As I’ve written before, I have some concern about Justin Fuente’s public confidence in Virginia Tech’s passing attack, with much of it residing at the quarterback position.
But when it comes to Virginia Tech’s receivers and tight ends, there’s a much different story.
As Fuente said at ACC Kickoff, this year’s version of receivers aren’t the kind that you can just throw 50-50 balls to consistently and expect them to come down with it. This isn’t 2016.
That's true, but in 2021, Virginia Tech does have pass catching talent that should be able to lighten the load on Braxton Burmeister.
The Hokies’ receiving corps starts with Tre Turner, who is entering his fourth year at Virginia Tech. Turner has been remarkably consistent since enrolling in 2018, as you can see in his receiving stat line since his freshman season…
Essentially, Turner is the same player now as he was when he started. His production has remained steady, regardless of who is playing quarterback. Heck, Turner may be older and wiser, but he’s still listed at 187 pounds on the roster, just the same as he was in 2018.
Turner’s value comes as a big-play threat as he’s shown the ability to make some of those combat catches that I referred to earlier.
Turner’s main cohort is Tayvion Robinson, the former Cox High School quarterback who hasn’t missed a single game since coming to Blacksburg. Robinson caught 38 passes for 592 yards and three touchdowns last season, a marked improvement from his freshman campaign.
Robinson doesn’t offer the same down-the-field threat that Turner does, though their average yards per catch are identical. Robinson is the kind of player who needs to get the ball in space and with a quarterback not that comfortable yet at throwing deep and intermediate routes, I’d expect Robinson to get plenty of opportunities.
Robinson will line up out at the numbers occasionally, but he’s mostly going to be in the slot. Virginia Tech’s other outside receiver will often be James Mitchell, a tight end.
Mitchell has as much NFL Draft buzz as anyone on the roster. I’m mentioning him third in this list though, because his numbers haven’t matched his counterparts.
Virginia Tech hasn’t found a way to feed Mitchell the ball efficiently. He’s caught just 47 passes in two seasons and though he’s scored five rushing touchdowns on six carries, the offensive game plan hasn’t gotten the ball to Mitchell consistently enough. His size and athleticism make him a mismatch for many defenders and should warrant him getting more touches than he does.
Turner, Robinson and Mitchell are the three big names to watch. They’ve produced the most and been remarkably reliable in their careers. Still, the Hokies could use one or two more of their receivers to breakout and add some production to this unit.
Jaden Payoute is a possibility. Even after missing the entirety of last season with an injury, Burmeister said at ACC Kickoff that Payoute is the best athlete on the team. Pairing that athleticism with some experience would make Payoute a dangerous option in the passing game.
Former walk-on Kaleb Smith is a physical player on the outside who blocks better than any other wide receiver on the team. Smith brings real value there, but he’s yet to flash as a receiver.
Outside of those players, Virginia Tech has a collection of freshmen that probably need to redshirt. Da’wain Lofton has been mentioned as a possible breakout candidate, while Keli Lawson, Dallan Wright, Christian Moss and Jaylen Jones likely need some seasoning.
Burmeister might not have a giant war chest of receivers at his disposal, but there are pass catchers capable of making an impact. Turner and Robinson are reliable targets and Mitchell has room to grow, should the offense find a way to incorporate him more. There are other options as well, though none of them have produced before.
Even if it’s just one or two pass catchers who make significant strides this season, it’ll be a boon to the Hokies’ passing game. The Hokies are that close to having a deep and impactful group.