Today’s Sun Bowl matchup of Virginia Tech and UCLA will feature many NFL Draft prospects, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Some of these guys are seniors who know this will be their last game while there are also some underclassmen who haven’t yet decided whether or not to enter the draft early. Who should we pay the most attention to for VT?
For the Hokies, it’s a matter of what could’ve been as they’ll be without two of their better prospects, cornerbacks Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller. Exum has always had a ton of natural talent, but he’s never seemed to get back to where he was at before he tore his ACL nearly a year ago. He came back for three games this season before an ankle injury put him out for good in November. He’s now a projected mid round prospect.
Fuller, a projected second round prospect, will be out with a ‘core muscle’ injury that actually required surgery. Most have speculated it’s groin-related, and while it’ll hurt the Hokies today it shouldn’t affect his draft stock long term.
That leaves DE James Gayle as the biggest Hokie draft prospect today. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound fifth-year senior is projected as a mid-round prospect. Gayle has always been an underrated pass rusher in my opinion, though he had a slightly disappointing senior season this fall. He’ll have an intriguing matchup with Bruin tackles Xavier Su’a-Filo and freshman Caleb Benenoch.
While Gayle may be the best prospect, QB Logan Thomas could be the most intriguing. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Thomas reminds many of a poor man’s Cam Newton just without the same production. He’s always had a mouthwatering blend of size and skills but never seemed to put it all together. He’ll try and boost his late round projection today, but he could have a tough time against a pretty solid Bruins secondary which has given up only 221 yards passing per game in the pass-happy Pac-12.
There won’t be any major swings in terms of increasing or decreasing draft stock today unless Thomas all of a sudden turns into Newton or Vince Young or if Gayle pulls five sacks out of his rear. Still, strong performances today can and would help them go into training season with some momentum.