How did the Underclassmen Recruits fair against UNC?
How a team's newly adjusted recruits play on the field is a preview into the future for college football coaches and fans alike. For the Hokies, playing early has always been an option for recruits who come in and put in the work to do so. This first game of the year we got to see firsthand how some of the younger players on the team adjusted in a true game environment. We will go over how some of the 2020 and 2021 recruiting class recruits did in Friday's game against UNC, and who might be able to contribute more in the future.
Class of 2020:
Kaden Moore - It was a surprise to many, but not to few, when it was announced that Freshman RG Kaden Moore would be starting for the Hokies. Moore, who had no true recorded stats in last year's season managed to find himself in the midst of a position battle with new transfer Johnny Jordan. On Friday's game, the two ended up splitting the reps at right guard, with Moore taking the majority.
Moore held a PFF Run Block Grade of an 55.5 and a PFF Pass Block of an 63.5. This means that his run block grade held up a bit below average of what was expected this week out of him. And that his pass block grade was right above average for the same expectations. However, for a freshmen getting his first true clump of reps at the right guard position, Moore held up well. I would not be surprised to see Moore develop as the season goes on and well into his years here at Virginia Tech.
Dorian Strong - Once again, the phenom of a season that Strong put on display for the Hokies in 2020 is looking more like a repeating theme instead of a fluke. The still freshmen put on an absolute display in the camps leading into the Hokie's first game against UNC. And when his name was among those starting for the Virginia Tech defense, there was no surprise.
Strong held a PFF Tackling Grade of an 76.7, a PFF Coverage Grade of an 69.8, and a PFF Run Defense Grade of an 62.5. Strong made sure that he was not going to taken for granted after last season. In fact, Strong placed in the Top 2 of all of the graded sections just mentioned when looking at the Hokie's cornerback room. It would be a big shock to the coaching staff and fanbase if we didn't continue to see Strong develop well into his time here in Blacksburg. Many are already looking at a potential NFL future for this young defensive back.
Keonta Jenkins - When hearing about the spring and fall camps the Hokies had going into the 2021 season, it was impossible not to have heard about Keonta Jenkins. The 6-3, 207 pound safety found himself back in the safety spot, playing more than names like Devon Hunter and Tae Daley on Friday.
Jenkins held a PFF Tackling Grade of an 49.0, a PFF Coverage Grade of an 54.1, and a PFF Run Defense Grade of an 65.2. When looking at Jenkins and how he did at the safety spot for the game against UNC, it wasn't perfect but there are hints of strides hidden within. For instance, Jenkins had the 5th highest run defense grade among the whole defense on Friday, and shows how physical he can be. This also marked the best he had ever done in that category over the course of all of the 2020 season. We might see Defensive Coordinator Justin Hamilton juggle around the safeties this year, but Jenkins is bringing the needed physicality to the safety spot thus far.
Possible New Names - Not all of the 2020 recruiting class got to be on display on Friday, but there are some names who could get some time this season. Some of the 2020 recruits that I think could be included are: OT Parker Clements, RB Marco Lee, and P Peter Moore.
Clements was talked about during camp, and we didn't get to see him at all unfortunately Friday, but he is easily someone who could contribute. Next is Marco Lee, who is in a similar situation as Clements. However, I think with some trouble with Keshawn King and handling the ball that it wouldn't be crazy to see Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelson give Lee some reps against MTSU. Last, but certainly not least, is Peter Moore who was the punter for the Hokies on Friday, but was held to only 4 punts. Seeing what Moore can continue to do on special teams will be a blossoming topic going forward in the season.
Class of 2021:
Da'Wain Lofton - This Texas native was someone who was praised throughout spring camp for the Hokies, especially by Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelson. The young wide receiver showed us a small bit of what he could do on Friday. Lofton got a single snap, but held up a decent blocking grade for that play.
Lofton held a PFF Run Block Grade of an 60.0, which is right at average for his position. He did his job and executed on that one play. And even if there isn't much more than this one play film wise for Lofton, to see him execute on the play he got is impressive in itself. I have no doubt that the staff will give him some more reps later in the season, but for now he gets kudos for taking care of what was on his plate.
Possible New Names - It is still early to see some of these true freshmen play, but that doesn't mean we don't get to see them take reps for the Hokies. Some of the 2021 recruits that I think will get some time this season are: CB DJ Harvey, S Jalen Stroman, and DL Cole Nelson.
First and foremost, S Jalen Stroman came a mere inches of blocking the first punt of the night from UNC. The shear amount of natural athleticism and skill that he has shown alone in camp and on special teams should earn him some time in the near future. Next, CB DJ Harvey was an impressive return specialist for his high school of Sierra Canyon. To think that the staff isn't thinking of letting the California kid field some kicks or punts this year is ludicrous. And lastly, defensive lineman Cole Nelson has the size to do some damage early, but needs to put on some more weight to do so. I like Nelson to do exactly that and to get some reps during the middle-to-late bit of the season.