In preparation for the 2014 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 14
2013 NFL Draft picks: 2 – WR Corey Fuller (6th round, Detroit Lions), OT Vinston Painter (6th round, Denver Broncos)
Virginia Tech managed just seven victories last season, their lowest win total since 1997. Additionally they produced just two draft picks from last year's squad, their lowest number since the 2009 NFL Draft. However that number should more than double for the 2014 class, led by several defensive standout prospects like James Gayle, Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller. But the biggest wildcard prospect for the Hokies is quarterback Logan Thomas who is extremely talented on paper with his size, athleticism and arm strength, but he hasn't been able to take that next step in his development as a passer just yet.
Top Virginia Tech prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. DE James Gayle (6-4, 268, 4.58)
One of the top pass rushers in the ACC, Gayle is entering his third season as the Hokies' starting defensive end and was recently named the team MVP for his performance during spring drills. Despite coming off a somewhat disappointing junior season in 2012, he has combined for 12 sacks the past two seasons and is the leader of one of the Nation's top defensive fronts. Gayle has very good speed off the edge to accelerate in a flash with the quickness and arm moves to get around blockers. He is a fluid athlete when dropping in space with excellent footwork to change directions quickly and keep blockers off-balance. Gayle is relentless and works hard to get to the pocket, but his lack of ideal size and length tends to show up too often as he can be easily engulfed by blockers, which could push him to linebacker in a 3-4 alignment at the next level. Worthy of a mention in Bruce Feldman's annual “Freak List” article, Gayle should test well at the NFL Combine after clocking a reported 39-inch vertical, 4.6 40-yard dash and 400-pound bench press this past spring. He needs to continue to develop and improve his production, but could end up being the best pass rusher out of Virginia Tech since Hall of Famer Bruce Smith was the No. 1 overall pick in 1985.
2. CB Antone Exum (6-0, 224, 4.53)
If not for his recent injury, Exum might be No. 1 on this list. But after tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee while playing basketball this past January, there are questions about when he'll be able to return to the football field and if he can come back at full health. A versatile defensive back with his size/speed combination, Exum bounced between cornerback and safety as a freshman before moving to safety as a sophomore where he started all 14 games in 2011 (11 at free safety, 3 at rover). He transitioned back to cornerback this past season as a junior and started all 13 contests, finishing with a team-best five interceptions and 21 passes defended. Exum is well-built for the position and isn't shy in press coverage, embracing the physical side of the position. He has quick eyes to find the ball and make a play, but struggles with inconsistent timing and is too hands-on in coverage, attracting some easy calls for the officials. Exum has strong confidence and a fearless attitude with a short memory to continue to play physical despite mistakes, but his aggressiveness can be his best and worst quality.
3. CB Kyle Fuller (6-0, 193, 4.52)
It seems at least one member of the Fuller family has been starring on the Hokies football team for over a decade and Kyle is the latest to make his mark in Blacksburg. Fuller, who is entering his fourth season as a starter (34 starts on his resume), has bounced around the Virginia Tech defense, spending tim at nickel cornerback, whip linebacker and field cornerback. He is a versatile player with the athleticism to cover and the aggressiveness to play the run. Fuller enjoys throwing his body around in run support and is a usually-disciplined tackler, doing a nice job beating blocks to show up at the line of scrimmage. He has smooth hips and natural footwork for an easy transition in coverage, but lacks elite speed and struggles to recover after the receiver gains a step. Fuller will get caught out of position when he tries to freelance, but the game appears to come natural to him, showing the knack for making plays on the ball with outstanding ballskills. With Exum's status uncertain for the start of the 2013 season, more responsibility will be on Fuller's shoulders as the clear-cut leader of the secondary and a big chance to boost his draft stock.
4. QB Logan Thomas (6-6, 258, 4.67)
A prospect who was prematurely pegged as a potential No. 1 overall pick by some, Thomas has the frame, athleticism and arm strength that will turn heads and certainly appeal to NFL scouts. But until the mental part of the game catches up to his physical talents, Thomas is more of a long-term project than proven prospect. He is well-put-together with a tall, built frame to see the entire field and stay on his feet while defenders try to pull him down, flashing courageous finishing effort as a ballcarrier. Thomas can easily make all the necessary throws and the ball appears to shoot off his hand with plus velocity. However, he makes too many head-scratching decisions each game, which is usually the product of him staring down targets and failing to see all 11 defenders. Thomas struggles to disguise his intentions and needs to improve his pocket mobility to avoid the rush while keeping his eyes downfield, faltering under pressure and tucking to run too quickly. After a forgettable junior season, Thomas could gain some draft momentum with a strong senior campaign and possibly convince a team he's worth the gamble in the early rounds. If not, he's one heck of a tight end prospect (half-kidding).
Other Virginia prospects worth watching:
WR DJ Coles (6-4, 235, 4.65)
A prospect with WR/TE tweener traits, Coles has playmaking ability but has battled several issues with his knee the past two seasons.
C Andrew Miller (6-4, 304)
An intriguing athlete, Miller has room to improve his hand usage and needs to stay healthy after ankle surgery ended his 2012 season.
DE J.R. Collins (6-2, 261, 4.76)
Like Gayle opposite him, Collins saw his production dip last season and needs a strong senior year to help rebound his draft status.
DT Derrick Hopkins (6-0, 306)
An All-Conference performer a year ago, Hopkins finished his junior season with 10 tackles for loss, winning with his quickness off the snap.
ILB Jack Tyler (6-1, 236, 4.79)
A former walk-on, Tyler has developed into one of the team leaders after leading the Hokies in tackles (119) and tackles for loss (13) last year.
S Kyshoen Jarrett (5-11, 195, 4.55)*
In his first year as a starter, Jarrett stood out last season at the rover position and is a rangy, violent tackler despite his lean frame.