Sons of Selections! The 2021 Virginia Tech Hokies NFL Mock Draft
As the 2021 NFL Draft approaches, Hokie fans are eager to find out the answers to the following questions:
● Which former Hokie players will hear their name called in the 2021 NFL Draft?
● What round will they get selected?
● Which teams will select each player?
Every year, mock drafts provide a fun exercise to help discuss these questions, based on the best situations and likely destinations for each former Hokie entering the NFL Draft.
However, there is a high degree of difficulty involved given the variability of how NFL teams approach the drafting process which is based on factors such as player evaluation, positional ranking, fit, team need, scheme, trade scenarios, and personal preferences, meaning 99.9% of mock drafts seldom reflect the eventual outcome.
So for this article, fellow Sons of Saturday Scribe, Sam Jessee, and I gave our best attempt at a Virginia Tech themed mock draft to help pare down the guessing game and project only the four Hokie players ranked within the 2021 Pro Football Focus (PFF) NFL Draft Big Board based on the current draft order, best fit, and each player's positional rankings.
The good news is, this year the Hokies not only have four players listed in the PFF NFL Draft Big Board but each player is ALSO listed within the PFF NFL Draft Big Board Top 100.
2021 Hokie Players in the PFF Top 100
● #15 – Christian Darrisaw, OT
● #23 – Caleb Farley, CB
● #91 – Khalil Herbert, RB
● #99 – Divine Deablo, S
To put the PFF Top 100 into perspective, ever since the 2017 NFL Draft which marks the first of the Justin Fuente era, there have been exactly three other VT players ranked in the PFF Top 100, all of which were drafted:
2018 Hokie Players in the PFF Top 100
● #30 – Tremaine Edmunds, LB – 1st round pick (16th overall) – Buffalo Bills
● #53 – Wyatt Teller, OG – 5th round pick (166th overall) – Cleveland Browns
● #78 – Greg Stroman, CB – 7th round pick (241st overall) – Washington Football Team
FYI, it's important to note that the PFF Top 100 isn't necessarily a predictor of where a player will be selected, for example during the same 2018 NFL Draft, Terrell Edmunds was taken in the 1st round at 28th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers even though his PFF ranking was 196th, meaning a player's potential value always depends on the individual team.
However, being listed in the PFF Top 100 does somewhat guarantee your chances of being drafted.
Two Quick Tangents
This draft is a HUGE point of emphasis on Virginia Tech becoming "Development U".
Just think about it. Every 2021 Hokie player in the PFF Top 100 was either:
● Undervalued - Darrisaw and Herbert
● Converted to play the complete opposite side of the field from high school - Farley and Deablo
Both of which are testaments to the current staff in identifying and optimizing their talents to a level where they are now projected as likely early-round NFL draft picks.
Looking back at the 2018 NFL Draft, my guess is the Buffalo Bills probably regret that trade in August 2019 sending Wyatt Teller to the Cleveland Browns for two 2020 picks (a 5th and 6th rounder respectively), though the Bills would probably argue back that those picks helped them secure the trade for Stefon Diggs during the 2020 offseason.
Personally, give us the All-Pro offensive lineman over the All-Pro wide receiver.
Alright, moving on.
Let's get to the picks!
Christian Darrisaw, OT (PFF Ranking - #15)
Chris: 1st round (7th overall) – Detroit Lions
With top Offensive Tackle Penei Sewell likely to be selected before the Lions make this pick, Christian Darrisaw being the 3rd ranked Offensive Tackle according to PFF offers two things of value over the 2nd ranked option, Rashawn Slater, in the form of height (2" taller) and arm length (1.5" longer), both of which are critical traits that pair nicely with his elite 94.5 run-blocking grade and the fact that he allowed ZERO sacks or hits to the QB during the 2020 season.
Also, considering Darrisaw was the only top Tackle that played last fall, teams may value him as a safer pick with less projection to serve as their franchise anchoring Left Tackle, leaving me to believe that the Lions will select him with the 7th overall pick, or trade down a few spots given the demand for QBs and WRs in that range and still take Darrisaw with their 1st round pick.
Now historically, this doesn't seem like a "Lions-y" pick, but keep in mind their recent front office turnover, which now features GM Brad Holmes and HC Dan Campbell, formerly of the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints respectively, that both featured complex rushing schemes and will likely implement a run-heavy approach in Detroit, given the limitations of QB Jared Goff.
