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Welcome to our 2020 Football Season Preview. To view our preview table of contents and read already-completed pieces, click here or on the Series button above.

 

Virginia had a record-setting passing attack in 2019, thanks primarily to the work put in by the elite WR trio of Joe Reed, Hasise Dubois, and Terrell Jana, each of whom ranked Top 5 in the ACC in passes caught. Two of those players graduated, along with their quarterback, so there are some giant shoes to fill in the receiving game this fall. Based upon the success of past players, though, position coach Marques Hagans knows what he's doing and truly gets a lot out of his corps. Let's see who he's working with this season.

(8/23: This post, originally published Wednesday 8/19, was updated to reflect the announced season-ending injury to sophomore wideout Dontayvion Wicks)

 

Position Coach

Marques Hagans (WRs) - VirginiaSports.com Bio

Ricky Brumfield (TEs) - VirginiaSports.com Bio

 

Who's Gone?

Joe Reed - The 5th Round NFL Draft pick and All-ACC 1st-Teamer finished 2nd in the ACC with 77 catches, totaling 679 yards and 7 receiving touchdowns in his senior year.

Hasise Dubois - As a senior, the sure-handed Dubois finished 3rd in the ACC with 75 catches for a whopping 1062 yards and 6 scores, earning all-ACC Honorable Mention honors. He'll try to catch on as an UDFA if/when NFL camps resume.

Tanner Cowley (TE) - In his lone season as a starter last year, the senior registered 28 catches for 311 yards and a score.

Terrell Chatman - The Arizona State grad transfer started the year with some buzz but was quickly buried behind the elite Reed/Dubois/Jana trio, finishing his lone year at UVA with just 7 catches for 104 yards and a score.

Dejon Brissett - The University of Richmond grad transfer had trouble staying healthy early in the season and by the time he got back to 100%, was stuck behind established starters, catching only 2 passes in his lone year as a Hoo.

 

Who's Back?

Terrell Jana - Senior - 6'0" 200 lb  - Of the Big 3 WRs to carry the UVA passing offense in 2019, Jana is the lone to return, having broken out as a junior to the tune of 73 catches for 878 yards and 3 scores. Can he replicate those numbers with a new QB and without Dubois and Reed drawing extra coverage? 

Billy Kemp - Junior - 5'9" 170 lb  - Lost in the excitement around the Big 3's production was a quiet but impressive step forward for the Richmond native in his second year. Operating out of the halfback slot, Kemp's 35 catches for 289 yards and a score were an important piece of the offense. He'll be leaned on even further this year to use his quickness and elusiveness to pick apart holes in opposing defenses.

Tavares Kelly - Junior - 5'8" 160 lb  - Maybe the fastest WR on the team, Kelly got a little lost in the numbers of a deep unit as a sophomore, registering only 14 catches for 152 yards and a score. But he'll have a big opportunity this year, as Brennan Armstrong reportedly loves the deep ball more than Perkins did, and is going to need a burner who can take the top off a defense for those long bombs.

Ugo Obasi - Sophomore (R) - 6'0" 195 lb  - A respectably-rated 3-star recruit from Maryland in the 2018 class, undisclosed injuries throughout 2019 hampered his ability to make a mark in his 2nd season, still without a registered collegiate catch. But looking at the below video, Obasi is hopefully finally healthy and primed to surprise a lot of folks this upcoming year. A starting role is tough to predict given his inexperience, but we wouldn't be surprised to see him in the mix for targets.

Grant Misch (TE) - Sophomore (R) - 6'4" 250 lb  - The only returning tight end on the roster, last year was Grant's first on the offensive side of the ball, having been converted from DL after his freshman season. Backing up Tanner Cowley, he saw only limited action, catching just 1 pass on the season, though he did score a TD on it.

Dontayvion Wicks - Sophomore - 6'1" 210 lb  - While his true freshman numbers of 3 catches for 61 yards and a score aren't eye popping, there were some high hopes for Wicks' second year. He was the lone true freshman last year to earn the staff's trust enough to get onto the depth chart and into games. But unfortunately at an August 21st press conference, Bronco announced Wicks was out for the year with an injury.

Dorien Goddard - Freshman (R) - 6'3" 220 lb  - The redshirt freshman is absolutely seen as a future contributor by the program. After learning the ropes last year, this year he'll go into the fall with an opportunity to prove himself as a long-term contributor.

Nathaniel Beal III - Freshman (R) - 6'4" 215 lb  - The former 3-star recruit lost his 2019 season right off the bat with an ACL tear in summer camp. He's got a ton of upside; at this point the question is how quickly he's come back from injury to regain his old form. Maybe hard to expect a breakthrough this year with the likelihood of injury rust piled on top of general freshman learning curves, but the potential is there.

Luke Wentz - Freshman (R) - 6'3" 215 lb  - The German was recruited as a potential QB at UVA but was quickly moved to the WR group upon his arrival at UVA. Learning both the position and the US game, the expectation was to continue to use his 2nd year at UVA to develop, and that was set back even further as he missed a lot of the summer due to a delayed return to the US from Europe due to COVID-related hurdles.

