I suck at ledes, so here's this, simply: I ranked the roster in terms of expected 2018 impact coupled with future impact / overall value to the program. Excluded most of the walk-ons and all of the incoming class of 2018 recruits (bar two). Here we go....
70) Ryan Bischoff, OL/DL, Jr. - He's just a big, strong guy who might not be a great football player. He doesn't currently seem to factor into the thinking along either line.
69) Chuck Davis, WR/ST, So. - A walk-on who can fly. Might never play of offense, but could potentially factor into the return game.
68) Reed Kellam, LB, Jr. - He could have had an FCS scholarship but chose to walk on here instead. I'll always appreciate him for that, and I'll always be looking for him to see some rotational duty on defense. For the time being, he's a core special teamer, and that's an important role to fill.
67) Osiris Crutchfield, DL/OL/TE, So. - I had high hopes for him when we recruited him, but he hasn't found a home at any position he's tried. Now he's Cowley's understudy as the in-line blocking tight end.
66) Nash Griffin, PK/P/H, So. - He's our holder! Might eventually get a shot at kicking or punting... but probably not (Delaney and Pearson are on scholarship).
65) Joe Spaziani, LS, Sr. - Spaz is our long-snapper, and a very reliable one at that. You're also going to want to check out his mustache.
64) Brian Delaney, K/P, So. - Scholarship specialist, current kick-off specialist, future punter (2019, 2020). I'll admit it: I'm a bit disappointed in how things have worked out for him to this point. I thought he'd be a four-year starting placekicker for us, but, no.
63) Tommy Christ, DL, RS Fr. - He's been hurt, and might have some issues between the ears that are limiting his ascension. Still, he's a physical talent at a position of great need, so don't give up on him yet!
62) Isaac Buell, DL, RS Fr. - The Viking hasn't found much traction so far in his year in Charlottesville, but he's suddenly being relied upon as a functional part of a thin defensive line. I don't think he'll be ready, as he looks more like the kind of guy who needs a solid three years of development before he'll contribute. In other words, expect him to be leapfrogged by at least one true freshman in the DL pecking order.
61) Gerrik Vollmer, OL, RS Fr. - He's been battling injury, so his growth has been stunted. Before that, coaches were excited about what they stumbled across late in the 2017 recruiting cycle. I still think of Vollmer as a viable developmental piece to our offensive line, even if his opportunity to start doesn't come until 2021.
60) Darnell Pratt, WR, RS Fr. - He's a size/speed specimen who needs to be developed. I doubt there's much chance for him to dent the rotation in 2018, but his future is still in front of him.
59) Darrius Bratton, CB, So. - Has generated a bit of positive camp/practice buzz during his redshirt season and freshman season. It's a crowded backfield, so he may have to wait his turn. It's possible that he may have already been recruited over.
58) Lindell Stone, QB, So. - Reality check: Stone is a small (6-0, 200) pocket passer with a questionable arm who no longer fits the system and scheme we're trying to run on offense. He's accurate with the ball, and could be a good player in the right type of spread offense... but that doesn't look like it's going to happen here at UVA. (Things can change quickly, however.)
57) Matthew Merrick, QB, Jr. - Transferred from Texas to walk on at UVA, and offers the arm/legs combo we're currently looking for in our cubes. I secretly suspect Merrick would see time (over Stone) in relief of Perkins and Armstrong if a cataclysmic series of injuries occured to our quarterbacking unit.
56) Riah Burton, CB/WR/??, RS Fr. - 6-0, 180, and fast. The coaching staff doesn't yet seem to know where he fits. While they figure that out, he'll make an impact on special teams.
55) Nick Grant, CB/ST, So. - Seems to me like he's a special teams stalwart who might never play much on defense. That's perfectly fine -- every team needs guys like this.
54) Ben Hogg, WR, Sr. - A blood & guts walk-on receiver whose sheer want-to and tenacity will push the more talented guys ahead of him. Look for him to land his number early in the number-picking process this summer, and look for that old soft sentimentalist Bronco Mendenhall to get Hogg some targets in actual games this fall.
53) A.J. Mejia, PK, So. - He's our incumbent kicker and set a UVA freshman record for most points kicking with 61, including a perfect 37-of-37 on PATs... but... wow... I really want to see true freshman scholarship recipient Hunter Pearson come in and challenge for this job. Mejia's range is limited, and that's putting it nicely.
52) Hunter Pearson, K, TR Fr. - Please come in and take that job away from Mejia, baby.
