2022 Position Previews: Quarterback
It's been a while...
Six years. It's been six years since the Hokies had a quarterback that led the team in passing for two consecutive years (Michael Brewer, 2014-15). The Hokies won't get that this season either, as last year's top QB Braxton Burmeister transferred back home to San Diego State.
Coming out of the abysmal bowl game appearance against Maryland in the Pinstripe Bowl, it looked like the Hokies had two options for QB in 2022: start a young guy before he's ready or hit the transfer portal. They chose the latter, and got a big pickup in Marshall QB Grant Wells.
Wells comes in with accolades galore, including first team all-conference and freshman of the year honors. He has top notch arm strength, pocket presence, mobility, and the best part? He has three years of eligibility left. But it's not all perfect with Wells. He has flaws that showed up last season, and clearly going up against inferior opponents in Conference USA. That's why the addition of fellow transfer portal recruit Jason Brown from South Carolina made the quarterback position so interesting for the Hokies this offseason. It went from no suitable options, to two quarterbacks with winning experience in a matter of hours.
1. Grant Wells (r-Jr.)
2. Jason Brown (r-Sr.)
3. Tahj Bullock (r-Fr.)
4. Devin Farrell (Fr.)
5. Ben Locklear (r-Fr.)
Publicly, Virginia Tech has had a quarterback battle through the spring and first half of fall camp. But internally, it's been Wells all along. It doesn't take much film study on Wells to see the potential. His arm strength and willingness to push the ball downfield is at a higher level than any Tech quarterback since...well it's been a long time.
We've written a bit of film study on Wells, which you can find in my 5 Big Post-Spring Questions article as well as Rob's Tale of the Tape. Gives those a quick read and check out some of his highlights from 2021 in the video below. It's won't take much convincing to get excited.
So, what's the issue with Wells?
In 2020, Wells was a COVID year sensation and threw for over 2,000 yards and 18 TD with only 9 INTs in just 270 attempts. Last season, Wells seemed to get a little greedy downfield, and increased his interception count to 13. That seems like a big deal, but from the film of those interceptions there's a handful of dropped passes, bad routes, and a couple really good plays by defensive backs. Wells also threw the ball 175 times more than in his freshman season. That will naturally result in a few more interceptions.
Wells graded out at 74.9 offensively by Pro Football Focus, ranking him 129th out of 294 eligible quarterbacks. In terms of just his passing, Wells graded out at 75.9, ranking him 94th out of 240. Those may not seem like great numbers, and they are pretty mediocre, but Wells still led the Thundering Herd to a 7-5 record and 33.0 points per game. His PFF grade also increased from 73.8 to 74.9 from '20 to '21.
There's plenty of reason for optimism. And to say that Wells has the best arm of any Tech QB for a while is not hyperbole. However, he needs to clean up the mistakes downfield and play within the offense a bit more.
Next in Line
Jason Brown performed admirably in the SEC for South Carolina last season. He quarterbacked wins against Florida and Auburn, helping the Gamecocks to kick off the Shane Beamer era with a winning season. Brown, however, was more of a game manager last season. Brown is a big bodied QB who can move and the pocket and excel in designed power runs. Passing the ball is not his strength. In his limited snaps (264) last season, Brown graded out at 50.3 on PFF.
Brown was brought into the program as an insurance policy. He's also, by all accounts, a great worker and teammate. It's been his dream to play for the Hokies since he was a little kid in Spotsylvania Those are the kind of guys you want on your team. Expect Brown to get some snaps this season in blowout games (if they happen unlike the last few seasons) and to be ready at the drop of a hat.
Tahj Bullock is the purest form of raw QB talent. The New Jersey product has very little in game experience at QB, only starting one season in high school. For now, Bullock is a project player that needs another year or two before he's ready to lead an offense. When he does get there, Bullock has elite size and athleticism and showed great touch and ingenuity in high school.
True freshman Devin Farrell has impressed over the spring and fall camp. Very much a Hendon Hooker style QB, Farrell is a threat to run on every play and has an underrated deep ball. Much like Bullock, it's all about learning for Farrell over the next couple years.
Prediction for 2022
There's a lot of question marks surrounding the Hokies offense. New QB, new OC, new WR's, and an offensive line that has no depth at all. That being said, there's plenty of room for optimism. Wells will be the first pocket passer that Hokie fans have seen in quite some time, and I'm not sure the fanbase really understands what they've been missing. That's not to say Wells won't run. He's increased his body mass this offseason so that he feels more confident running the ball, and coaches have said that they'd like him to run for 50-70 yards a game. If he starts all 12 regular season games, that's 720 yards rushing. If Wells increases just slightly in his efficiency from his days at Marshall, and throws the ball less in a run-first scheme, it's likely he'll get to 3,000 yards (he had 3,352 last season) and complete around 67% of passes. That would be by far the best QB season the Hokies have seen for quite some time.