With Campbell also touting his affinity for eliminating the opponent's kneecaps, it seems he would prefer a former under-recruited 2-star Offensive Tackle to help bulldoze a path for Detroit's RB tandem of Deandre Swift and newly acquired free agent Jamaal Williams.
Sam: 1st round (13th overall) – Los Angeles Chargers
If a team is going to draft a Left Tackle early in the first round this year, chances are they already have their franchise QB. The Chargers have that and then some with Justin Herbert, who put up All-Rookie numbers last season. Most draft experts have Darrisaw as the second or third OT off of the board, and I think his measurables are enough to push him over the edge. The Chargers also run an offense with Herbert that is very similar to what Tech runs, so there's plenty of film of Darrisaw blocking well on sweeps and RPO's.
I think this would be a great place for Darrisaw to land, and he most likely would start on Day 1. Besides, nothing makes a QB happier than seeing his team select an Offensive Lineman in the 1st round.
Caleb Farley, CB (PFF Ranking - #23)
Chris: 1st round (10th overall) – Dallas Cowboys
The primary red flag keeping Caleb Farley from being the consensus top graded PFF Cornerback is the injury to his back. However, make no mistake, he is the most talented coverage corner in the draft, which is amazing to consider since he only transitioned into the position from WR when he got to Virginia Tech, where he mostly learned on the job in 2018 before a breakout campaign in 2019.
And with the combination of Farley's size, speed, and fluidity, he possesses all of the skills that immediately translate to NFL success, which for a CB is the ability to shut down the opposing team's WR1.
However, NFL teams often draft players based on risk aversion, meaning any player with even the slightest injury history usually ends up falling a little bit and is labeled as "high risk, high reward".
But with Dallas already having Trevon Diggs on the roster, Farley's selection affords them to take that risk, with the payoff being a potential All-Pro CB duo to help right the ship under new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn, who also coached another elite CB during his time in Seattle who Farley is being compared to… Richard Sherman.
Sam: 1st round (22nd overall) – Tennessee Titans
I'm not sure how the Titans could pass on a Cornerback in the first round seeing as Tennessee was 31st in Passing Touchdowns and 29th in both Completions and Yards Allowed last season, and they responded by releasing both starting CBs, Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson.
Even with the addition of a few DB's in Free Agency, none of them look to be the long-term answer at the position, leaving Tennessee to likely take the best corner on the board, which may very well be Farley whose draft stock took a bit of a hit this offseason due to a minor back injury that impacted his ability to work out for teams during the draft evaluation process.
Normally, Farley's minor injury is nothing teams should be worried about, but when you consider the early run on Quarterbacks that will take place in the first 10 or so picks, there's just not a lot of room to pick a corner, especially since Surtain II from Alabama will most likely be taken by the Cowboys at #10, meaning the next team that's in dire need of a corner is the Tennessee Titans. However, if Farley were to fall a bit further, the Cleveland Browns would be a team waiting to pounce.
Divine Deablo, S (PFF Ranking - #99)
Chris: 2nd round (62nd overall) – Green Bay Packers
No other Hokie opened as many eyes during the Virginia Tech Pro Day than Divine Deablo, who at 6'3 226lbs, was able to clock a 4.42 40-yard dash along with a 10'6 broad jump, making it easier for teams to envision him as a potential Kam Chancellor type Defensive Back with better coverage chops and athleticism.
However, that vision relies on a bit of projection to figure out where Deablo, who is best described as an NFL "tweener", fits in a pro scheme, meaning his future team may be one that already runs the type of defense that maximizes his potential as S/LB hybrid.
To me, that defense is the "Dime+" package, where a team plays with more than five personnel in the secondary at the same time.
And with the Packers and Rams currently running the highest percentage of "Dime+" personnel according to Football Outsiders, and Joe Barry now taking over Green Bay Defensive Coordinator duties after coaching with the Rams from 2017-20, AND the Packers GM Brian Gutenkunst (who is no stranger to selecting DBs early and often in the NFL draft) getting a front-row seat to scout Deablo during the Virginia Tech Pro Day, it makes sense to project Deablo to Green Bay in the late 2nd round since he likely won't be around later in the draft.