51) Gladimir Paul, OLB, Jr. - Remember when Jon Tenuta recruited a bunch of positionless pass rushers he had no real plan for how to develop or use? Paul finally found a home at outside linebacker, but was passed by two true freshmen in 2017. Where does he stand now? Probably #5 or #6 in the OLB pecking order. Paul still has time to make a dent in the rotation and on special teams, but he needs to start making things happen NOW.
50) Dominic Sheppard, LB, Jr. - Backup to the backup? Unfortunately, Shep is another London recruit struggling to find his footing with the Mendenhall regime.
49) C.J. Stalker, LB, Sr. - Exactly the same situation as Sheppard, but a year closer to exhausting his eligibility.
48) Chris Sharp, TB, Jr. - Ball security issues seem set to torpedo what might have been a promising career. Sharp is a speed back with some explosivity (I know it's not a word), but across his 25 carries we've seen him put the ball on the ground more than once... which is exponentially more than never... which is bad. Now the young trio of Atkins/Kier/Peacock seem to have passed him by in the race for carries. Sharp is probably our RB5 heading into the 2018 season.
47) Myles Robinson, CB, Jr. - He's back! Remember 2016, before his injury, he got the nod over Bryce Hall to replace the injured Tim Harris. Since that time, Robinson and Hall have trended in polar opposite directions; Hall has become a star while Robinson ended up out of school. But now he's back! And everyone loves a good redemption story!
46) Ryan Swoboda, OT, RS Fr. - He came in about as raw as you can possibly be, but it sounds like it's been an extremely productive redshirt season for Skyscraper Swoboda. There are inherent advantages and disadvantages to being 6-10 and playing a position that requires you to gain leverage over a shorter and faster opponent. Swoboda's development is really all about adding strength -- if he can gain the lower body strength for proper squat and if he can gain the upper body strength to use his pterodactyl wing arms to his advantage, he could be a future pro. Swoboda remains the hail mary OL recruit of the 2017 cycle. He might really be something, or he may never be anything. We'll see... but it sure sounds like things are trending in a really positive direction with and for him, and thus, for the team.
45) Zane Zandier, LB, So. - I get the sense that Matt Gahm and Robert Snyder have bolted a bit ahead of the pack in the second string linebacker race, but Double-Z still has a lot of dog in that fight. Might have to continue cutting his teeth on special teams and in deep relief. Mack and Cook are both upperclassmen, so opportunity will knock soon enough.
44) De'Vante Cross, WR/CB/QB, So. - Looks like the staff has finally settled on him playing wide receiver. I don't doubt any of his physical skills or abilities, but I want to see his hands. Simply put, they need to have improved if he wants to play and make an impact. Receivers gotta catch, ya dig?
43) Shawn Smith, WR/CB, RS Fr. - I was really excited when the Hoos beat out Louisville (among others) to land this slot receiver. Meanwhile, did you know that "slot corner" is a thing in modern football? Yeah, it totally is. And it appears as if the staff likes Smith in that role more than his natural slot receiver role. Smith is now officially a test case on whether Bronco is a genius or a madman. For this ranking, I'm simply going by the talent and pedigree I know to be in place for Smith. The cream will rise. It always does.
42) Ben Trent, OL, So. - Walk-on made good. Ox-strong. Worker. He has a chance to start in 2018 at right guard, or at the very least push Knutson and Proctor to improve quickly. Trent's an asset to our line and to our team culture and chemistry.
41) Tyler Fannin, C, RS Fr. - Dillon Reinkensmeyer is only a sophomore, and could play his entire UVA career at center. If that's the case, Fannin will need to bump over to guard in order to get on the field. But Reinkensmeyer could wind up at tackle, opening up the center spot for Fannin. It remains to be seen how this will shake out, but all reports about Fannin's development are positive. He's a technician, and that will serve him well (and earn him some playing time soon enough).
40) Brennan Armstrong, QB, TR Fr. - I think he's our QB2 this season. I think he has to be, because the change from run-heavy Perkins to only-pass Stone would be too jarring for the offense. Armstrong has some nice scramble to him, and I currently look at him as our starter in 2020 and 2021 (and 2022 if he finds a redshirt somewhere along the way).
