Meet the New Faces – The First-Years

It’s always exciting to welcome new Hoos to the football program. Every season we get twenty or so new faces on the team, many of whom are going to do great things at UVA over the next four or five years. Today we’re excited to recap the 14 new first years (yes, it was a very small class) you’re going to get to know over the coming seasons, first looking back at what we said after they signed with UVA in either December or February, then updating our feelings now that they’ve finished summer camp.

Tomorrow we’ll evaluate the transfers.

 

Quarterback

Ira Armstead

John Adams High School – South Bend, Indiana – 6-2 210

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8370)

Power Five Offers: Virginia

Other FBS Offers: Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Toledo, Western Michigan

FCS Offers: Dartmouth, Eastern Kentucky, Fordham, Illinois State, Indiana State, Princeton, South Dakota, Western Illinois, Youngstown State

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Project

Let’s get the project designation out of the way. As far as I’m concerned, any high school QB is a project at the Power 5 level unless they’re a prodigy. Fans shouldn’t expect Armstead to arrive on Grounds and take the reins from Bryce Perkins. That’s not what he was signed to do. He’s to come to Charlottesville and learn the offense, refine his mechanics, grown his leadership skills, and then be ready to lead the offense at the end of the Brennan Armstrong (and RJ Harvey?) eras.

What’s clear, however, is that Bronco believes that the Hoos found a steal in South Bend. During his press conference on Wednesday, Bronco talked about how Armstead’s measurables and talents compared favorably to those of Bryce Perkins at a similar age.

In his highlight package, you see a player whose instincts are good at feeling the rush, adapting to it, and negotiating all sorts of traffic in the backfield. Armstead seems to do a good job of keeping his head up and getting the ball downfield in scramble situations. Like any dual threat quarterback, it’s clear that Armstead has the ability to beat you with his legs as well.

How we feel now:

About the same. What I’ll add is that it’s impressive to have seen Armstead be the first of the true freshmen to earn his number in summer camp, picking in the second round of the numbers draft. That speaks volumes about this work ethic and leadership. He’s also bulked up from 195 last winter to 210 this fall, good mass that will let him play at the D-1 level sooner rather than later (his target probably won’t be much more – 6’3″ 210 lbs was what Perkins played at). With both Brennan Armstrong and Keytaon Thompson in place, Armstead should hopefully have a couple years just to develop as the third stringer, worst case hopefully being QB2 on some occasional Saturday when one of the two veterans is a scratch. Should be fun to watch him grow in the background the next couple seasons.

Wide Receivers

Lavel Davis

Woodland High School – Dorchester, South Carolina – 6-7 210

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8519)

Power 5 Offers: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Oregon

Other FBS Offers: Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Liberty, Western Kentucky

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Early Career Impact

Davis’s size makes him a unique player at wide receiver. With a receiver corps in flux following the graduation of Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois, there will be plenty of opportunity for both the younger players and newcomers to the roster.

Following the impending transfer of redshirt first year Nathaniel Beal, there’s no one at wide receiver that can match Davis’s stature. He immediately becomes a weapon in the red zone for UVA. Given his size, it won’t be a surprise if Davis emerges as an impact blocker in the running game during his career.

His catch radius and ability to secure jump balls really stand out on his highlights. His size should also allow him to create separation near the line of scrimmage. But speed in short spaces will be the biggest challenge for Davis during his career.

How we feel now:

Good. The offseason provided the first year wideouts a lot of opportunity. Four seniors graduated. Breakout candidate Dontayvion Wicks was lost for the year to injury. Luke Wentz got stuck out of the country and missed a large chunk of practice. Nathaniel Beal is still working his way back from injury. There is room on the two deep for a true freshman to earn his place. Davis has been visible in practice clips putting his incredible frame to use as a pass catcher. He might still be a little light to take the pounding of an every-down receiver or to be an effective down-field blocker. But don’t be surprised to see him in on some packages where he’s just too big a target to miss.

Demick Starling

East Nashville Magnet School – Nashville, Tennessee – 6-0 180

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8114)

Power Five Offers: Virginia

Other FBS Offers: Liberty, Miami (Ohio), Toledo, Western Michigan

FCS Offers: Alabama A&M, Austin Peay, East Tennessee State, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, William & Mary

What we said back in February:

Expectation: Early Career Impact

Starling was a late bloomer on the football field despite being an excellent athlete. You can see that reflected in his offer list and composite rating calculated by 247 Sports. Starling is a player whose rating may be revised upwards a bit based on review of senior tape.

