The last three years were a golden age of sorts for Virginia Tech wide receivers. Three years ago, the Hokies lined up two talented sophomores at receiver in Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford. Another, Bucky Hodges, was a record-breaking mismatch of a receiver/tight end-hybrid. As good as they were in 2015, they were even more dynamic in 2016 when new head coach Justin Fuente took over.
After Ford and Hodges broke numerous school records, they both decided to depart for the NFL draft one year early after the 2016 season. It was a decision, in hindsight, that was questionable. In 2017, Phillips took over as the No. 1 receiver and was even better than Ford or Hodges and ended up being named first-team All-ACC.
Hokies 2018 Receiving Roster
|86||C.J. Carroll||WR||5′ 8″||173||R-Sr.||2|
|39||Sean Daniel||WR||5′ 9″||180||R-Jr.||3|
|83||Eric Kumah||WR||6′ 2″||223||Jr.||1|
|8||Phil Patterson||WR||6′ 2″||200||R-So.||2|
|14||Damon Hazelton||WR||6′ 2″||225||R-So.||1|
|46||Nick Reisenweaver||WR||6′ 1″||187||R-So.||3|
|6||Hezekiah Grimsley||WR||6′ 0″||182||So.||1|
|15||Sean Savoy||WR||5′ 9″||192||So.||1|
|35||Peter Muskett||WR||6′ 2″||194||R-Fr.||ST|
|37||Nicolas Conforti||WR||5′ 11″||192||R-Fr.||ST|
|87||Tre Coghill III||WR||5′ 10″||169||R-Fr.||ST|
|88||Justin Hairston||WR||6′ 0″||175||R-Fr.||ST|
|11||Tre Turner||WR||6′ 2″||186||Fr.||2|
|38||Kaleb Smith||WR||6′ 2″||210||Fr.||R|
|47||Corey Thomas||WR||6′ 4″||232||Fr.||R|
|80||Armani Chatman||WR||5′ 11″||180||Fr.||3|
|81||Darryle Simmons||WR||6′ 2″||204||Fr.||2|
|85||Chris Cunningham||TE||6′ 2″||243||R-Jr.||1|
|91||Vince Zduoba||TE||6′ 3″||243||Jr.||3|
|29||Dalton Keene||TE||6′ 4″||242||So.||1|
|42||Cole Blaker||TE||6′ 3″||240||R-Fr.||3|
|89||Drake DeIuliis||TE||6′ 5″||240||R-Fr.||2|
|82||James Mitchell||TE||6′ 3″||234||Fr.||2|
Now, with all three gone, the Hokies must rely on a host of young pass-catchers in 2018. And there are plenty of opportunities, too.
Tech’s top returning receiver is sophomore Sean Savoy. Savoy had some big moments as a true freshman last season and offers similar versatility to Phillips. He can play outside or move inside to the slot. Savoy caught 39 passes for 454 yards and four touchdowns.
While Savoy is expected to have a major role this fall, his prime competition for targets could come from redshirt sophomore transfer, Damon Hazelton. Hazelton, who transferred from Ball State after a strong freshman season in which he caught 51 passes for 505 yards and four scores. Hazelton has impressive size (6’2”, 225) and hands. The coaching staff was excited about Hazelton last season when he practiced with the team. If he can stay on the field, he could put up some huge numbers on the outside.
Junior Eric Kumah is another receiver who gives the Hokies some size. The 6’2”, 223-pound Kumah caught 28 passes as a sophomore in 2017 and Fuente would like to see him take another step forward in 2018.
Hezekiah Grimsley didn’t play a lot as a true freshman last season until injuries hit the position late in the season. So, Grimsley took advantage of his opportunity and impressed everyone. The high point of Grimsley’s season was his performance in the last two games. He caught five passes for 56 yards against Virginia in the regular-season finale and chipped in with five more receptions for 63 yards in the Camping World Bowl. He had a strong offseason, too, and, much like Savoy, can play inside or outside.
Phil Patterson is ready for an opportunity after a strong offseason. Patterson offers a nice blend of size (6’2”, 200) and speed. Patterson has added quite a bit of muscle since first stepping onto campus in 2016. Just like Grimsley, Patterson thrived in a late-season opportunity, catching seven passes in the bowl game.
The popular and diminutive C.J. Carroll is back for his final season in Blacksburg. Carroll has impressed at times, but he’s battled injuries. He will provide depth in the slot and could end up being Tech’s primary punt returner.
Fuente has added a ton of talent at receiver in each of the last two recruiting classes. Three more enter Blacksburg in 2018, led by Tre Turner, Darryle Simmons and Armani Chatman, Turner, an early enrollee and four-star recruit from Greensboro, is expected to play this season. Turner offers major upside and the Hokies hope he can give them something this fall. He’s a polished receiver with big-play potential.
Simmons is another big target. He is from Philadelphia and looks physically ready to compete as a true freshman. Simmons’ opportunities will be determined, at least in part, by how some of the upperclassmen perform this summer.
Chatman is a fantastic athlete and there is some question about what side of the ball he end up on in Blacksburg. Chatman can play corner and has the quickness, physicality and ball skills to stick on that side of the ball. The Hokies hope some of the younger receivers step up and show major progress so that Chatman is available for Bud Foster’s group.
At tight end, Virginia Tech has some talented options who are ready to contribute immediately. Chris Cunningham is a 6’3”, 243-pound junior who has played in 25 games for the Hokies. He’s been used in the passing game sparingly, though. He did catch four touchdowns on just six receptions as a redshirt freshman in 2016.
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Dalton Keene last year. And he proved why. However, for some reason the coaches didn’t get Keene the ball enough. The 6’4”, 242-pound Keene started 12 games and played in all 13 last fall. He caught just 10 passes, but for 167 yards. On a few of those catches, Keene displayed his underrated athleticism. He can also line up at fullback for the Hokies or at receiver. Fuente must find ways to get him more involved in the offense in 2018.
Another exciting second-year tight end is Drake Deiuliis. At 6’5”, 240 pounds, Deiuliis has amazing size. He was skinny when he first got to campus but has since packed on the muscle thanks to his hard work in the weight room. Deiuliis is more a Hodges-type of player, meaning he can play all over the place, whether it’s lining up at tight end or on the outside at receiver.
Tech planned to redshirt him last fall, however, decided to get him on the field against Boston College in early October. Unfortunately, he was injured that very week. Fortunately for the Hokies, he was granted a medical redshirt.
Finally, there is true freshman James Mitchell. A 6’3”, 234-pounder from Big Stone Gap, Virginia, Mitchell expects to see plenty of action this fall. Much like some of VT’s other tight ends, he is a matchup nightmare and Fuente can move him all around the offense. He’s a terrific athlete and when he gets a full season in the strength and conditioning program, he could be a monster talent for this offense.
Unlike last season, this unit has plenty of depth and talent. The problem is a lot of it is unproven. However, that is a better spot to be in than a year ago. Only Cam Phillips was proven. So, while Tech’s former No. 1 receiver is gone, there are plenty of talented options on campus to step up. And the competition from so many young players is a welcome event for this offense.