 

Who's New?

Ra'shaun Henry - Senior (R) - 6'3" 190 lb  - The graduate transfer from St Francis earned 1st-Team All-ECAC honors for the FCS program in a 90 catch, 1,118 yard, 9 TD junior campaign. With good size and proven production, albeit at a much lower level, he'll have an opportunity to crack the rotation in a wide-open competition with the young unproven returners.

Tony Poljan (TE) - Senior (R) - 6'7" 265 lb  - Virginia added late to its roster in July when it picked up a grad-transfer commitment from Poljan, who at Central Michigan last year as a redshirt junior earned second-team All-MAC honors in catching 33 balls for 496 yards and 4 TDs. He's got immediate starter potential once he earns his number and learns the playbook.

Lavel Davis - Freshman - 6'7" 210 lb  - Yes, that height is correct, we recruited a 3-star 6'7" wideout from South Carolina. He will likely redshirt this year, but it should be fun to see him as a giant target in the coming years.

Demick Starling - Freshman - 6'0" 180 lb  - A 3-star speedster from Tennessee, the true freshman will be groomed as a deep threat weapon, though is expected to redshirt as a true freshman barring a potential breakthrough on special teams, where he may have early value as a return specialist.

Joshua Rawlings (TE) - Freshman - 6'5" 260 lb  - A 3-star freshman from Pennsylvania, Rawlings is the first recruited freshman TE on UVA's roster since Evan Butts in 2014, and once up to speed will be a major asset to the passing game. Poljan's transfer and Misch may allow Rawlings to redshirt, but he's got good enough size off the bat that he may be able to contribute in a pinch.

 

Preseason MVP

Terrell Jana - Who else would it be? While Reed and Dubois earned all-ACC honors, Jana put up numbers just about as impressive as the two graduates. His 73 catches are the best of all of the ACC's returning WRs. He may draw some extra defensive attention early in the season as the offense's most proven threat, but we still think that once some balance is established around the receiving room and with the running game, the defenses will open up enough for Jana to finish another season as one of the league's best.

 

Breakout Candidate

Tony Poljan - What, a tight end? What is this, the Groh era? Not quite, but I have a feeling this is a year we see the offense change its strategy to get the tight end position more involved, and a big part of that was the addition of Poljan. At 6'7" with good hands, he was already on NFL radars at CMU. Brennan Armstrong is going to love having that big target across the middle of the field. True the last few years we didn't really target TEs much as part of big picture offensive strategy. But part of that was not having a naturally gifted pass-catching TE like Poljan, while the rest was scheming to help Perkins, as TEs would clog up the middle of the field where Bryce wanted to scramble. Brennan's a different QB, and he's going to make the most of a big TE in Anae's 2020 version of the offense, and it's going to feel like the Big Money era again. 

 

A Stab at the Opening Day Depth Chart

WR(X)

Terrell Jana (Sr)

Ugo Obasi (RS So)

WR(H)

Billy Kemp (Jr)

Tavares Kelly (Jr)

WR(Z)

Ra'shaun Henry (RS Sr)

Dorien Goddard (RS Fr)

TE

Tony Poljan (RS Sr)

Grant Misch (RS So)

 

Grade: B-

 

Final Thoughts

The simple fact is that UVA lost 60% of it's wide receiver / tight end production from a year ago, and with a new quarterback to break in too, it's hard to expect this group to look sharp out of the gate. Last year Bryce Perks, even after the losses of Olamide Zaccheaus and Evan Butts, still had a stable of veterans at each WR spot and the TE position to lean on, and those guys did an incredible job, leading the nation with the lowest drop rate while leading the league in receptions.

But while the loss in production has to be taken into account, we're also at a point now where we have to recognize Marques Hagans' unique ability to develop a productive, trustworthy receiving corps, making unheralded 3-star recruits like Olamide Zaccheaus, Hasise Dubois,  Joe Reed, and now Terrell Jana into relative household names in the ACC. 

So back to this year's corps: Terrell Jana is a known quantity, and Billy Kemp should be the next in line as a junior ready to build off a quietly promising sophomore campaign. After that, though, we start running into questions. Is this the season Tavares Kelly has things click? Are any of the inexperienced youngsters in Obasi, Misch, Beal, and Goddard going to surprise as being ahead of schedule? With either of the grad transfers (Henry, Poljan) be up to the challenge of adjusting not only to the additional difficulty of the ACC, but also the difficulty of making it through Bronco's summer coniditioning program and picking up the nuances of Anae's playbook? Who of any of them will develop the best chemistry with Armstrong and/or Thompson? None of these are questions we can confidently answer at the moment, and likely won't until we hear whispers from August practices and see results in live games. 

So while there are some interesting pieces in place and good coaches we expect will have the next generation ready at some point, for right now we have to stay on the fence due to the relative uncertainty from this group, just as likely to do real damage in the league as it is to take an understandable step back from last season.