TSL’s In-State Top-15 for the Class of 2018

Virginia player rankings
Where does Keshon Artis rank in our Virginia player rankings? (Photo via @asvp_ke on Twitter)

With the 2017 football season just weeks away, football recruiting will likely take a backseat to actual football coverage. Before it does, TSL is going to drop it’s first in-state Virginia player rankings for the Class of 2018.

Chris Coleman normally does these rankings, but the honor has since been passed down. Let’s see if I know what I’m talking about.

As usual, these rankings will be based off of a few reasonable traits…

  • My personal opinion of the prospect
  • Number of Power 5 offers
  • Versatility
  • Ranking and rating by major recruiting networks (247Sports and Rivals)

Historically, these rankings have included a recruit’s fit into Virginia Tech’s scheme. However, I’ve decided to not take that into account in this year’s rankings, in order to more objectively view each recruit.

Also, in order to more accurately display the gaps between players in the top-15, I’ve decided to break down the group into four unequal tiers. Each tier represents a player of a similar caliber. Tier 1 is obviously the strongest, while Tier 4 is the weakest of the top-15.

With all that said, let’s dive in, shall we?

Tier 1

As stated in the opening, this is the strongest group of players in the state this year. These players are excellent prospects who could easily play early in their collegiate careers.

1. Ricky Slade, RB, 5-foot-9, 185-pounds, C.D. Hylton, Woodbridge

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 1

No. of Power 5 Offers: 22

Committed to Penn State

There is a reason Virginia Tech has recruited Slade for nearly two years now — he’s good. Though he lacks great size for the running back position, Slade is an elite-level athlete. When you watch his film, you can see him walking away from defenses regularly. Once he hits the open field, it’s a waste of time chasing him down.

Slade also runs with great technique. He does a good job reading blocks and finding open lanes, and also runs with great balance. This balance helps him stay on his feet while eluding defenders, and he easily runs through arm tackles. Slade also flashes good hands for a running back, which would’ve made him a perfect fit for the Virginia Tech offense.

The only glaring issue with Slade is his size. At 5-foot-9 and under 190-pounds, Slade will have to manage his body to make sure he can take the beating college defenses will give him. If an offensive coordinator doesn’t run him into the ground, which might be tempting, Slade should have a very good college career.

2.  K’Vaughan Pope, ATH, 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, Dinwiddie, Dinwiddie County

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 4

No. of Power 5 Offers: 14

There are multiple linebackers in the state of Virginia this year that are solid FBS prospects. Pope is the best out of that group.

For his size, Pope is an elite athlete. He’s big, strong, fast and agile. Pope plays all over the field for Dinwiddie, including linebacker, defensive end and wide receiver. He plays the run extremely well, always hitting the right hole and bringing a ton of bricks with him. He stays low and uses good leverage when tackling and getting off of blocks. He shows good hand usage and should have no problem playing the pass against college receivers. 

Pope has significantly fewer Power 5 offers than some of the players below him in my rankings, but that doesn’t matter when you see who some of his top offers are — Ohio State, Clemson, Florida, Florida State and Alabama. Need I say more?

The only knock on Pope is that he sometimes takes poor angles on defenders. His athleticism allows him to make up for it quickly, but he’ll need to correct that once he gets to college. Still, Pope is fun to watch and should make a great outside linebacker wherever he ends up. 

Tier 2

These six players are all solid recruits. All have good upside, but each has at least one glaring weakness that made me rate them outside the top tier. Even with that weakness, these players could make a big impact at the collegiate level.

3. Nana Asiedu, OL, 6-foot-6, 265-pounds, North Stafford, Stafford

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 3

No. of Power 5 Offers: 24

Committed to Penn State

Nana Asiedu is, by leaps and bounds, the best offensive lineman in the state of Virginia for the Class of 2018. He has good size to play tackle and has plenty of room to add on to his 6-foot-6 frame. Asiedu lines up at left tackle and tight end, and excels at both for North Stafford.

Asiedu has a ton of Power 5 offers, mostly because of his upside. While Asiedu is raw as a blocker, all the tools needed are there. He’s quick, agile and very coordinated. He has good hands and shows the ability to block, disengage and then block again. Even though Asiedu needs to add mass to his body and work on some technique, he’s a recruit any school would like to have.