39) Ben Knutson, OG, So. - Here's what I said in my deep dive back in November, all of which still stands: "I suspect he's a bit of a space cadet. Add to that the fact that he has some obvious leverage issues without proper knee bend at 6-foot-9. To me, Knutson is more of a career backup, special teams guy, and gadget 6th offensive lineman than a potential future starter. And that's okay, because you need guys like this on your roster. The light just hasn't come on for him. Maybe it never will. But there are another two or three seasons of opportunity for him, after this one. He still has time to put it together." Here's the thing, however -- Knutson might be a starting guard for us this season. ~gulp~
38) R.J. Proctor, OG, Jr. - More from the deep dive: "Big and burly at 6-4/315, and he certainly looks the part. However, he just... doesn't... execute... blocks... He doesn't get the kind of push you'd expect out of a guy his size. He's still young, and on an average ACC line, he's a guy you wouldn't think twice about never hearing about until his 4th or 5th year in the program. I'm not sure what it is with Proctor, maybe he needs to develop more of a mean streak, maybe he just needs refinement on leverage, maybe he needs to get his feet moving more quickly, maybe all three. At this point, he's more of a question than an answer, which is unfortunate. As we transition from 2017 to 2018, Proctor's opportunity to grab a starting spot and run away with it is getting away from him." No doubt that Proctor is one of our best 7 or 8 linemen. But is he top five? That's the question, and it'll determine whether or not he'll be a starter in 2018. I think he's battling Trent, Fannin, Knutson, and Nelson for that #5 spot on the line.
37) Matt Gahm, LB, So. - It's exciting how projectionable he is. He could play at any of the four linebacker spots, and seems to already be ready for playing time as a rugged worker with some nastiness to his game.
36) Ryan Nelson, OT, So. - He has a real chance to start the season opener on September 1st, and if he does, he'll end up being a four-year starter for UVA. He's the "prototype" of what our staff looks for in its offensive tackles. Now he just has to rise to the challenge.
35) PK Kier, TB, So. - Blazing straight-line runner whom the coaches seem to be a bit enamored with. We could use a game-breaking change of pace from Jordan Ellis, so I'm fully on board with getting Kier some carries this fall. Big plays will be mana from heaven for this offense, and if Kier can provide big plays, he'll be invaluable.
34) Elliott Brown, OLB, So. - Maybe we didn't know it at the time, but last season we were watching a true freshman duel between Elliott Brown and Charles Snowden, with the winner earning snaps at OLB opposite Chris Peace. Snowden won that duel soundly. So where does that leave Brown? Toiling in obscurity... for now... but remember: Peace is a senior. Brown is probably #3 in the OLB rotation, so he'll play plenty in 2018, and he's a long, wiry athlete who can make an impact in flashes.
33) Cole Blackman, WR, So. - Injury derailed what might have been his mini-breakout in 2017, but he's back and healthy for 2018. I love the guy's catch radius and natural hands, and he seems to love hard work. Don't count him out of the slot receiver mix; I have a feeling Blackman could chip in some sneaky-good performances this season.
32) Tanner Cowley, TE, Jr. - He's a role player, and his role is in-line blocking from the tight end spot. He plays his role well, and it's a nice fit with the new Perkins-led run-first offense. Cowley should see the field a lot this fall.
31) Jamari Peacock, FB/BB, So. - Anae sucks if he doesn't employ Peacock as the dive back on some Perkins-led RPOs. A low-slung, 5-11, 230-pound wrecking ball? Yeah, we need to roll that up the middle against defenses stressed out about containing the edges. Meanwhile, I suspect the coaches saw something about Peacock's ball security they didn't like, which potentially would explain his zero carries during his freshman season. Fast forward to 2018, and it's time to roll that boulder at our enemies.
30) Lamont Atkins, TB, So. - I think I'm higher on him than most (and lower on Ellis than most), so I view Atkins as a darkhorse contender for workhorse status in 2018. He's a natural-born cutback runner, which fits our o-line much better than the grinding Ellis or the straight-line speed of Kier.
29) Robert Snyder, ILB, So. - Sure sounds like he's the #3 ILB behind Mack and Cook. That's a great spot for a young player -- there'll be plenty of chances to get on the field and make plays. Coaches raved about Snyder's toughness, drive, and want-to in the spring.
28) Dylan Thompson, DL, Jr./Sr. - Just come in here and use that great strength to eat blocks, baby. Even better if you can push Burney for the third starting spot and spell Hanback at the nose.
27) Cassius Peat, DE, Jr. - 6-4, 280, and a good edge rusher? Yeah, we desperately needed Peat to ride in as the cavalry. Now he joins the Thompson/Burney/Alonso/Hanback swirl. Here's guessing the five of them are able to combine to provide us with a good-enough d-line, allowing for our excellent back seven to do their thing.