Besides football, Starling stars in track and also plays basketball for his school. He’s reported to have run in the 10.7 second range multiple times in the 100-meter dash.

In his remarks on the signing of Starling, Bronco noted that former UVA football player and current regional scout Zach Bradshaw unearthed Starling. For more highlights of Starling, his senior highlight video on Hudl is a good watch.

Starling’s speed will get him on the field early in his career. You can see that track speed when he gets into the open field. His acceleration is striking. He’ll be able to take the top off of a defense as soon as he steps on Grounds. He also displays nice vision in the kick return game. Starling may be able to carve out a niche role early in his career as a return man for the Hoos.

Like all young receivers, Starling will have to learn to become an adequate blocker in the running game to stay on the field. All the speed in the world will not matter until he gets that part of the game down. Another thing I noticed in his highlight videos is that Starling often let the ball get into his body before making the catch. It’s not something that happen every time, so he’s likely been coached to catch the ball with his hands away from his body. But that’s something that Coach Hagans will certainly work on in practice come August.

Starling will arrive at UVA with only Terrell Jana as an established ACC level receiver in the position group. Both Billy Kemp and Dontayvion Wicks appear poised to join Jana in short order. Tavares Kelly may make that leap this season as well. But that’s not enough depth at the Power 5 level. The competition to get on the field at wide receiver for UVA will be fierce when fall camp begins. Because of that, Starling will have every opportunity to make an early impact if he arrives at UVA ready to compete.

How we feel now:

Good. As discussed above with Lavel Davis, there’s room on the depth chart right now for the true freshmen to make an impact. Coach Hagans gave both Starling and Davis a shout out in a late August press conference which doesn’t come lightly from Biscuit. I still think that, at the moment, he’s probably behind Tavares Kelly on the depth chart as the offense’s designated speed threat, but the potential is there. Starling’s fastest path to playing time at one point looked like it may have been in the return game where he’s a future star bringing back both kickoffs and punts, but the grad transfer additions of Shane Simpson and D’Angelo Amos, both of whom excelled as return specialists at the FCS level, likely delays Starling’s role here as well for a year.

Tight End

Joshua Rawlings

Woodland Hills Senior High School – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – 6-5 260

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8506)

Power 5 Offers: Virginia, Iowa State, Minnesota, Pitt, Indiana, Maryland, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, West Virginia

Other FBS Offers: Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, East Carolina, Kent State, Liberty, Marshall, Massachusetts, Ohio, Temple, Toledo, Western Michigan

FCS Offers: Howard, William & Mary, Yale

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Immediate Impact

Rawlings, whose highlights are pleasantly a mix of catches and blocking action, will arrive in January with college ready size. It’s up to him to put in the work necessary to get on the field as a first year from there. The tight end room at UVA will be a lonely place after Tanner Cowley’s departure following the Orange Bowl. Grant Misch will be the only other scholarship tight end on the roster when Rawlings joins the team.

His highlights display nice hands as he makes a couple leaping catches and catches a touchdown on a ball low and in the dirt. He also seems to have a deceptive burst off of the line of scrimmage. Rawlings also shows as a willing blocker in the run game which will be a must at the college level.

The opportunity to contribute is apparent. Rawlings has the size and pedigree to take advantage. Circumstance dictates that he will make an immediate impact on the program.

How we feel now:

Great. Rawlings arrived this summer as the TE2, backing up only Grant Misch and arguable the most likely of the true freshmen to see time right away from scrimmage. Then UVA went out and got all-MAC grad transfer Tony Poljan, a 6’7″ 265 pound pass catching machine and potential NFL player. That likely means the Rawlings breakout is a bit delayed. But at the same time, he’s drawn praise from coaches and teammates this summer, earning his number in late August in the first big group of first years to do so. Two other reasons for optimism: First, he’s put on 30 pounds this year, up to 260 from 230 meaning he’s going to be far more effective as an inline blocker to go with his pass catching skills. Second, the offense is reportedly running more 2-TE sets this year as they do away with a tradiational fullback, meaning along with Poljan and Misch, Rawlings will amost certainly be in line for a number of snaps as a true freshman.

