and has had a limited impact this year with only 21 tackles (11 solo), 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks and two pass deflections. He has a great frame for a pass rusher at 6’4”, 260 and has ideal athleticism for the RE position but he just hasn’t developed at all. He still has plenty of upside if the light comes on for him, but I’m not sure exactly what that requires. I think if he worked harder to get stronger and improve his hand usage he might progress next year as a senior, but he will have to earn his starting spot back or make a serious impact as a rotational guy as a senior. His stock is a mid-round guy that is a high risk/high reward player because he has a lot of upside but there’s very little from his junior year that suggests he will live up to his potential.

Kareem Martin: Martin is the guy who has replaced Paige-Moss at DE for the Tar Heels. He’s got plenty of upside due to his athletic ability as well as his impressive 6’6”, 260 pound size. He is only a sophomore but he has been very impressive with 34 total tackles (18 solo), 6.0 TFL, 4 sacks and 5 pass deflections. UNC does a pretty good job of getting their hands up into passing lanes and Martin is not an exception to that rule. I like Martin and think he has plenty of upside at DE for the Heels and should help replace Coples next year as I expect him to fill out that 6’6” frame and show up at 270+ pounds next season. Martin screams LE due to his size, and if Paige-Moss can get his act together UNC could have the feared pass rush from their DE’s that everyone expected them to have this season. Keep an eye on Martin, he has a lot of potential.

Sylvester Williams: Williams is a guy that stuck out to me from the second VT snapped the ball on their first drive. Williams has great size at 6’3”, 320 pounds and definitely has a lot of ability for such a large man. He’s only a junior but he has 47 total tackles (18 solo), 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF and two pass deflections. I think he is going to be a legitimate 2nd or 3rd round prospect next year, and I am excited to watch him as a senior on a defensive line that has plenty of talent.

Tydreke Powell: Powell is a 6’3”, 310 pound senior defensive tackle. He’s a very strong, powerful defensive tackle that is hard to move in the trenches. He’s got 43 total tackles (18 solo), 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF and 2 pass break-ups. He’s not a dynamic pass rusher by any stretch of the imagination, but I think he has a legit NFL future as a 3rd or 4th round pick because he won’t threaten much in the pass game but he is an effective run defender. He can help his stock in a post-season game and I look forward to potentially interviewing him at the East-West Shrine Game or perhaps more likely in the Senior Bowl.

Zach Brown: Brown is a freak athlete that is extremely fast. He is a senior that has decent size for a linebacker at 6’2”, 230 pounds but he definitely needs to get bigger and stronger to hold up in the NFL in my opinion. He looks skinny at times but he has plenty of athletic ability and raw speed. He’s extremely fast and that has helped him accumulate 81 total tackles, 10.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 INT’s, 3 FF’s and four pass deflections. He is a very effective blitzer because of his speed, but without more strength and better hand usage to shed he won’t be as effective once he is engaged as a pass rusher or as a run defender. He has ideal athleticism for pass coverage though, and could make himself a lot of money with a great post-season game performance in a bowl game and in the Senior Bowl. One problem I have with Brown is his problems wrapping up. He has missed a number of tackles simply because he didn’t wrap up the ball carrier and he likes to go for the big hit, but he isn’t a fundamentally sound tackler. That will hurt him in the evaluation process, but he’s so athletic that a lot of teams will probably overlook it.

Kevin Reddick: Reddick is another one of North Carolina’s talented linebackers. He is only a junior but he is 6’3”, 240 pounds and has had a productive season at middle linebacker. He has 62 total tackles (35 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks and 3 pass break-ups. He isn’t the freak athlete that Brown is, but he has legitimate NFL ability and is probably the best tackler on the team. He is a very reliable tackler and that is one of my favorite things about him. The dichotomy between Reddick and Brown in that aspect is very noticeable. I look forward to watching Reddick next year as a senior.

Charles Brown: Brown is an undersized corner at only 5’10”, 205 pounds but I would be surprised if he didn’t officially measure in at 5’9”. He’s solid in zone coverage, but he gets burned deep and struggles to locate the ball on deep throws while it is in the air. He can be handsy in coverage, and while he is a solid tackler I’m just not sold on him being a legitimate NFL corner. He’s a 5th round pick right now in my mind, and I just don’t think he has a lot of upside.

Jayron Hosley: Hosley has a lot of upside but like a number of corners to come out of VT he has tons of ability but isn’t always consistent. He can make some amazing plays, but can also give up big ones at times. He’s got great athleticism and breaks on passes very well, recovers well due to his great speed when beat and has fantastic ball skills, but he doesn’t tackle very well. He has 8 pass deflections and three interceptions this year as well as one forced fumble despite only being 5’10”, 171 pounds (though I would be surprised if he was not also 5’9”). He doesn’t have NFL size necessarily, but he definitely makes up for it with his athletic ability and ball skills.

J.R. Collins: Collins is only a sophomore but he has tons of upside. He is 6’2”, 240 pounds and like a lot of VT defensive ends he is undersized but very, very athletic. Hopefully he will show up at 250+ pounds for his junior season next year which would help him a lot versus the run (though he was getting snaps inside at defensive tackle this year due to injuries which was baffling considering his size) but it would also make it easier for him to shed blocks and rush the passer. Right now he relies on his athleticism, but as he develops he should be able to use his strength to get to the passer more often. He has 8.0 TFL’s and 6 sacks this year, so expect an even better year next season from Collins. He is definitely one to watch.

Derrick Hopkins: Hopkins is a guy that I really like. Like Collins he is also a sophomore, but he has legitimate NFL size at 6’0”, 301 pounds and surprising athleticism. He impressed me in this game and has had a pretty good year with 43 total tackles (19 solo), 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks and one forced fumble. I think he has legitimate NFL upside and I’m excited to watch him develop year to year along with Collins.

Antone Exum: Exum is yet another talented sophomore on Virginia Tech. He has TONS of upside at safety in my opinion at 6’0”, 220 pounds but he has great athletic ability and he has been the definition of a playmaker so far this season. He has 65 tackles (30 solo), 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 interception, two forced fumbles and a staggering 10 pass break-ups. He played very well against North Carolina and I think he has tons of upside. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops, but I am very high on him right now.

As you can see both of these teams have a lot of young, developing talent on their rosters. I think both teams will be good next year, though it will be interesting to see how good. Virginia Tech will be losing a lot of talent at wide receiver but they are returning two more seniors at the position. They may very well lose David Wilson to the NFL which would mean a new running back and two new starters at receiver for Logan Thomas to work with. It’s certainly possible that after his junior year Thomas will declare, but it will be particularly interesting to see he adjusts to a significant personnel change in his supporting cast. On defense VT will be very talented as they aren’t losing much talent at all unless Jayron Hosley leaves. They have a ton of young talent on the roster so next year their defense should be very scary, especially in the front seven and along the defensive line.

For UNC they have a very nice core of young talent on offense. They will be returning 8 or 9 starters on offense including potential studs at QB and RB in Bryn Rynner and Giovani Bernard. Watching those two for the next two years will be very special, so I am excited to see that. As has become customary UNC’s defense is extremely fast and athletic, and they will return 7 starters I believe. They have a lot of young talent in the front 7 and some up and coming talent in the secondary. Their strength is usually in the front 7 though, so it should be a strength again next year. I’m looking forward to seeing how they play next year, but I think that with the right coaching hire UNC could take a big step in the right direction next year.

Thanks for reading, I know it was a very long post. Hope you enjoyed it!

–Tom