26) Hasise Dubois, WR, Jr. - Slides right into the vacated Doni Dowling possession receiver role, hopefully minus the backbreaking mistakes and penalties.
25) Terrell Jana, WR, So. - Oz is our #1 receiver, Joe Reed is #2, my guess is Evan Butts serves as the de facto #3... which leaves Jana and Dubois in line for #4-type targets... in a newly-minted run-first offense. Okay, so the role isn't all that sparkly, but Jana has a certain "it" factor to his game that I like. Some receivers are great because of their speed, some are great because of their size and hands, some are great because they have that 6th sense for how to get open. Jana could fit into that third group, I think.
24) Jake Fieler, OL, Sr. - Being honest, he probably tops out as an "average" ACC-level lineman. But on UVA's o-line, ACC average is a major upgrade. I look for Fieler to have a nice senior season as a wire-to-wire starter on the o-line (left guard?)
23) Chris Moore, LB/S, Jr. - Our swiss army knife back seven defender is helping Bronco to lay the groundwork for our transition from a standard 3-4 to a fun and funky multiple 3-3-5/nickel/three-safety dime defense. Breaking it down into percentages, I think Moore is really 70% safety and 30% linebacker, but he's at his best in the box, coming down in the run-stopping effort. He's fun to watch, if you get the chance to focus on him during any specific play. If football were chess, Chris Moore is a bishop. As far as his value to the team is concerned, I think he's very valuable but not necessarily a game-changing playmaker.
22) Marcus Applefield, OL, Sr. - He steps in as our third-best offensive lineman. Harsh reality that our o-line was bad enough for a grad transfer to come in and start. But Applefield is better than Montelus and Pertile from last season, and has a chance to help Fieler, Glaser, and Reinkensmeyer solidify a decent offensive line.
21) Joey Blount, FS, So. - When coaches call you "unnaturally savvy" during your redshirt freshman season, you're probably in line for serious future playing time. 2018 might not be Blount's time to shine at UVA, but that time is coming. My guess is he plays a heavy rotational role in the secondary in 2018, then takes over Juan Thornhill's vacated role in 2019. Blount is a kid all Hoofans should be excited about in our secondary.
20) Germane Crowell, CB, RS Fr. - We salvaged a redshirt from his injury-abbreviated 2017 season, which is actually great news. He won't start over Harris or Hall this season, but he's heavily involved in the rotation and a three-year starter after that (2019, 2020, 2021).
19) Richard Burney, DE, Jr. - I think the spring hype is real, and Burney's TE-turned-DE experiment has been a success. He's a 2018 starter who'll have a chance to impact games... or at least help to prove that the d-line isn't the weak link in an otherwise stout defense.
18) Jordan Ellis, TB, Sr. - Our grinding bellcow who should be pushed and challenged by Atkins and Kier during the 2018 season. Ellis' leadership ability is an important part of the 2018 chemistry mix, however, so he shouldn't be brushed aside. Ellis pro: He gets tough yards. Ellis con: Every yard he gets looks tough.
17) Tim Harris, CB, Sr. - He's a 6th year senior? Is that right? Wow. He's always had the physical tools to excel, but has lacked the durability and football IQ required for success. At this point, nothing could surprise me. He could play his way into being a middle-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, or he could slump and be overtaken by Crowell in the lineup, or anything in between. For now, I'm excited about his athleticism, skill, and experience playing a prevalent role in our secondary.
16) Mandy Alonso, DL, So. - Lock to be a 2018 starter, and offers a disruptive, athletic presence on the line. Consistency, endurance, durability, and down-to-down reliability are the pressing questions Alonso has to answer in his second year, but he's a major puzzle piece along the d-line.
15) Charles Snowden, OLB, So. - I'm fully expecting a breakout season for Snowden in 2018. He's long, skinny, and fast, like a missile. As he matures into his frame, the impact plays will come. This is exactly the type of OLB that Mendenhall has consistently cultivated from raw athlete into polished star player. Snowden's second year is his next step toward fulfilling that destiny.
14) Bryce Perkins, QB, Jr. - He can run, I think we know that and can be confident in that. But can he pass? I suspect Perkins tops out as merely an "okay" passer, which ultimately limits the offense's upside. Still, any spread works better when the QB is mobile, and (fingers crossed on this one) Anae is more adept at conceiving and executing a spread-to-run system. I'm excited to see what Perkins can do, but I'm not counting on him to be Lamar Jackson. I think some Hoofans might need that splash of cold water.
