Last year, much was made of the fact only one Hokie - in the third round - was selected in the NFL Draft.
That certainly won't be the case this year, as Virginia Tech had four players selected in the 2021 draft, including two picks back to back in the first round. Only 7 schools had two or more players chosen in the first round, putting the Hokies in some pretty elite company.
Cornerback Caleb Farley and left tackle Christian Darrisaw were the back-to-back picks in the first round, safety Divine Deablo was taken in the third, and running back Khalil Herbert heard his name called in the sixth round.
Incidentally, while they aren’t going to teams who scouted them at their Pro Day, all four of them find themselves going into great situations, as prototypical players for each team’s system.
The Titans, who are in the process of completely overhauling their cornerback room, took Farley with the No. 22 overall pick. As recently as two seasons ago, they boasted one of the deeper secondaries in the NFL, featuring Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson at cornerback and Kenny Vaccaro at strong safety. They’re all gone now.
By way of the New England Patriots, Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel loves corners who have the ability to succeed in both man and zone coverages. When healthy, Farley fits the bill better than any cornerback in this draft class.
The Titans are also more willing than most teams to take on players with injury risk. Two years ago, they selected defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons at the end of the first round, with the knowledge that he would likely be forced to miss most or all of his rookie season. They didn’t care, and he’s become one of the best players on their defense. Farley could be viewed similarly.
The Titans addressed boundary cornerback in the second round last year, and they took a potential slot cover man in the third round this year. They also signed veteran Janoris Jenkins to play on the outside, although he’s likely only a placeholder.
When the Titans selected Farley, he became the highest-drafted cornerback from Virginia Tech since Kyle Fuller went 14thoverall in 2014. Farley became the 12thHokie to be taken in the first round of an NFL Draft, and the third cornerback to earn the honor – joining fuller and DeAngelo Hall.
The Vikings, who have desperately needed to boost their offensive line for numerous years, grabbed Darrisaw with the No. 23 pick. Truthfully, Darrisaw fell further than most people expected, but he fell into a great spot.
Gary Kubiak, a long-time understudy to Mike Shanahan, loves zone run blockers up front. That’s exactly how the Hokies’ rushing attack functions, especially last season. Kubiak retired from Minnesota’s offensive coordinator position this offseason, but his son Klint has taken the reigns, so their scheme will likely stay the same.
Darrisaw has also been among the most successful pass protectors in college football for the last couple years.
There was some speculation in the pre-draft process that Darrisaw may have to move inside to guard, but that’s unlikely to happen in Minnesota. Their current offensive tackles are rather underwhelming – and again, a zone-heavy blocking scheme with Dalvin Cook running the ball allows for guard-like tackles to have more success than in other situations.
Darrisaw is the second offensive lineman to ever be selected in the first round out of Virginia Tech, topping Duane Brown, who went No. 26 overall in 2008. He’s also the program’s first offensive player to be taken on Day 1 since running back David Wilson was selected with the final pick of the round by the New York Giants in 2012.
The Las Vegas Raiders added Deablo with the No. 80 pick, just before the midpoint of the third round. Much like the Titans, the Raiders are revamping the back half of their defense, as it was among the worst in the NFL last year.
The rebuilding process began with the selection of Gus Bradley as Jon Gruden’s new defensive coordinator. Bradley was on Gruden’s staff in his last three years in Tampa Bay before taking the reigns as the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks.
With that in mind, Deablo’s comparisons to Kam Chancellor are valid. Not only were both big safeties at Virginia Tech who wore No. 17, but Deablo could end up playing a very similar role to Chancellor.
One of the stars of Monte Kiffin’s original “Tampa 2” defense under Gruden was strong safety John Lynch, who is now a Hall of Famer. In keeping with Kiffin’s tradition, Bradley used Chancellor in much the same way for the Seahawks, and he did the same with safeties like Derwin James and Desmond King with the Chargers.
The Tampa 2 deploys two deep safeties who are tasked with covering their respective halves of the field. The free safety has more coverage responsibilities, whereas the strong safety brings juice to the defense as a hard hitter and a tackler. It’s a role that Lynch, Chancellor and James all thrived in, and it could be Deablo’s turn.
Although the Raiders have retained two fringe starting-caliber safeties, they’re from the old Paul Guenther regime and may be on short leashes. To that end, the Raiders have doubled down on that position in the draft this year, taking Trevon Moehrig (TCU) ahead of Deablo.
At worst, Deablo will become a hybrid weak-side linebacker/box safety and special teams contributor, but it seems like they’re looking for more than that from him. As a former wide receiver who played in the box and at free safety at Tech, he brings the speed and versatility the Tampa 2 calls for at safety.
Herbert had to wait for quite some time – longer than most experts thought he would – and was the 15thrunning back to come off the board. However, the Chicago Bears selected him with the No. 217 pick.
Throughout the pre-draft process, Hebert was viewed as having the upside of a prototypical No. 2 running back, and potentially a fit as a starter in a zone-heavy scheme.
Despite the wait, Herbert will certainly have a chance to carve himself a role. David Montgomery is Chicago’s undisputed starter, and Tarik Cohen is their pass-catching back. However, their options behind those two players aren’t spectacular. Damien Williams is an experienced player, but everyone after that on the depth chart is young with limited upside.
Additionally, Chicago lost kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson in free agency, and there is no obvious replacement at this point. Herbert averaged nearly 27 yards on his 18 kickoff returns in 2020, which makes him a clear candidate for the position.
More to Come
There will likely be players who sign with teams across the league as undrafted free agents over the next 24 hours, as well. Linebacker Rayshard Ashby, kicker Brian Johnson and punter Oscar Bradburn are the most likely players to latch on with an NFL franchise, with defensive linemen Justus Reed and Jarrod Hewitt also in the mix.
Nonetheless, the core four drafted players have entered a new chapter of their lives as professionals. The type of opportunity you’re given often determines how much success you have in your role. The core four are in positions to succeed, and that should bode favorably for their NFL careers.