Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell had already left his mark with the Cardinals in just two seasons on campus. The speedy 5-foot-9 wideout is perhaps the ACC’s toughest one-on-one tackle in the open field. The former Miami Northwestern High School (Fla.) Miami-Dade County Player of the Year starred as a quarterback at the prep level. His on-field savvy is present when diagnosing either zone or man coverage. Atwell led the ACC in receiving yards in 2019 (1,276) and finished second in receiving touchdowns (12). While he didn’t repeat the success in 2020, he stills ranks as one of the more electrifying players in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Justus Reed (who now wears No. 9 for Virginia Tech) opened up the 2020 campaign with a solid outing against NC State’s veteran-laden offensive line. He was able to split two blockers (RT Justin Witt and RG Joe Sculthorpe) early in the contest versus turn protection to post the first of his two sacks on the evening. In addition, his right-handed pole move (from the LDE spot) long-armed Witt and got him off-balance a couple of times.
On the downside, he was inconsistent once staying frontal versus a gap-schemed run when having to spill the football versus the pulling guard (1st half, NC State ’20). Reed also lost contain on the quarterback during the first half of the contest.
Nevertheless, his five-tackle, two-sack, two-tackle for loss performance versus the Wolfpack all started with a seventh year of eligibility.
Reed initially signed with Florida as the 285th-ranked player in the ESPN300 Class of 2014. The former Clearwater Central Catholic High School (Fla.) star posted two tackles for loss in 2015 for the Gators (see video above). The two tackles for loss in that season were sandwiched in-between a normal redshirt season in 2014 and a medical redshirt in 2016.
Injuries in Gainesville led him to leave the school for Youngstown State, where he was solid in 2017 (5 QB sacks, 6 TFLs) despite missing four games due to an arm injury (https://www.ysusports.com/sports/fball/2018-19/bios/reed_justus_swjx?view=bio). Reed finished his three-year run for the Penguins with 58 tackles, 17.5 quarterback sacks, 25 tackles for losses, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three pass break-ups.
VTScoop did a piece in April 2020 chronicling the cavernous journey of Reed’s career (https://247sports.com/college/virginia-tech/Article/Justus-Reeds-Perilous-Journey-leads-to-Virginia-Tech-146165755/), which included a medical redshirt for an Achilles injury in 2018.
NFL scouts may be put off by the extensive injury history, but pass rushers find a way to get home. In Reed’s case, getting back on the field was home plate. He broke down his own personal satisfaction after the Penguins win over Illinois State on November 17, 2019:
“Worked really hard this offseason (2019). Shout out to Terry Grossetti (Youngstown State strength and conditioning coach),” Reed said with a smile. “Just came out and did everything I could do. So it feels good.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tb7Geymqq3I)
Now that Reed has gotten this far, the only question is whether or not he will stay on Virginia Tech’s campus for an unprecendented eighth year.
Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, this season will not count against any player’s eligibility. Reed became just the fifth player to earn a seventh year of eligibility this century when he opened the 2020 season in the ACC. In 2021, he will have yet another opportunity to take advantage of that rare seventh year next fall.
So could the current Hokie actually add another mile to his seven-mile hike?
For now, the 24-year old is attempting to make another lengthy topic take over the headlines.
“I think I have pretty good length, my arms are pretty long. I can’t remember when, but we had scouts come, and they were freaking out because my arms are so long. I’ve been told I’ve been good with my hands. Converting speed to power using my long arms. Doing whatever I have to do to get back there,” Reed said in the aforementioned VTScoop piece (https://247sports.com/college/virginia-tech/Article/Justus-Reeds-Perilous-Journey-leads-to-Virginia-Tech-146165755/).
If he can continue to get to the quarterback in the ACC, then the former Florida Gator may not have to go down the eight-mile road.
After a breakout sophomore season that saw him rush for 890 yards and 12 touchdowns, Brown is continuing to add elements to his game. The Meadville High School (Pa.) is efficient running in-between the tackles and contains the home run speed to stretch defenses. Brown finished the 2019 campaign on a high note, as he was named the 2019 Cotton Bowl MVP. Brown set a Pennsylvania prep level record with a 10.43 time in the 100 meters, besting the mark by former Olympic sprinter and gold medalist Leroy Burrell.
Etienne -the back-to-back ACC Player of the Year (2018-19)- began his senior campaign with a 17-carry, 102-yard performance versus Wake Forest (9-12-20). In typical fashion, the all-purpose playmaker added three receptions for 47 yards. His collegiate production has largely matched the Louisiana native’s high school resume’, when he accounted for 115 total touchdowns at Jennings High School (La.). We break down his versatile skill-set in our highlight feature on Etienne.
We talked about Blankenship’s ability to disguise last season after he earned C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors following a two-interception performance against Tennessee State (see below). After a strong start to the 2019 campaign, the senior defensive back went down to an ankle injury in mid-October. Blankenship enters 2020 with over 200 tackles (233), 15.5 tackles for losses, eight interceptions, 18 passed defensed and two blocked kicks. The former West Limestone HS (Ala.) star has a chance to hear his name called in the 2021 NFL Draft.We break down his diverse, well-rounded game in our video feature.
It didn’t take long for Graham, Jr. to make an impact on Oregon’s campus. The preseason 2020 All-Pac-12 corner has now made 39 consecutive starts due to a combination of agility, football smarts and toughness. We go inside the game of one of college football’s best perimeter defenders in our video spotlight. Heading into 2020, Graham was the active FBS leader in passes defensed (40) and has eight career interceptions. After opting out of the season, Graham participated in the 2021 Senior Bowl. He closed his postseason with fine individual workouts for NFL teams and should be a solid draft pick this spring.
Lenoir, a former four-star recruit as an athlete coming out of Salesian HS (Calif.), brings a fast aggressive approach to the cornerback spot. Not only does he support the run with an element of pizzazz, he works to disrupt the wide receiver’s release at the line of scrimmage. After making the numerical switch from No. 15 to No. 6 in 2019, the AP second-team All-Pac-12 corner finished with 47 tackles and nine passes defensed. In a conference loaded with solid players on the edges, the senior will look to take the next step in 2020 along with running mate Thomas Graham, Jr.
Auburn senior LB K.J. Britt brings the thunder week-to-week in the SEC. In his first year as a starter, Britt earned All-SEC honors after breaking out as a junior with 10 tackles for loss. We take a quick peek at his game in our video spotlight.
Washington’s Elijah Molden takes his footwork as seriously as his father, Alex, did at Oregon before becoming a first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 1996 NFL Draft. Molden is frequently tasked with the tough assignments in the litany of man coverage used by Washington current head coach and former defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. The former West Lin High School (Ore.) product earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2019 after finishing with 79 tackles, four interceptions and 13 pass break-ups.
Holland heads into the 2020 campaign as arguably the best playmaking safety in the Pac-12. Over the last two seasons, the hybrid DB/PR has posted nine interceptions in his 19 passes defensed. For good measure, he found time to average over 15 yards per punt return in 2019. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Bishop O’Dowd HS (Calif.) was once a star wide receiver at the prep level, eclipsing the 1,000-yard receiving mark on just 35 receptions as a senior. Our film review found a player with natural ball skills and an offensive approach to the defensive side of the ball.