The 2017 NFL Draft starts on Thursday night at 9 p.m., and you’ve probably read hundreds of mock drafts by this point.
Instead of mocking players I’m not familiar with, let’s take a look at some of the Virginia Tech players eligible in the draft, and where they might end up.
Note: All heights, weights and projected draft positions come from NFL.com. In cases where players do not have a profile on NFL.com, these were gathered from CBSSports.com.
Bucky Hodges, tight end
Measureables — 6-foot-6, 257-pounds
Notable NFL Combine results — 4.57 40-yard-dash, 39-inch vertical, 134-inch broad jump (best in tight end class)
Projected draft position — 3rd or 4th round
Bucky Hodges is one of the most tantalizing prospects in the draft, strictly because of his measurables. Find me a tight end (possibly in name only) that runs a 4.57 40-yard-dash, has a 39-inch vertical jump and a 134-inch broad jump, and I’ll find dozens of scouts and analysts salivating.
There are major concerns with Hodges, at least in my mind. Those concerns start with his overall receiving ability. Hodges regularly tries to make catches with his body instead of his hands, which means instead of playing like he’s 6-foot-6, he plays like he’s 6-foot-1. Hodges also showed very little ability after the catch while at Virginia Tech, often falling down as he made receptions. He also isn’t much of a blocker, which is why he was used exclusively as a wide receiver in Justin Fuente’s offense in 2016.
Still, Hodges is a matchup nightmare. Corners can’t cover him unless they’re on the taller side, and safeties and linebackers simply can’t keep up. Because of that, Hodges has the potential to wreak havoc on opposing defenses and has high upside. He’ll need a ton of work to play along the line, but if split out wide, he could make an impact.
Emmanuel Benton, who does tons of draft evaluations and reporting for Breaking Burgundy, the Scout.com website covering the Washington Redskins, says that Hodges is worthy of high consideration.
“Performed well at the combine and put his athleticism on display,” Benton said. “This is a big, new age tight end who may end up playing more out wide as a receiver. He’s very good at the catch point. Blocking is a weakness, but I think he has a ton of upside in that regard.”
Isaiah Ford, wide receiver
Measureables — 6-foot-1, 194-pounds
Notable NFL Combine results — 4.61 40-yard-dash
Projected draft position — 4th or 5th round
When Isaiah Ford ran a 4.61 in the 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine, he likely lost all chances of being a second or third round selection. However, if I were a scout, I’d consider him a steal past the third round.
Ford is a solid athlete, but isn’t the fastest guy, and he also doesn’t jump “out of the gym”. Still, when you watch the film, you see all you need to see. He runs greats routes and is able to generate separation with his footwork. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but can still make plays deep down the field. Unlike his counterpart Hodges, Ford generally catches with his hands and is great at high-pointing the football.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock talked about Ford on his April 21 conference call, and also seems high on the Hokies’ record-setting wide receiver.
“Very quick, gets in and out of plays,” Mayock said. “Didn’t run as well at the combine as we all expected he would run. But he catches the ball, he’s very consistent. I think he’s either going to go mid to late third round or early fourth round.”
Benton says he’s not worried about Ford’s weaknesses.
“People will talk about his thin frame and how he may struggle with press coverage in the NFL, but I think he negates that with quality footwork,” Benton said. “His combine was underwhelming — ran a tad slower than I expected — but he could be a Terrance Williams type of player in the NFL.”
I don’t see Ford as a future No. 1 wide receiver in the pros, but I definitely think he can be a solid No. 2 option. He’s already quite polished as a route runner and has great ball skills. He also is a great locker room fit, and should be great for team chemistry.
Jerod Evans, quarterback
Measureables — 6-foot-3, 232-pounds
Notable NFL Combine results — 4.80 40-yard-dash
Projected draft position — 5th or 6th round
It’s pretty safe to say the entire Virginia Tech fanbase, as well as most of the NFL decision makers, were perplexed by Evans’ decision to enter the NFL Draft. Most had the viewpoint that he could have benefited from staying another season at Virginia Tech. Mayock addressed Evans’ decision to leave in his conference call.
“I don’t know why Evans came out this year,” Mayock said. “And I always preface these comments: I don’t know anything about his personal situation and I’m only commenting on pure football. From a pure football perspective, he’s not ready for the NFL.”
Benton echoed Mayock’s comments.
“He should have never entered the draft, but he’s in it and would be lucky to actually get drafted,” Benton said.