13) Malcolm Cook, LB, Sr. - Even if his heart's not 100% into it, I absolutely LOVE him at ILB alongside Jordan Mack. That's some serious speed, experience, and playmaking ability up the middle of our defense. Cook's had a rocky career, but has a chance to go out on a really sweet note this season. Look out for him on those blitzes up the middle - the stuff that Micah Kiser really excelled at. Cook's faster than Kiser.
12) Lester Coleman, P, Sr. - He's a good punter, y'all. Really good. A field-flipping weapon, even. Enjoy him and celebrate him. He'll get his crack at an NFL roster a year from now.
11) Evan Butts, TE, Sr. - One of the great tragedies of the Bronco Rebuild is the offensive philosophy change to spread the field and limit use of the tight end while we had Evan Butts on campus. Butts would have been a star if he had played at UVA with Matt Schaub in the early 2000s. Alas. He has his senior season to build on last year's effective 32-266-2 stat line. I'd love to see him bump those numbers up to around 45-350-5, and I think Butts is a better fit with Perkins than he was with Benkert. Can we showcase him enough to get him drafted? Maybe.
10) Chris Glaser, OT, So. - Started and played a lot down the stretch last season, as a true freshman... and was a bit of a revelation, if I'm being honest. He was small then, he's bigger now, and he's embarking upon his first full season on his way to being a three-year starter. Glaser is absolutely a bedrock member of our improving offensive line. Left tackle is a tough ask, but I think he's up for the challenge this season.
9) Eli Hanback, DT, Jr. - If there's one guy whose absence would kill us in 2018, it's Hanback. With him, our defensive line has a chance to be okay. Without him, we're sunk. He eats blocks, generates push, and wins with effort. He won't ever be considered an MVP... but maybe he should be.
8) Dillon Reinkensmeyer, C/OT, So. - He's the one sure thing on our offensive line. We hope Glaser is ready to be a year-long starter. We hope Applefield gives us an upgrade. We hope Fieler's experience matters. We hope one of Proctor/Knutson/Trent/Nelson/Fannin rises to the challenge. We hope all of those things, but we KNOW Reinkensmeyer will start and play well.
7) Brenton Nelson, FS, So. - 2017's happy revelation becomes 2018's star playmaker. The pairing of Nelson and Thornhill at safety gives me goosebumps. When has UVA ever had a pair this good? Maybe not since Anthony Poindexter and Percy Ellsworth.
6) Chris Peace, OLB, Sr. - He doesn't project to the NFL at his size (6-2, 245) on the edge, but he's one helluva college player. 7.5 sacks last season... can he push double-digits this season? It's easy to root for self-made guys like Peace, who have worked and fought for every inch.
5) Joe Reed, WR(/RB?), Jr. - Our job as an offense is to get the ball in Joe Reed's hands. Period. Perkins and Zaccheaus are two great weapons, but nothing trumps Joe Reed. Problem is, will he get any carries? Can Perkins get the ball to Reed often enough? 23 catches in 2017 was criminal underusage; that number has to at least double in 2018. Reed's our most explosive weapon.
4) Jordan Mack, ILB, Jr. - Micah Kiser leaves behind 145 tackles and Quin Blanding leaves behind 137 tackles from 2017. Who cleans those up? Jordan Mack. (Angelo Crowell set the UVA single-season record for tackles with 155. Just saying.) Anyway, you always want to have a tackle machine at middle linebacker, and Mack is just that. He's a beast.
3) Bryce Hall, CB, Jr. - Stud. Tall, fast, and tough. Future NFL player. Just needs to secure a few more interceptions to really ascend to stardom. I think he'll get there.
2) Olamide Zaccheaus, WR/slot/scat, Sr. - He might have been #1 on this list if we still had an all-pass quarterback under center. But with Bryce Perkins now running - emphasis on RUNNING - the offense, I fear that Oz's touches could dwindle just a bit. Still, he's by far our most dynamic, dangerous offensive weapon, and getting him the ball in space should be the priority in 2018.
1) Juan Thornhill, SABRE, Sr. - Now back full-time in his best spot (safety), his senior season will be a 13-game showcase for NFL scouts. I have zero doubt that he'll be playing on Sundays. He's our best player. Boom, I've declared it so.