In the Justin Fuente era, one of the positions consistently loaded with talent has been tight end.
Mitchell, a Preseason All-ACC selection who I wrote a feature on in July, returns for his fourth season at Virginia Tech this fall. Nick Gallo and Drake DeIuliis are the guys behind him, once again. For the fifth straight season, the Hokies’ tight end room is going to be very talented and reliable.
A list of the scholarship tight ends on Virginia Tech’s roster:
Drake DeIuliis: r-Jr., 6-5, 247; Charlotte, N.C.
James Mitchell: Jr., 6-3, 255; Big Stone Gap, Va.
Nick Gallo: So., 6-4, 251; Richboro, Pa.
Jared Gibble: Fr., 6-4, 235; Winston-Salem, N.C.
There are are also five walk-on tight ends on the roster, which is important to show for depth purposes and special teams. The three players in bold (DeIuliis, Mitchell and Gallo) are the ones that will contribute this season, so those are the three that we’ll discuss in this article.
Unlike 2019 when Tech used Mitchell on jet sweeps inside the five-yard line, he only carried the ball once in 2020 (a one-yard TD at UNC).
Mitchell’s career stats:
There were three games over the last two seasons where Mitchell played and did not touch the football: 2019 at Notre Dame, 2019 at Virginia and 2020 vs. Miami (Mitchell was dealing with a leg injury against the Hurricanes and only played five snaps).
To put it simply, that can’t happen in 2021. Mitchell should have multiple receptions per game because the Hokies are at their best when he’s involved in the action. Tech knows what it’s getting with Mitchell. He’s versatile and can line up at receiver, tight end or in the backfield. He’s a solid blocker, too. Mitchell is arguably the Hokies’ best offensive weapon, so they need to get him the ball whenever they can this season (to a reasonable extent, of course).
Having a quarterback with a better arm and an improved knowledge of the offense in Braxton Burmeister should help. Mitchell said at ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte that he’s very comfortable with his chemistry with Burmeister. He’ll be at the top of Burmeister’s list in terms of targets this season. That’s where balance comes in.
To make Mitchell effective, the Hokies need to spread the ball around. Giving Mitchell four to eight touches per game is smart, but when the ball is going to other players on the field, those plays need to be effective.
For example, receivers like Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson and running backs like Jalen Holston and Raheem Blackshear need to take advantage of their opportunities when they get them. That obviously goes for any situation, not just this one, but if Tech’s other offensive weapons can have success and draw some attention away from Mitchell, it could result in more offensive success for VT.
Mitchell had at least two catches in every game he played in last season, except for the Miami game he was injured. He hit 40 reception yards in six of the ten games and over 60 in three. He posted four catches for 103 yards in Tech’s shootout with North Carolina, too. He’s a weapon that the Hokies need to utilize more in 2021.
Nick Gallo and Drake DeIuliis
Gallo’s career stats: 11 rec., 83 yards, 1 TD
DeIuliis’ career stats: 3 rec., 25 yards
Behind Mitchell are two solid options in Nick Gallo and Drake DeIuliis. Gallo started four games in 2020 and had two multi-reception games against Wake Forest and Liberty. DeIuliis had two catches against Miami, the game Mitchell missed.
Both players have large frames at 6-4 and 6-5. They obviously won’t receive the number of targets that Mitchell will, but they’re two reliable tight ends that happen to be sitting behind an All-ACC nominee.
Gallo is only a sophomore, though he’s been here since 2019. If Mitchell and DeIuliis move on after this season, he’ll be the go-to guy in the tight end room. As Chris Coleman wrote in last season’s tight end preview, if Gallo develops as the staff hopes, he could have a future in the NFL.
As for DeIuliis, Tech found some opportunities for him at the end of last season. Here’s his 14-yard reception at Pitt: Link. It was a little screen pass from Hooker in the flat and DeIuliis caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage at the 22, hurdled a defender, and got tackled at the 41. Not bad for a 6-5, 247-pounder.
The Hokies are set at tight end this year with Mitchell, and Gallo and DeIuliis are solid behind him. Mitchell can be an X-Factor for Tech in 2021, but don’t underestimate the other two, especially in situations where defenses are focusing on other receiving options.