Sam: 2nd round (48th overall) – Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders may look to go back to their old ways of just picking physical freaks, and you could hardly blame them after watching Deablo work out this spring. Hokie fans may not have been overly wowed by Deablo's on-field play compared to previous DB's the program has sent to the NFL, but it's hard to deny how well Deablo's skillset translates to the next level. He's a guy that can cover anywhere on the field and is even better near the line of scrimmage to help stop the run game.
I think that's the kind of guy Jon Gruden would love to have in Silver and Black, considering that the Raiders were 26th in Passing Yards Allowed last season and are in desperate need of an influx of defensive backfield talent.
With Deablo really starting to climb up NFL draft boards, any team that likes him may feel pressured to reach a bit above his player ranking.
Also, any time you throw in a Kam Chancellor comparison.....yeah that'll help the draft stock.
Khalil Herbert, RB (PFF Ranking - #91)
Chris: 3rd round (105th overall) – New Orleans Saints
According to the narrative, Running Backs should only be drafted in the later rounds (Day 3, Rounds 4-7) given how that position is being devalued by NFL teams.
However, that narrative mostly pertains to the second contract for RBs and not during the NFL Draft. In fact, the average draft position for NFL RBs has hovered between the late 3rd and early 4th rounds going as far back as the 2000 NFL Draft.
Instead, most teams are now opting to wait until at least after the 1st round, but rarely after the 4th, meaning the majority of the top graded RBs are selected during the 2nd and 3rd rounds respectively.
Starting with the main "negative" on Herbert, his age (23 years old), some teams may focus too much on why he spent five years in college. However, because of the context surrounding Herbert's time at Kansas, he never incurred the mileage that plagues most older RB prospects in terms of Total Rushing Attempts. In fact, Herbert has one of the lower rushing attempt totals compared to every other RB in the class, with only 475 total attempts.
Also, one of the biggest name RB prospects this year projected to go in the late 1st round, Alabama's Najee Harris, is actually one month OLDER than Herbert and already has 638 total attempts.
As for the positives, Herbert's skill-based traits of patience, vision, initial burst, and strength all pair nicely with his 4.46 40-yard dash, 6.96 3-cone, and 22 reps of 225 on the bench press during the Virginia Tech Pro Day, meaning there's a reason he's listed as the 91st overall PFF prospect (5th ranked RB).
My bet is on a smart team that rarely drafts for need and instead looks for depth and value will call Herbert's name during that late 3rd or early 4th round window, given the above context.
Enter the New Orleans Saints, who are one of the better RB talent evaluators in the league and have two compensatory picks at 98th and 105th overall. My guess is they use one on Herbert, who also bears a striking physical resemblance to former Saint, Mark Ingram.
Sam: 5th round (160th overall) – Arizona Cardinals
This may seem a little late for a guy with Herbert's production last season, and I would tend to agree with that. However, this is more a product of the climate around the RB position in this year's draft than it is a representation of Herbert's ability as a pro. For starters, this RB class is filled with a lot of "very good" running backs.
Najee Harris (Bama), Travis Etienne (Clem), Javonte Williams (UNC), Trey Sermon (OSU), and Michael Carter (UNC) have all been discussed as the pre-determined Top 5 guys off the board in this draft.
And if you look at how many teams need to spend one of their top 2-3 picks on a Running Back, the list is not that long.
In fact, the list of RB "needy" teams is probably just the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers who are looking to spend at least a 2nd round pick on a Running Back, so by the 3rd round you could be looking at only 3, maybe 4 RB's off the board.
As for Herbert, he does have a rare combination of experience and fresh legs which I think bolsters his draft stock a bit higher than many would think. He's also proven to be useful on Special Teams and as a pass-catcher which are two ways to get on the field early.
I think that's where Herbert eventually finds himself in the NFL, as part of a Running Back duo in a scheme that utilizes backs in multiple sets and runs mostly out of a spread formation, allowing Herbert to practice his patience as a runner that made him exceptional last season for the Hokies.
Arizona seems like the perfect place for that. Kenyan Drake will continue to be the top guy, but bringing in a versatile back like Herbert in the middle to the later part of the draft would be an absolute steal. Keep in mind that the Cardinals are very comfortable with designed read options for QB Kyler Murray and Herbert's game fits that perfectly.