 

 

Offensive Line

Jestus Johnson

Gonzaga College High School – Washington, DC – 6-3 330

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8484)

Power 5 Offers: Virginia, Rutgers, West Virginia

Other FBS Offers: Cincinnati, East Carolina, Massachusetts, Old Dominion

FCS Offers: Howard

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Mid-Career Impact

Johnson profiles as the current center of the future on UVA’s offensive line. As such, he’s got some time to wait as Olu Oluwatimi currently has that job locked down. And that’s not the worst thing in the world for an offensive line recruit. I always prefer to let these guys soak and then work them onto the field slowly. A veteran offensive line is the sign of a healthy developmental program in my opinion.

In his highlight video, Johnson does a good job of absorbing contact from the defensive line without giving ground. He also does a fantastic job of turning the interior defensive lineman perpendicular to the line of scrimmage before delivering a pancake block or driving him away from the action. He’s also a pretty tenacious player on the field. Finally, the highlights show that Johnson is already used to making shotgun snaps. With UVA’s offense that will be a needed skill so it’s great to have some experience there when he arrives on Grounds.

Johnson is a pretty exciting developmental prospect for Coach 2J to mold. I like that he’s already accustomed to playing the center position. That will make his transition to the position in the college game smoother.

How we feel now:

Fine. We’re probably still a couple years away from seeing Johnson (don’t ask me what the blanket eligility relief does for roster math on the OL projecting out 2-3 years, my brain hurts thinking about it). And that’s good. I’ve ranted again and again how little I want to see us in a position again to need to go to anyone not yet in their 3rd year at UVA barring only the most gifted of recruits. Johnson still profiles as our center of the future once Vic moves on to the pros, and he’s going to have some great veterans to intern behind and learn from for the next couple years before it’s his turn to shine.

Defensive Line

Olasunkonmi (Su) Agunloye

Lindenhurst High School – Lindenhurst, New York – 6-6 270

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8577)

Power Five Offers: Virginia, UCLA, Boston College, Indiana, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse

Other FBS Offers: Air Force, Army, Connecticut, Massachusetts

FCS Offers: Dartmouth, Elon, Fordham, Holy Cross, Monmouth, New Hampshire, Penn, Stony Brook, Villanova

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Mid-Career Impact

Su was a late addition to the class on Wednesday. Most thought he could hold off from signing until college football’s second National Signing Day in February due to a late push from Rutgers. The Hoos were happy to wrap this one up early, however.

The first things you notice about Su are his frame and wingspan. They’ll both play well in UVA’s two and three man fronts on the defensive line. He’s a little raw but after a redshirt season and likely another season of soaking as he gains experience and does strength and conditioning work, there’s plenty to like here. He’ll need to work on his burst and agility but the Hoos probably don’t see Su as a big pass rusher off the edge regardless. He looks like the type of lineman that excels at setting the edge on the outside or collapsing the pocket in the middle.

How we feel now:

Fair. The good news is he’s bulked up, adding nearly 30 lbs to his frame over the course of this year, which makes him much closer to a playable weight in ACC trenches. Is it good weight? Time will tell, but it’s a start. With that said, the fact that Carter and Malani beat him to earning a number does lead one to think he might be third in the pecking order of 1st year DLs as a current snapshot (thought of course that could change over the coming months). With Faumui and Smiley as opt-outs, there is room for young DL’s to make a mark this year, though he might still be in for a quiet year. We’re still really high on him as a long-term prospect, though. Once senior DE’s Burney, Alonso, and Atariwa graduate, we expect Su to be right there as a candidate for snaps at DE.

Jahmeer Carter

Archbishop Spalding High School – Severn, Maryland – 6-2 305

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8633)

Power 5 Offers: Virginia, Boston College

Other FBS Offers: Temple

FCS Offers: Howard

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Early Career Impact

The first to commit in this class was also the first to return their signed National Letter of Intent. Anyone that follow’s Jahmeer’s father on Twitter was not surprised that Jahmeer handled his business as soon as the football office was allowed to accept his paperwork.

Carter’s highlights show the ability to collapse the offensive line with his strength. He’s the type of defensive lineman who will be a nightmare for offensive linemen and ball carriers when he gets his hands on them. He also showed a real talent for slanting into the backfield on the snap.

That combination of skills will allow UVA to continue to deploy multiple fronts on the defensive line when Carter is on the field.

It’s not out of the question that he’ll see some playing time as a first year in 2020. But he’s most likely to make the biggest impact as part of the next generation of Wahoo defensive lineman after stalwarts Mandy Alsonso and Aaron Faumui have exhausted their college eligibility.

