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Four Hokies Selected In Final Rounds Of The 2022 NFL Draft

This year's NFL Draft was never going to be a flashy weekend for prospects from Virginia Tech, but during the three-day event that started Thursday, several were projected to be picked during rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

By and large, the process played out as expected. Tight end James Mitchell (pictured above), defensive end Amare Barno, offensive tackle Luke Tenuta and guard Lecitus Smith were each selected by NFL franchises on Day 3 of the draft and will have their football playing dreams live on.

James Mitchell

“Big Stone Gap” was the first Hokie to hear his name called. Despite missing most of last season with an ACL injury, the Detroit Lions selected Mitchell with pick No. 177 – late in the fifth round.

Mitchell caught 52 passes for 838 yard and scored 12 total touchdowns (including five rushing) in 22 collegiate games. He split snaps with Dalton Keene – a third-round selection of the New England Patriots – in 2019 and lost much of his third season due to an ACL injury. In the eyes of most experts, despite the injury, there’s “a lot of meat left on the bone” for Mitchell.

An unnamed scout for an AFC team told NFL Network, “I see a solid backup with good [yards after catch] talent who might end up in a starting role at some point.”

In Detroit, he’ll slot behind former first-round pick T.J. Hockenson at tight end, but don’t be surprised if tough-nosed head coach (and former NFL tight end) Dan Campbell puts both of them on the field often.

He’ll also be part of a quietly improving receiving corps. In addition to Hockenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown had a very strong rookie season in 2021, free agent signee D.J. Chark has a productive track record, running back D’Andre Swift is one of the better pass catching tailbacks in the league, and Alabama star Jameson Williams – who I’m outspokenly high on as a player - was selected with their No. 12 overall pick.

Of course, Mitchell will need to prove he’s healthy. The expectation, however, is that he’ll be fully cleared by June, in time for training camp.

Amare Barno

Assessed by many as the Hokies’ top draft prospect, Barno was taken shortly after Mitchell at No. 189 by the Carolina Panthers.

Barno recorded 10 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in his last two seasons in Blacksburg. His production tapered off in 2021, as his role and on-field workload increased, but he’s proven himself as a very effective pass rusher when used in the right capacity.

For a defensive end, Barno’s performance at the NFL Combine was spectacular. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds (best at the position this year), and was also near the top of the board in tests such as the vertical jump, broad jump, and 20-yard shuttle. It’s easy to see that he has great straight-line speed, and that may even translate into pass coverage – where he wasn’t used much at Virginia Tech, despite originally committing to the program as a linebacker.

At 6-foot-5 and 246 pounds, his combination of size and athleticism is very comparable to Brian Burns – Carolina’s star pass rusher. He’s significantly more raw than Burns was when he left Florida State, but the Panthers clearly saw a similar profile and couldn’t pass up on him in the sixth round.

Luke Tenuta

The Buffalo Bills once again showed their appreciation for Virginia Tech’s program within the trenches. Buffalo selected Tenuta with pick No. 209 to beef up their protection for star quarterback Josh Allen and sporadically productive running game.

Much like road-grading guard Wyatt Teller, who they selected in the fifth round in 2018, Tenuta is a large human. His official height and weight at the NFL Combine were 6-foot-8 and 319 pounds.

Draft expert Lance Zierlein is somewhat critical of Tenuta’s ability at the professional level, assessing him as an undrafted free agent-level talent with limited strength and undesirable technique – likely hindered by his length. However, the Bills clearly trust his traits.

Tenuta joins linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and defensive tackle Tim Settle as former Virginia Tech players who now reside in Buffalo.

Lecitus Smith

The star interior lineman found himself an ideal home. The Arizona Cardinals snagged Smith with the No. 215 selection in the draft, filling one of multiple vacancies on their offensive line.

Smith is a Pro Football Focus favorite, and he could quickly become one in Arizona too. His mobility and potential as a “pulling guard” makes him a great fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s run scheme, spearheaded by quarterback Kyler Murray.

NFL Network discussed Smith’s selection in real time (which they don’t do for many players once the sixth round comes) and gave him favorable reviews. Charles Davis cited his athleticism as a converted tight end, and Daniel Jeremiah was impressed by him as a run blocker. Jeremiah did also reference inconsistency in pass protection, but suggested that his hit-or-miss technique is very correctable with good coaching.

I don’t claim to be as smart at draft evaluation as experts like Jeremiah, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith had a longer, more productive career than any other Hokie in this draft class.

Notable No-Shows, UDFA Signings

The next three highest-rated prospects who didn’t hear their names called were wide receiver Tre Turner, cornerback Jermaine Waller and interior offensive lineman Brock Hoffman (who only minutes after the draft ended, appears to have signed a deal). Turner and Waller were hurt by poor athletic testing at the combine – as well as negative findings about his size, in Turner’s case (although Waller and Turner did receive UDFA deals later in the evening).

According to the Roanoke Times' Mike Niziolek, Hoffman has agreed to a deal with the Cleveland Browns. After starting at center for the Hokies for two years, he'll join a group led by offensive line coach Bill Callahan that also features the aforementioned Wyatt Teller. Head coach Kevin Stefanski emphasizes physical run blockers (as well as guard-center versatility). Hoffman fits his mold very well, even if his energy requires some dialing back to avoid costly penalties that he's often been prone to.

Additionally, kicker John Parker Romo has agreed to a contract with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent. In his lone year as Tech’s primary place kicker in 2021, Romo converted on 18 of his 22 field goal attempt and was perfect on extra points.”

Running back Raheem Blackshear has also suggested on Twitter that he will be joining Tenuta with the Bills. Buffalo has spent the offseason looking for running backs with pass catching ability. They drafted James Cook from Georgia on Friday night. Now they've added Blackshear, who gained more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2021 and caught 123 passes for 1,213 yards in his collegiate career.

After reportedly agreeing to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, Turner is heading to the Las Vegas Raiders. Although he didn't progress as well as the Hokies had hoped, and his measurables at the combine left a lot to be desired, he caught at least 26 passes and gained more than 500 receiving yards in all four of his seasons in Blacksburg. He'll reunite with safety-turned-linebacker Divine Deablo and join a receiving corps that features Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller. Turner will likely be competing for Vegas' fifth or sixth wide receiver role. According to Chris Tomasson of St. Paul Pioneer Press, Turner will be guaranteed at least $40k.

Fellow wideout Changa Hodge was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals, joining Lecitus Smith. Hodge only caught three passes in his Virginia Tech career, which was impacted by injuries, but he caught 65 passes for 1,118 yards and 13 touchdowns at Villanova in 2019.

Speaking of transfers, defensive tackle Jordan Williams (previously from Clemson) has signed with the Miami Dolphins. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, Williams recorded four tackles for loss and a career-high 33 tackles in 2021. He'll enter camp behind former Clemson Tiger Christian Wilkins, among others.

Lastly, college football reporter Matt Zenitz has reported that the Detroit Lions are signing cornerback Jermaine Waller. The 2019 breakout player didn't see the same success in his last two seasons, partially due to injury, and his frightening 40-yard dash time presumably scared teams away, but his 6-foot-1 frame and ability to play press coverage makes him an intriguing candidate to crack Detroit's roster – especially considering how shaky the Lions' cornerback room has been in recent seasons. If he makes the team, he'd be one of two rookies from Virginia Tech in Detroit, along with James Mitchell.

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Saturday, 03 December 2022

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