Toward the end of last season, Gridiron Heroics partnered with Draft Scout to give each school’s Top 5 NFL Draft prospects in the ACC. In November, I published a list of the Virginia Tech Top NFL Draft prospects, as seen by Draft Scout. This is the most recent update.
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Safety Chamarri Conner was the only Hokie to receive an invitation to the NFL combine. However, Virginia Tech recently hosted a Pro Day, and 11 NFL hopefuls participated in the event.
Conner still remains as the highest rated prospect from Blacksburg. Since 1994, the Hokies have had at least one player drafted every year except 2019. Conner is the most likely player to keep that streak going. However, a few other Hokies have the chance to hear their name called, so let’s look at who those players are.
VIRGINIA TECH TOP NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS
NO. 1 PROSPECT
Chamarri Conner (Free Safety)
DRAFTSCOUT PROJECTION: 7th round
CAREER STATISTICS: Conner has 315 career tackles, 207 of which are solo. For his career, he ranks ninth in Virginia Tech history in total tackles. He has 21 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He also has 4 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. His 60 solo tackles in 2020 led the ACC and was 4th in the nation.
THE TRUTH: Conner has decent size (6’0″, 208 pounds) and athletically he brings versatility to the position. His 40-yard dash time of 4.51 seconds at the NFL Combine ranked seventh in his position group, and his vertical jump of 40.5 inches was fourth among combine safeties
After the combine, NFL.com has Conner listed as the 15th best safety. NFL.com credits him with above average ball skills but consensus is that his weaknesses in the open field will need to be overcome. He is projected to be a backup or a special teams player. The Pittsburgh Steelers are rumored to have interest in Conner. They sent their director of pro scouting Sheldon White to the Virginia Tech Pro Day to see Conner, and one can only wonder how much the success of Terrell Edmunds as a Steelers safety has the franchise interested in another Virginia Tech defensive back.
NO. 2 PROSPECT
Dax Hollifield (Inside Linebacker)
DRAFTSCOUT PROJECTION: 7th round or High Priority Free Agent
CAREER STATISTICS: Hollifield finished his Virginia Tech career with 355 career tackles, which is fourth all-time at Virginia Tech. 147 of these tackles were solo. He had 30 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. He ended with 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries.
THE TRUTH: At the end of last season, Hollifield was projected as an undrafted free agent. However, he had good performances at the Tropical Bowl and his Pro Day, and he has a chance to hear his name called on the last day of the draft.
Hollifield ranks in the top fifteen of inside linebackers. However, he is more of a run stopper and pass rusher, as his stats support and as he showed in the Tropical Bowl (where he tied for a team-high three solo tackles in the game and added a quarterback hurry). NFL Teams are moving away from the traditional middle linebackers like Hollifield, though. This could limit his options for that reason alone. Fortunately for Hollifield, the Steelers have expressed interest, as have the Dolpjins, Bears, and Jaguars.
LB Dax Hollifield (VA Tech) has been a popular name at the Tropical Bowl this week.
Versatile second level defender that’s shown improvement in coverage, he’s met with the Steelers, Dolphins, Bears, and Jaguars, per source.
— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) January 20, 2023
Hollifield slimmed down for his Pro Day workout. He is 6’1” and now weighs 232 pounds (down from 245 during the season), which could allow him to play other positions besides middle linebacker. This versatility, along with his nose for the ball and his great spirit, could help him find his way onto an NFL roster.
While Conner and Hollifield top the rankings of eligible Virginia Tech draftees, there are 11 total Hokies who can be drafted. Since only Conner was invited to the NFL Combine, Virginia Tech hosted a Pro Day on Monday, March 20, where these players worked out in front of well over a dozen NFL Scouts.
It is not likely that many of those other nine players are selected next month, but a few have hopes to earn free agent contracts, and this Pro Day was an opportunity for them to showcase their skills. These three in particular lead the list of Hokies likely to earn a free agent contract (in no particular order):
Silas Dzanzi (Offensive Lineman) – The 6’5” lineman played tackle for Virginia Tech last year out of necessity, but he has also been a proficient guard for the Hokies and could project at either position at the next level. Since the season ended, Dzansi lost 20 pounds and is down to 320. He feels lighter on his feet and believes that he had a good Pro Day.
