Virginia Tech Position Review and Look-Ahead: Defensive Backs

Caleb Farley Virginia Tech
Caleb Farley will be an improved redshirt sophomore this year. (Photo by Jon Fleming)

Virginia Tech’s secondary did not have the best of seasons in 2018, but not all of it was their fault.  The safeties had to deal with a coaching change after spring practice, while the entire group suffered from the fact that the defensive front couldn’t get off blocks and couldn’t put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

We’ll start out with Tech’s cornerbacks, and then move on to the safeties.

Virginia Tech Cornerbacks

Let’s jump right into it.  Here are the 2018 Pro Football Focus (PFF) overall grades for the four cornerbacks who played 100 or more snaps for the Hokies…

Bryce Watts: 60.7
Jermaine Waller: 58.2
Jovonn Quillen: 57.9
Caleb Farley: 57.6

PFF considers anything below a 60 to be below average.  As you can see, the Hokies had three below average corners, and another who just barely made it above the line.

Here’s how that compared to 2017 (100+ snaps) …

Greg Stroman: 88.4
Brandon Facyson: 69.4
Adonis Alexander: 67.6

Those numbers tell us two things…

1: Greg Stroman was an elite player in 2017.

2: Virginia Tech’s best cornerback in 2018 was a lot worse than their worst cornerback in 2017.

It’s worth noting that all three of Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks from 2017 are currently in the NFL.  Facyson and Alexander didn’t put up dominant grades, particularly Alexander.  A good pass rush helped them at times, and Tech’s 2018 corners didn’t have that mind of help this past season. 

Let’s go into a little further detail on Tech’s cornerbacks in 2018 and look at specific grades for run defense and pass coverage.  First, run defense…

Jermaine Waller: 76.2
Jovonn Quillen: 71.4
Bryce Watts: 66.6
Caleb Farley: 50.1

With the exception of Farley, those numbers are pretty good.  As a comparison, Greg Stroman (67.8), Brandon Facyson (68.8) and Adonis Alexander (62.4) in 2017 all graded below Waller and Quillen in run defense in 2017.  Waller didn’t play enough for me to get a feel for his game, but it was pretty obvious that Quillen was an upgrade over Farley and Watts when he was in the game.  When you consider the numbers for Stroman, Facyson and Alexander, Watts’ score was much better than I thought.

Farley’s score, of course, was abysmal.  We already knew that he was a poor tackler.  That’s something we don’t need PFF to grade for us.  He tackled like a redshirt freshman coming off a knee injury who had never played defense before … and that’s exactly what he was.  He’ll get better.

Generally speaking, cornerbacks are the worst tacklers in football.  Guys like Jimmy Williams, Kyle Fuller and Brandon Flowers really spoiled us to the realities of college football, in my opinion.  The more cornerbacks get exposed in one-on-one tackling situations, the more tackles they’ll miss, of course.  That’s why it’s key that Virginia Tech’s defensive line and linebackers play better against the run this year.  The reason we know that Farley is a bad tackler is because running backs consistently got to the second level because Tech’s front couldn’t stop the run.  His weaknesses would have been hidden to a greater extent behind, say, the 2017 front seven.

Now, let’s examine the corners in pass coverage…

Bryce Watts: 61.1
Caleb Farley: 59.3
Jovonn Quillen: 53.8
Jermaine Waller: 47.1

With a coverage score like