How we feel now:

Good. Carter’s always been a workout warrior, and of the three first year DL probably arrived the closest to “game day shape.” He’s a stout 305 lb which will hold up against similarly sized ACC interior OL. We are down a couple of DE’s this year, but Carter’s ability to capitalize on that likely depends upon the ability of our veteran DTs Jordan Redmond and Jowon Briggs to play end and let Carter man the nose, which is his truest position. I expect to see him see some action, even if not a ton, mostly when we need to go jumbo like in goal line or 4th-and-short situations.

Nusi Malani

Junipero Serra High School – San Bruno, California – 6-6 250

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8444)

Power Five Offers: Virginia, Arizona, Nebraska, Washington State, Arizona State, Colorado

Other FBS Offers: Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, Hawaii, Utah State

What we said back in February:

Expectation: Early Career Impact

Malani made a solid bond with UVA defensive line coach Vic So’oto. As a result, he took a chance on an official visit to UVA despite the distance and things clicked. That gamble allowed the Hoos to sign a nice defensive end prospect over a group of solid programs.

If you want a longer, better look at Malani, check out his senior season highlight clips over at Hudl. The highlights from UVA don’t do him justice as it’s difficult to pick him out in the action before the snap.

What you’ll see at Hudl is a player who despite his size could stand to add some mass to his frame. At 6-6, his 250 pounds carry very well. He’ll likely need a bit more bulk to hold up against ACC offensive lines. However, you don’t want to bulk him up so much that you lose some of that burst and pursuit that’s evident in the highlights.

With Many Alonso having one more season of eligibility and Aaron Faumui just two, I’ve been hoping for a defensive lineman to enter the pipeline that plays with the nasty streak that you see from that duo. In Malani, it appears that the Hoos have found that guy. In the Hudl highlights, you see a player that takes no prisoners on the field. In a few plays, Malani walks right up to that edge and nearly crosses it with some of his hits on the quarterback. Coach So’oto will want to channel that aggression in the proper direction.

Ideally, Malani will take a redshirt during his freshman season. After that, he could possibly find himself on the two-deep at defensive end depending on his development. Aaron Faumui and Ben Smiley figure to hold the starting positions during his redshirt freshman season, but there won’t be anyone else with a solid claim to the backup spots yet.

How we feel now:

Fair. Malani earned his number with the first big group of first years in late August, so he’s at least got a great work ethic and respect of his teammates and coaches. But I do wonder if he’s still too light, still weighing in at 250, to make much of an immediate impact battling with 300 pound offensive guards and tackles. He’s probably a 3rd-string DE on today’s depth chart, with Atariwa-Redmond-Christ making up an ideal 2nd line. He’ll get opportunities to get seasoned, and like Agunloye, still projects to be ready for a breakout in a year or two once the current veteran DEs graduate.

Linebackers

Sam Brady

North Lincoln High School – Lincolnton, North Carolina – 6-3 220

247 Composite Ratings: 3 Stars (.8464)

Power 5 Offers: Virginia

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Early Career Impact

There’s no doubt that Brady is the official sleeper in this signing class. After turning in one of the top SPARQ ratings that the Charlotte regional event for The Opening, Brady also tested and showed well at NC State’s camp at tight end. Brady camped at UVA in June as well and his athletic ability at linebacker popped. He picked up his first offer and committed to UVA on the spot.

Brady projects as a Jordan Mack type inside linebacker for the Hoos. On his highlight clip, you immediately notice his motor, his speed, and ability to close on the ball with suddenness.

Those traits will probably get Brady on the field on special teams rather quickly in his career in Charlottesville. The depth chart at inside linebacker when he enrolls will likely have him on the two-deep and contributing from the base defense fairly early in his career as well.

How we feel now:

Good. We’d have felt a little better if he’d earned his number as early as some of the other first years, but like all the freshmen linebackers, the depth chart is what it is. Nick Jackson, Rob Snyder, and Zane Zandier are all starter-ready and Josh Ahern, TC Harrison, and Hunter Stewart are a nice trio of youngsters who already have a year or two in the system at ILB. But Brady’s got good buzz, and once Snyder and Zandier move along he’ll be prepped for a good fight for the 2-deep. This year, he’s likely a special teams contributor, especially since he’s effectively bulked up twenty pounds this year to 220, which will make him an effective blocker and hitter.