4. Keshon Artis, LB, 6-foot-1, 225-pounds, Oscar Smith, Chesapeake

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 11

No. of Power 5 Offers: 10

A lot of people are high on Keshon Artis, but few of them are as high on him as I am. He has the ideal mass to play linebacker and is very athletic, and should be a terrific collegiate linebacker.

What sets Artis apart is his ability to drop into coverage and make plays. He doesn’t do much man coverage, but Artis is comfortable dropping into a zone and intercepting a pass, or even just getting a hand on it. Combine that with his ability to shoot gaps and fight through the trash to make tackles in the run game, and you’ve got a great linebacker prospect. There is very little that Artis cannot do.

Artis can take some bad angles at times, but his athleticism allows him to make up for it at the high school level. That likely won’t be the case in college, and he’ll need to work on that. Still, I really like Artis’ chances to contribute in college.

5. Teradja Mitchell, LB, 6-foot-2, 243-pounds, Bishop Sullivan, Virginia Beach

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 2

No. of Power 5 Offers: 29

Committed to Ohio State

I might need to get my head checked for this one. On paper, Teradja Mitchell is at least the second-best recruit in Virginia this year, and could make a case to be the best.

However, when I watch his film, I have some questions.

Mitchell is a monster against the run, that goes without a doubt. He regularly delivers massive hits against running backs and he has great tackling technique. His instincts are also solid.

But, Mitchell’s athleticism doesn’t show up on film. He looks a little late when trying to get to the outside, and doesn’t seem to have great range. At 6-foot-2 and 240-plus-pounds, Mitchell could easily reach 260-pounds in college. If Mitchell struggles getting from sideline to sideline and making plays in coverage, he could be a better fit at defensive end.

Mitchell is a good player, and with that offer list, he’ll probably go on to be an All-American. Still, I can’t ignore what I see.

Virginia player rankings
De’Von Graves might be the most underrated recruit in Virginia this year. (Photo by Jason Stamm)

6. DeVon Graves, ATH, 6-foot-1, 180-pounds, Appomattox, Appomattox County

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 13

No. of Power 5 Offers: 4

Committed to NC State

Fortunately, I had already watched De’Von Graves before writing this up. His Hudl has since been scrubbed of any highlights, which is unfortunate. If I hadn’t already seen Graves play, I’d look at his Power 5 offers — or lack thereof — and probably not spend too much time on him.

However, I believe Graves is seriously underrated. He has good height for a defensive back and wide receiver, the two positions he translates to the best. He’s extremely athletic and fast, and torches defensive backs with his athleticism. He has good ball skills and reliable hands, and is a menace after the catch. Defensively, Graves covers well in man-to-man and tackles well. 

The are two questions with Graves. One, he looks a little thin, and would benefit from adding a bit more to his frame. Two, Graves’ level of competition is lower than what you would like to see. Appomattox County plays in the 2A West classification in the Virginia High School League (VHSL), which is a rather low classification. If Graves were playing better competition, would he be as dominant?

I tend to think he would. Graves is a great recruit who would make a good slot receiver with a deadly combination of speed and size.

7. James Mitchell, TE, 6-foot-4, 210-pounds, Union, Big Stone Gap

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 8

No. of Power 5 Offers: 13

James Mitchell is an intriguing prospect. He has ideal size as a wide receiver, but can he play on the line as a tight end? 

The short answer is yes.

Mitchell enjoys run blocking, which is apparent immediately when you watch his film. He uses good technique and finishes blocks on the perimeter. He’ll be blocking bigger players in college, but he’s already a willing and able blocker as a rising senior.

He also makes plays with the ball in his hands. His hands are reliable and his straight-line is speed is more than adequate. When playing defense, Mitchell plays aggressively and with physicality. All of these traits are desirable.

One of the biggest questions with Mitchell is his route running, which will need work. He also doesn’t show the ability to high-point a pass and use his height to his full advantage, which he’ll need to do as well. Mitchell also plays in the 2A West classification, which is the same as Graves. These are serious questions, but again, Mitchell is a great recruit if used correctly. 

8. Wendell Davis, LB, 6-foot-2, 215-pounds, Benedictine, Richmond

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 16

No. of Power 5 Offers: 5

Committed to Pittsburgh

Wendell Davis is another recruit who is criminally underrated. He plays for a solid program in the Richmond area, and makes a ton of plays at linebacker.