Scouting services feel that Dzansi has the size, strength, experience, and intelligence to be worthy of a late round pick or a free agent contract. He is a powerful run blocker but needs refinement in pass blocking technique. Even if he does not hook up with an NFL team next month, he was drafted by the Memphis Showboats of the USFL, so Dzansi will have the opportunity to keep playing football and maybe one day get into the League.
Jalen Holston (Running Back) – Holston is a 5’11”, 210-pound seasoned running back who spent six years in the Virginia Tech program. While he never locked down the top spot in the backfield, he was a contributor and had a few productive games for the Hokies. He has been working out privately since the season ended and feels that he put up good numbers and performed better than he expected in his Pro Day. Like Dzansi, he too was drafted by the USFL. If things do not work out with the NFL, he can play for the New Jersey Generals.
Tyjuan Garbutt (defensive end) – the 6’1”, 255-pound defensive end has a motor and a twitch that made him a good pass rusher on the collegiate level. He is tenacious and plays in the opponent’s backfield, racking up 12 sacks and 29 tackles for loss over his career. He is a bit undersized for NFL edge rushers, but he hopes that his quick first step, good hands, and tenacity can be areas of strength for him.
If none of these three Hokies are drafted, all three are very likely to sign free agent contracts and try to make a roster or at least a practice squad.
The 2023 NFL Draft, set in Kansas City, Missouri this year, is one month away. It starts Thursday, April 27 with the first round. The second and third rounds will take place on Friday, April 28, and the final four rounds conclude on Saturday, April 29. Unfortunately for Virginia Tech fans, they probably will not hear the names of any Hokies until Saturday, and even that is not a given.
It seems as if Conner is likely to be drafted on Sunday, but as we know, nothing is certain until it happens. Hopefully Hollifield hears his name called as well, for Hokie Nation has been endeared to their emotional leader for the past few seasons.
Last year, four Virginia Tech players were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, all on the final day. However, shortly after the draft concluded, seven more Hokies signed free agent contracts, and two more were invited to rookie camps. In total, thirteen players from a 6-7 Virginia Tech team landed NFL contracts in the spring.
This is encouraging for this year’s crop of NFL hopefuls, especially the others that participated in the Pro-Day: Jadan Blue, Jaylen Griffin, Johnny Jordan, Brion Murray, Connor Blumrick, and Ty Eller. While it is not likely for more than two, maybe three Hokies to be drafted, there are eleven total Hokies with NFL dreams, and it is not far-fetched to think that half of them will at least be offered a free agent contract or a rookie mini-camp invitation.
Remember Changa Hodge? He was the Villanova transfer who played sparingly for Tech, but he was one of the seven Hokie free agent signings last year. Hodge suffered a torn ACL and only had one catch at Virginia Tech for -2 yards, yet he signed an NFL contract. I am confident that guys like Garbutt and Dzansi will at least sign free agent contracts, and I would not be surprised if a few more receive that opportunity.
And in the end, that is all that these eleven Virginia Tech players desire – an opportunity. Whether it is a late round draft selection or a free agent contract, they just want a chance to put on the pads one more time and compete for a spot on a roster.
Who knows? Maybe one of them (or more) could be this year’s Raheem Blackshear, the former Virginia Tech running back who signed a free agent contract with the Bills, was waived at the end of summer camp and signed to the practice squad, then was signed off that practice squad by the Carolina Panthers. He played in 13 games for the Panthers and scored three touchdowns.
Regardless of how they get there, this year’s Hokies just want that same opportunity. A door to open. A chance to play in the League. Hokie fans are hoping to see as many of their players get that chance as possible. Half of the eleven probably will get that opportunity, let’s hope that all of them land on a roster heading into fall camp.
To read more of my articles on Virginia Tech football, click here.
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