Jonathan Horton

Scotlandville Magnet High School – Baton Rouge, Louisiana –  6-4 220

247 Composite Rating: 4 Stars (.8926)

Power 5 Offers: Virginia, Baylor, Utah, Arizona, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee

Other FBS Offers: SMU, Tulane

FCS Offers: Southeastern Louisiana

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Early Career Impact

Again with the lack of zoom on these highlights!

When fans talk about recruiting surprises on or around National Signing Day, Horton is exactly what they have in mind. A four-star pass rusher heavily rumored to be favoring Baylor while signing in February, things began to shift when news broke that Horton was going to sign right before the Early Signing Period closed Friday. That turned out to be true and we had a shiny, new Wahoo in the fold.

UVA basketball signee Reece Beekman certainly deserves some of the credit here as he and Horton are classmates and teammates on Scotlandville’s hoops team. Many have made the joke before, but this must count as Beekman’s first assist as a Hoo.

Circling back to Horton, his highlights show a highly aggressive defender with a motor that does not quit. He appears adept at attacking the backfield and delivers a considerable punch when making a tackle. What makes these highlights all the more impressive is that Horton is really new to football.

In fact, this was Horton’s first season playing the sport. Yet, he forced 5 fumbles, accounted for 22 tackles for loss, and made 14.5 sacks among his 82 total tackles.

Despite the raw parts of his game, Horton would typically profile as an instant impact recruit for the Hoos. It’s not completely out of the question, but at his assumed position of OLB, there’s a crowd awaiting his arrival. Consider this cast of characters already residing in Charlottesville: Charles Snowden, Noah Taylor, Matt Gahm, Elliott Brown, Hunter Stewart, D’Sean Perry, Jairus Satiu.

It’s difficult to see where he fits in 2020 but with Snowden, Gahm, and Brown all scheduled to depart after next season, Horton is assumed to be heavily in the mix for playing time as early as 2021.

How we feel now:

Horton is very much the future heir to one of the OLB spots, where once the veteran cadre of Charles Snowden, Matt Gahn, Elliott Brown, and Noah Taylor move along in a year or two, Horton will compete with D’Sean Perry, Brandon Williams, and some 2021 recruits to form the next wave of great Hoo edge defenders. This year, it’s highly unlikely he sees the 2-deep, though it’s possible the staff still looks to get him some work from scrimmage if they feel he’s going to be leaned on next year with departures, especially if there are any injuries in the 2-deep.

Brandon Williams

Isidore Newman School – New Orleans, Louisiana – 6-3 230

247 Composite Rating: 4 Stars (.8928)

Power 5 Offers: Virginia, Arkansas, Boston College, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Miami, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas A&M

Other FBS Offers: Houston, SMU, Southern Miss, Tulane

FCS Offers: Southern

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Early Career Impact

Williams, another Hoo from the Pelican State in this class, suffers from the same depth chart roadblock as Jonathan Horton as both profile to OLB for UVA. Until that’s sorted out in a year, it’s hard to imagine a big role on the defense for Williams in 2020. But with a presumed open competition for the spot opposite Noah Taylor in 2021, Williams will have an opportunity to begin to make his mark then.

In his highlight package, Williams is playing DE for his team. He shows pass rush potential on the edge and in the middle of the line via stunts. He pursues well and closes on his prey quickly.

Because he appears to play with his hand in the dirt most of the time, there will be an adjustment to playing on his feet in UVA’s defense. His time spent waiting for opportunity will be the perfect time to develop that skill.

As the second highest rated recruit in the class, expectations will be high for Williams. If the development shown by Charles Snowden and Noah Taylor under this staff is any indication, Williams will be creating havoc plays for the UVA defense pretty soon into his career.

How we feel now:

Solid. As with Horton, outside linebackers this season are really in a holding pattern waiting for a big group of veterans to age out or go pro. Williams has a ton of upside and will be a big part of the future of the linebacker corps, just with a focus on special teams for at least this year.

Defensive Backs

Elijah Gaines

Episcopal High School – Alexandria, Virginia – 6-2 195

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8776)

Power Five Offers: Virginia, Penn State, Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Pitt, Purdue, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Wisconsin

Other FBS Offers: East Carolina

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Early Career Impact

I wish the person filming the highlight packages for Gaines had invested in a zoom lens. But they didn’t, so his highlights were not super revealing. However, you do see good ball skills from playing a center field type safety role for Episcopal and a clip or two as a wide receiver.