Davis is as physical as they come, and lays the wood whenever he gets the chance. His instincts are solid when playing the run and when rushing the passer off the edge. He fights through the trash and pursues the ball carrier efficiently. Davis is very similar to Pope, Artis and Teradja Mitchell in these areas.

There is also a lack of film of Davis in coverage, so that’s a question mark. He certainly looks athletic enough to excel in coverage, but we don’t know for sure. He’ll also need to add more mass to his frame to succeed in college. Still, Davis is a solid prospect at outside linebacker.

Tier 3

The following three prospects are all solid recruits, but there are questions surrounding their games. All three could make a big impact in college, but will need to overcome some deficiencies. 

9. Armani Chatman, ATH, 5-foot-11, 175-pounds, Bishop Sullivan, Virginia Beach

247Sports Composite Ranking: 9

No. of Power 5 Offers: 6

Committed to Virginia Tech

Prior to camping in June, Armani Chatman was not a take for Virginia Tech. However, once Chatman put himself in front of the coaches, Tech saw everything they needed to see, and Chatman soon committed.

Chatman is a terrific athlete. He’s fast, agile, quick, and all of the other traits that make someone athletic. He also has reliable hands, and though his film looks questionable, Chatman looked like a semi-polished route runner at the camp in Hampton. As a defensive back, Chatman plays with supreme confidence and is solid in man coverage. He also tackles well and plays with physicality.

He’ll need to gain more experience as a route runner if he’s to play wide receiver in college. If he plays defensive back, can he play against the run at his size? Chatman can add some weight to his frame, but not enough to play at 200-pounds. He might always be thin, but if he can find a way around that, it won’t matter.

10. Dillon Spalding, WR, 6-foot-3, 215-pounds, South County, Lorton

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 6

No. of Power 5 Offers: 10

Dillon Spalding ranks much higher on 247Sports, but I think this area of the top-15 fits him better. He’s a solid prospect, but could struggle in certain areas in college.

First, the good stuff. Spalding has terrific size for the position, and takes full advantage of it. He’s a reliable red zone threat, using great ball skills and solid hands to haul in anything within his catch radius. He runs a relatively diverse route tree, which could give him a leg up as a freshman in college. 

Spalding isn’t overly athletic, although he displays enough athleticism in one of the best classifications in Virginia (6A North). He doesn’t look to be especially dangerous after the catch, and I’m not sure he’ll be able to run crisp enough routes to generate separation. 

11. Jalen Alexander, DT, 6-foot-4, 275-pounds, Western Branch, Chesapeake

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 29

No. of Power 5 Offers: 13

Jalen Alexander is a massive defensive tackle who uses his size and strength to dominate at the college level. He takes on double teams and still makes tackles for loss. He also uses his hands to disengage and is quick off the line.

However, Alexander moves a bit slow from side to side, and needs to be better at making plays on the outside. He also needs to play lower and use leverage correctly to fully take advantage of his size.

Tier 4

The remaining players all have good parts about their game, but simply have more questions than the players above them.

12. Jaevon Becton, DE, 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, Ocean Lakes, Virginia Beach

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 18

No. of Power 5 Offers: 8

Committed to Georgia

Jaevon Becton has great size for a 4-3 defensive end, and is athletic enough to make plays on the perimeter. He pursues the ball carrier well and can get off of blocks. He does need to use his hands more often when disengaging, and must develop some pass rush moves to become more of an impact there. 

13. Ronnie Walker, RB, 5-foot-11, 185-pounds, Hopewell, Hopewell

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 5

No. of Power 5 Offers: 11

Ronnie Walker is a top-5 player according to 247Sports, but I’ve ranked him a bit lower. Walker has good size and can add to his frame, and he runs with power. Arm tackles are just an annoyance, and they don’t bring him down. He can pass block, and runs with great vision. I’m not sure how athletic and agile Walker will be at the college level, and I’d also like to see him make some plays in the passing game.

14. Dashaun Jerkins, DB, 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, Woodbridge, Woodbridge

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 10

No. of Power 5 Offers: 10

Committed to Vanderbilt

Dashaun Jerkins is a physical safety who should excel in zone coverage. With average speed and ball skills, Jerkins may struggle in college if asked to play a lot of man coverage. 

