Last season, the Virginia Cavaliers rose from relative obscurity to record their first winning season since 2011. Primed to build on their recent success, Virginia football, comprised of a multitude of potential NFL stars, is positioned to challenge for ACC supremacy. I’ve highlighted five of Virginia’s top prospects for the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.
CB Bryce Hall
The centerpiece of a formidable Cavaliers secondary, Hall quickly ascended into one of the top defenders in the country.
The 2018 consensus first-team All-American and All-ACC choice announced his arrival to the college football world with stellar play. The defensive back amassed 62 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 24 passes defended, and a nation-best 22 pass breakups.
Coming out of Bishop McDevitt, Hall was a lightly recruited, two-star wide receiver/defensive back from Harrisburg, PA. His only scholarships came from Virginia and Coastal Carolina. Hall used this slight as motivational fuel, managing to stave off all challengers in fall camp and climb the cornerback depth chart. He went on to appear in all 12 games as a freshman, making seven starts — and hasn’t looked back.
Everything that Hall has demonstrated throughout his collegiate career thus far suggests that he has the makings of the NFL’s next shut-down cornerback. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he is already longer than most corners currently playing the boundary at the next level. He has the physical makeup and athleticism to match up with receivers of all shapes and sizes and is a tremendous instinctual defender. Though some may cite his perceived lack of top-end speed as a cause for concern — or look at his scarce interception total over three seasons and question his ball skills — the game tape instantaneously dispels those notions.
Hall could force himself into the first-round conversation with another strong season, closing out what has been a phenomenal four-year run in Charlottesville.
QB Bryce Perkins
Perkins’ rapid ascension to college football stardom has been nothing short of remarkable. The senior signal-caller sustained a career-threatening neck injury just three years ago and now is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
A transfer from Arizona Western College, Perkins burst onto the scene last season for Virginia football, producing 2,680 passing yards and 25 touchdowns through the air and adding 923 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground. His combined output was good for a single-season school record, and he was recognized with All-ACC Honorable Mention honors for his efforts.
A season removed from his breakout campaign, Perkins enters the 2019 season as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate — and that alone will put him squarely on NFL radars. It’s no doubt that the biggest strength of the 6-foot-3, 215-pound offensive juggernaut is his ability to use his legs to extend and make plays outside of the pocket. So this offseason, Perkins put great emphasis on the specific aspects of his game that he felt needed fine-tuning: pocket presence and accuracy.
Virginia’s success has depended on its defense in recent years. But with Bryce Perkins, the Cavaliers are now an imposing threat on offense. Perkins has been a catalyst for a talented offensive roster and the reason why the Cavs are frontrunners to win the coastal division after their first winning season in seven years. His leadership, athleticism, poise, and perseverance would be a welcome addition to any NFL huddle, and his stock is trending up.
OLB Charles Snowden
Snowden, the 6-foot-7, 235-pound riser, has a chance to be one of college football’s breakout stars in 2019.
Snowden bested every linebacker in the country with nine pass breakups. The versatile linebacker went on to collect 61 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick in his first season as a starter. The rangy specimen figures to bring some added juice off the edge from his outside linebacker spot as a pass rusher, and use his lengthy wingspan to affect throwing lanes. If he can build off of a productive sophomore season, Snowden is a legitimate contender for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Assuming Snowden pieces together another banner season, there’s always the chance he opts to forgo his senior season and enter the 2020 NFL Draft. While he has a bit of an unusual body type for a traditional NFL outside linebacker, he could put on weight and become a terrorizing 3-4 outside linebacker — or even possibly a defensive end. Should the ascending junior burst onto the national scene in 2019, as many expect, he is bound to draw significant interest among NFL teams.
MLB Jordan Mack
Among the most respected leaders on the team, Mack reprises his role as middle linebacker on what figures to be the ACC’s premier linebacking contingent.
Appearing in 34 games in his Virginia football career, Mack has compiled 220 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and a pass defended. Despite missing four games due to injury last season, Mack made his presence felt, finishing his junior campaign ranked fifth in the ACC with 114 tackles.
Earlier this summer, the Football Writers Association of America listed Mack on the preseason Bronco Nagurski Trophy watch list, an annual award given to the top defensive player in the country.
At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Mack’s frame and skill set fit the prototype of the modern-day NFL linebacker. Due to the recent league-wide trend of teams running two tight end sets and spreading teams out at a higher frequency, defensive coordinators have adjusted by deploying hybrid linebackers. Mack is currently projected as a day three pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. His range, coverage acumen, football intelligence, and inherent leadership make him a stellar draft prospect that can immediately contribute to an NFL team.
WR Joe Reed
One of college football’s most electrifying return specialists, Reed will now have a chance to prove himself as a reliable receiving threat for Perkins. Virginia football has a strong need for offensive firepower outside of their star QB.
The senior wideout has played in 37 career games, amassing 52 receptions for 786 yards and 9 touchdowns over that span. Reed has made his most significant mark in the return game, holding Virginia football records in kick return yardage (2,246) and touchdowns (3). This season, Reed is slated to be a starting wide receiver opposite fellow senior Hasise Dubois. The loss of versatile pass-catcher Olamide Zaccheaus to the NFL paves the way for a myriad of vacant targets, providing Reed with the opportunity to make an impact on offense.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound speedster possesses all the necessary tools to evolve into a productive NFL wide receiver. His innate quickness, vision, and burst in the return game should instantly add a spark on special teams. If he can put it all together in his final campaign and become a more polished product, he will provide late-round value in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Andrew DiCecco is a writer for PFN covering the NFL Draft. You can follow him on Twitter @ADiCeccoNFL