The top 10 Virginia Tech football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
WR Isaiah Ford, Jr.
Ford was spectacular in his second season, and that is not easy for a receiver in this stale offense. He elevated to the All-ACC First Team with 75 receptions for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ford has developed quickly in his first two seasons out of Jacksonville, Fla., often in ways that transcend a box score. He’s long and lean at 6-2 and 190 pounds, with the athleticism, hops and tight ball skills to make to make acrobatic grabs look routine.
FS Chuck Clark, Sr.
For one final year, Clark will be the most dependable and experienced defender in Blacksburg. He can play anywhere in the defensive backfield, logging starts at nickel and corner two years ago after Brandon Facyson was lost to a leg injury. However, the heady 6-1, 204-pound Clark was built to play safety for the Hokies. Indicative of his diverse skill set on the back end and sure-tackling, he led the squad with 107 stops last fall, adding eight pass breakups to stand No. 2 on the team.
OG Wyatt Teller, Jr.
It’s been a while since the Hokies boasted a true anchor in the trenches. Too long. But Teller has the potential to be that guy for the next two seasons. He’s a nasty run blocker, using his strength and toughness to neutralize his man from the play. And the 6-5, 304-pound battler has only just begun to evolve as the line leader. After just missing last fall, Teller is a safe bet to earn some kind of All-ACC recognition in his junior year.
TE Bucky Hodges, Jr.
Hodges came to Blacksburg as a quarterback, but swiftly emerged into a seam-busting tight end in the passing attack. He’s an outstanding all-around athlete, and at 6-7 and 245 pounds he can create serious matchup nightmares with opposing linebackers and safeties. Hodges has been a shining light in the otherwise dim Hokie offense the past two seasons, catching 85 balls for 1,056 yards and 13 touchdowns and twice being named Third Team All-ACC. For a first-time starting quarterback, he’ll be a perfect safety blanket, especially in the red zone.
DE Ken Ekanem, Sr.
Now that the Tech D-line has been thinned out by graduation, Ekanem has his best shot to capture a starring role and more regional recognition. Yeah, his production fell to 39 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss, 4.5 sacks and two sacks, but he’s still the program’s best pure pass rusher. Playing with the quickness and burst of a 6-3, 255-pound outside linebacker, Ekanem is able to beat tackles before they’re able to set their feet.
RB Travon McMillian, Soph.
After struggling with a revolving door at running back the past few seasons, Va Tech appears to have located its feature guy on the ground. McMillian became the first Hokie back since David Wilson in 2011 to run for more than 1,000 yards, turning 200 carries into 1,043 yards and seven scores. McMillian is a thick 6-0, 200-pound workhorse, with enough giddyup to transform arm tackles into sprints through the secondary.
LB Andrew Motuapuaka, Jr.
Without a lot of bells and whistles, Motuapuaka is simply a playmaker, with a penchant for being around the ball. He’s tough and smart, which are big reasons why he’s been so productive in each of his first two seasons. Motuapuaka really stepped up his game in 2015, missing two games yet still amassing 73 tackles, a team-high 11.5 stops for minus yards, four sacks and three forced fumbles. With a full slate of games, the 6-0, 235-pound grinder will be tough to keep off the All-ACC Team.
CB Brandon Facyson, Jr.
Facyson has a higher ceiling than this ranking. But he still has a few things to address, including durability, after failing to fully reach his potential in 2015. Last season was Facyson’s first since missing almost all of 2014 to a serious injury, and it showed. He wasn’t quite as dominant as his rookie year, breaking up 10 passes but failing to pick one off. Still, Facyson has next-level potential, from his 6-2, 191-pound frame to his pass coverage know-how.
CB Adonis Alexander, Soph.
Alexander was a very pleasant surprise in his first season of action with the program. He started eight games, making 55 tackles, four interceptions and 10 passes defended. Plus, with his size, 6-3 and 197 pounds, strength and leaping ability, he can cover everyone from tight ends to shifty slot receivers. Assuming Alexander can return from an April suspension, he’s liable to become the next star DB playing in a Hokie uniform.
DT Woody Baron, Sr.
Baron is the typical interior lineman in Blacksburg—not very big at only 6-1 and 275 pounds, but cat-quick off the snap. The senior, who’s started seven games over the past two seasons, has been an important of the D-line rotation. And after a career-best 28 tackles, eight stops for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2015, Baron is banking on becoming a more frequent disruptor in opposing backfields.