Virginia player rankings
One of the better players in Virginia for the Class of 2018 is right in Virginia Tech’s backyard. (Photo via @ColetonBeck on Twitter)

15. Coleton Beck, RB, 6-feet, 180-pounds, Blacksburg, Blacksburg

247Sports Composite State Ranking: 15

No. of Power 5 Offers: 6

Beck has yet to receive a scholarship offer from Virginia Tech, which has puzzled some. Yes, Beck is extremely fast and elusive, but has questionable hands and doesn’t ruin fluidly. Beck has a place in FBS and maybe even in the Power 5, but he might not be the best fit for an offense that uses their backs as receivers.

2018 Top Football Recruits for the State of Virginia

RankPositionPlayerHigh SchoolCollege
RBRicky SladeC.D. Hylton
2ATHK'Vaughan PopeDinwiddie County
3OLNana AsieduNorth Stafford
4LBKeshon ArtisOscar Smith
5LBTeradja MitchellBishop Sullivan
6ATHDe'Von GravesAppomattox County
7TEJames MitchellUnion
8LBWendell DavisBenedictine
9ATHArmani ChatmanBishop Sullivan
10WRDillon SpaldingSouth County
11DTJalen AlexanderWestern Branch
12DEJaevon BectonOcean Lakes
13RBRonnie WalkerHopewell
14DBDashaun JerkinsWoodbridge
15RBColeton BeckBlacksburg

The Best of the Rest for 2018

Instead of trying to rate prospects outside the top-15, we’ve put together a “Best of the Rest” list. These are some of the other prospects in the state of Virginia that were considered for the top-15, but didn’t quite make the cut. Some of them have a good amount of offers, but didn’t make my top-15. Here they are…

DLTola BanjokoEpiscopal
DEDante BurkeBishop Sullivan
WRBrian CobbsHayfield
DEChris CollinsBenedictine
OLJames CollinsOscar Smith
QBTyler DesueBishop Sullivan
DLDerrick EasonNorview
OLJesus GibbsPotomac
DTJayde PierreDominion
ATHJoseph WhiteLandstown

16 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Ricky, I looked twice for the section where you gave your opinion on how interested VT was in the recruit and how interested the recruit was in VT…pretty important omission IMO.

  2. Really an interesting Read – thanks.

    Agree that it is depressing that we are not cashing in on more of these Top 15.


  3. Even given the talent being down in Va, should all 15 be deemed good enough to warrant an offer? Aside from “fit”

    1. Most, but not all. It is a down year, but there are 9-11 guys who can contribute for most teams.

  4. I have to totally concur with 133183Hokie’s post. Fortunately there’s a long way to go before the actual signing day for this class. Candidly, I can see the allure of PSU (even with all the stench still remaining from the Paterno disgrace), but how in the world do we lose out to schools like NC State, Pitt, Temple, Vanderbilt, et al? Definitely a real head scratcher in my opinion.

    1. It doesn’t seem like we really went after too many guys in VA that Ricky has listed. So I am not sure we reallly lost to some of those schools you mentioned. At the end of the day though… one recruit from VA is pretty pathetic. Really would love Artis to jump aboard.

  5. 133183 Hokie
    Most depressing article on top VA recruits that I have ever read. Very frustrating that we can not get any of the elite talent in our state.

      1. That is a BS excuse. James Franklin has been at PSU one year longer and had to deal the Sandusky scandal….

        VT can do it just as fast and I hope they will… But I am tired of hearing any issues are b\c of Beamer…

  6. You didn’t mention anything about Slade as a blocker. If lacking, wouldn’t that be a show stopper for a coach like CJF? I guess it doesn’t matter if he is going to PSU.

    1. Slade doesn’t show a ton of him as a blocker, but I think Fuente and Co. are in love with his offensive versatility and athleticism. Blocking can be taught, but kids need to be willing to block.

  7. Penn State is outright killing it in recruiting. So successfu that it makes me wonder if everything is above board, although nothing has surfaced to suggest otherwise. Very frustrating.

  8. Good thing we are recruiting out of state. PSU, Pitt, and others seem to have Virginia locked down now

    1. Penn State is certainly resonating with the elite kids. VT will need to work to fix that, for sure.

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