We do know that Gaines was a one-time Penn State commit prior to flipping to the Hoos. The talent level in Happy Valley speaks for itself as does the offer list for Gaines.

The national guys at 247 sports actually compared him to former UVA DB Anthony Harris, so you may want to use that as your mental guide.

There are four safeties cycling out of the program after Gaines completes his freshman season. Antonio Clary and Chayce Chalmers will offer competition but the opportunity will be there for Gaines to lock down a starting position as a sophomore or redshirt freshman in 2021.

How we feel now:

Great. Gaines was one of the first true freshmen to number this year, and he’s been visible in highlight videos from summer camp. We tracked him as a safety coming out of high school, but his path to immediate PT may relate to his ability to play some cover corner, or at least nickel coverage. He’s maybe the highest ceiling DB recruit we’ve had the last couple of years; while his ranking wasn’t a 4-star, he’s got the offer sheet and the measurables that scream “NFL upside.” If we suffer any attrition at the DB spots this year like we did last year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gaines make a play for some meaningful snaps.

Dave Herard

Stranahan High School – Fort Lauderdale, Florida – 6-0 185

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8451)

Power 5 Offers: Virginia, Boston College, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Rutgers, Syracuse, Utah

Other FBS Offers: Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Marshall, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Tulane, South Florida, Western Kentucky

FCS Offers: Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Mid-Career Impact

Herard is the forgotten member of this class. Arriving from Florida with very little hype, Herard possesses a better than expected offer list given the lack of buzz he generated. Signing a recruit from Florida with multiple Power 5 offers is usually an eyebrow raising moment for the Hoos.

In his highlight clips, I see a player that’s much more physical than you’d expect given his size. He was very active in run support and used as a spy on an opposing quarterback on one play. I came away thinking he had potential as a safety prospect too even though his initial slotting is expected to be at cornerback.

There are going to be a lot of names on the roster to navigate in order for Herard to earn early playing time at UVA. That’s why my expectation is a mid-career impact. But if he picks up things quickly from the strength and conditioning side, he might be making an impact early in his career instead.

How we feel now:

Fine. Herard has yet to earn his number, meaning he’s on the outside looking in for this year’s depth chart. Which is fine… I think there’s an opportunity for a top flight cornerback to break out sooner rather than later as we’re thinner there than at safety. But Herard, who admittedly has bulked up 20 pounds since he was signed, is probably still a year away. He’s definitely going to be a player at the corners for us eventually, though.

Donovan Johnson

Helen Cox High School – Harvey, Louisiana – 6-2 195

247 Composite Rating: 3 Stars (.8647)

Power 5 Offers: Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas, Arizona State, Baylor, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Kansas, Miami, Oklahoma, Rutgers, Texas Tech, Utah, West Virginia

Other FBS Offers: Florida International, Houston, Liberty, Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe, Memphis, SMU, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Tulane, UNLV, Utah State, UTSA

FCS Offers: Southeastern Louisiana, Southern

What we said back in December:

Expectation: Early Career Impact

The Hoos had to fight off a late charge from Arkansas for Johnson’s signature. He took an official visit to see the Hogs with a high school teammate the weekend before signing day. But during his school’s signing ceremony, he certainly sounded like a player that’s already bought in to the program’s values. It’s worth wondering if all that last-minute angst was over nothing.

In his highlight package, Johnson looks like a player with a high football IQ. In more than one clip he provides man coverage on deep routes from the safety position but is able to identify where the opposing QB is going with the ball. He then makes the interception when the opposing QB likely had no reason to think that Johnson was a threat to the pass.

He shows great awareness in one of these clips too as the interception is made right against the sideline. Johnson is cognizant enough to get the pick while ensuring that he keeps his feet inbounds as well.

Circle back to the profile on Elijah Gaines and you’ll see what Johnson is dealing with in regards to playing time and program impact. The duo of Gaines and Johnson could be a mainstay in UVA’s defensive backfield sooner than we think.

How we feel now:

Good. The safety position is still stocked still with veteran talent, knock on wood still healthy as the calendar flips to September, so his immediate impact will probably be limited to special teams, but the long term potential is evident. He earned his number in late August in Round 3 of the draft, and has put on 15 pounds of good mass this year. He’s going to be a name to know in future years.