Evans broke all sorts of school records for Virginia Tech in 2016, throwing for 3,546 yards and 29 touchdowns, both of which are single-season passing records for the Hokies. Evans also carried the load on the ground, running a team-high 204 times for 846 yards and 12 touchdowns. Evans was a big reason the Virginia Tech offense looked the best it had in over a decade.
That said, Evans is far from being a polished product. Virginia Tech’s offense featured a heavy dose of run-pass options (RPOs), and rarely was Evans forced to make it through more than one or two progressions. Because of that, Evans will need a lot of work in the film room when it comes to breaking down defenses. Also, Evans can be inaccurate at times. He has all the arm strength in the world, but is inconsistent.
That said, Evans has physical tools that coaches love to work with. He also has a bit of that “it” factor in clutch situations. Evans is definitely worth a flier in the later rounds of the draft, but is a reach if drafted any higher.
“I think he has some traits to work with. He has good size and a good deep ball, but he’s extremely raw,” Benton said. “He’ll need a patient organization with a good QB coach to mold him.”
Chuck Clark, defensive back
Measureables — 6-feet, 208-pounds
Notables NFL Combine results — 4.54 40-yard-dash
Projected draft position — 6th or 7th round
Clark was a three-year starter at Virginia Tech, and turned into the leader of the Virginia Tech secondary. He wasn’t exactly a ballhawk, but showed solid coverage skills and is an intelligent player. He plays the run well and should be a versatile fit in the secondary and on special teams. He lacks the size that you generally look for at safety, but could help add depth to someone’s secondary.
Sam Rogers, fullback
Measureables — 5-foot-10, 231-pounds
Notable NFL Combine results — 4.93 40-yard-dash, 19 bench press reps
Projected draft position — 7th round or undrafted free agent
In the 1990s, Sam Rogers would’ve been considered a guaranteed late-round draft pick. However, in 2017, fullbacks aren’t really in high demand, with only a handful of NFL teams even keeping fullbacks on their roster.
With Rogers, you at least know you’re getting more than a one-trick pony. He can catch, he can run and he can block. He isn’t even an average athlete, relative to NFL players, but he has a knack for making defenders miss in the open field. He also is a special teams veteran, and could easily fill a spot on the roster there.
I’m likely higher on Rogers than most people who do evaluations, and that’s to be expected. Part of Rogers’ value is his locker room demeanor and leadership. I talked to Justin Fuente just a few weeks ago about the leadership on the team last season, and he flat out said that Rogers was “the” leader on the team. He has an infectious personality and would mesh well in an NFL locker room. He’s worth a late-round draft pick, and if he isn’t drafted, he should be snatched up right away as an undrafted free agent.
Ken Ekanem, defensive end/outside linebacker
Measureables — 6-foot-3, 257-pounds
Notable NFL Draft results — 4.88 4o-yard-dash, 7.38 3-cone drill
Projected draft position — undrafted free agent
Ekanem was invited to the combine, and I thought that might signal some genuine interest in the later rounds. However, it seems like Ekanem’s best chance is to catch on after the draft.
Ekanem is another great locker room guy that could add depth on a defense. He told the media at Virginia Tech’s Pro Day that teams were primarily looking at him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, instead of a 4-3 defensive end. I think that’s a good fit for him, and standing up could help him as a pass rusher. Ekanem has had multiple shoulder issues at Virginia Tech, and missed one game last season, but actually started 39 of his last 40 games at Virginia Tech.
Jonathan McLaughlin, offensive tackle
Measureables — 6-foot-5, 313-pounds
Projected draft position — undrafted free agent
McLaughlin was a steady presence on the Virginia Tech offensive line, starting as a true-freshman at left tackle. He missed four games as a sophomore, but started all 27 games as a junior and senior. He also took on a leadership role last season, and would fit in an NFL locker room.
McLaughlin made the move to right tackle once Yosuah Nijman became a full-time starter, and is probably a better fit on the right side. He’s athletic enough to stay at tackle though, and shouldn’t have to move inside. Again, McLaughlin will likely get a look after the draft and could make a roster after training camp.
Woody Baron, defensive tackle
Measureables — 6-foot-1, 275-pounds
Projected draft position — undrafted free agent
In my eyes, Woody Baron has the best chance to make an NFL roster of all the projected undrafted free agents.
Baron emerged as a star on the Virginia Tech defense as a senior, registering 18.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He dominated offensive lines, despite being slightly undersized at defensive tackle. He is a talented pass rusher, and I think he would make a solid third defensive tackle who can make an impact in pass rushing situations. Baron is another good locker room guy, as are most of the Virginia Tech players in the draft.