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This week I got a chance to speak with Chris Lang, Virginia Tech beat reporter for the Lynchburg News and Advance in Virginia. I wanted to get some input on the pro potential of the players he has covered over the past couple of seasons in both the ACC and at the FCS level, discuss Logan Thomas and his fluctuating potential, and throw in some current NFL discussion just for fun. He gives some later round options that may be of interest for Buccaneers fans. You can follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisLangLNA. Here’s the recap of my interview:
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Leo: What are some Virginia Tech NFL Draft prospects for 2013? Any late round guys who might be undervalued at the moment?
Chris: One of the more interesting guys might be right tackle Vinston Painter, who waited patiently for a chance to start and finally got that opportunity as a senior. At 6-6, 309 pounds, Painter has the size and athleticism to at least warrant a late-round flyer. He — along with left tackle Nick Becton — will participate in the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Tech’s offensive line was a disaster this season, but much of that had to do with injuries and mediocre play on the inside at guard and center. Another player of interest is linebacker Bruce Taylor, who was a little slow in getting started this year because he was a) learning a new position and b) getting up to speed after missing the end of 2011 with a Lisfranc sprain in his foot. Taylor moved from Mike to Backer in Tech’s 4-3 defense, and his numbers predictably dropped because much of the action is funneled to the middle in Bud Foster’s defense. Taylor is quick and athletic and is a hard hitter who will also head to the combine. Receivers Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller also received combine invites. Davis has a ton of talent, but his work ethic was often called into question this season, as was the case when a poster from TechSideline.com compiled a video of Davis’ inability to block downfield and sent it to Deadspin. Fuller was a track athlete for two years at Kansas before transferring to Tech. He was arguably the Hokies’ most consistent receiver this season.
Leo: Most draft ranking sites aren’t very high on any of the talent in Blacksburg this year, do you think that’s fair?
Chris: In terms of who is going into the draft, it’s very fair. This isn’t one of Tech’s better senior classes, and it showed in the results on the field. Tech’s best players this year were juniors. I’m not sure if it was a one-year lapse in talent or the fact that two of the Hokies’ best draft-eligible players left after last year (David Wilson and Jayron Hosley.) But most of the draft talk around here has centered on the draft-eligible juniors — Logan Thomas, Antone Exum and James Gayle.
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Leo: The Buccaneers need pass rushers, defensive backs, a tight end, and possibly a space-eating defensive tackle this offseason. Are there any players you’ve covered this year that stand out in these areas that could come at a good value?
Chris: At tight end, a guy who stood out to me was Rutgers senior D.C. Jefferson, who played well in the Russell Athletic Bowl despite playing with a quarterback in Gary Nova who could barely throw a forward pass. He’s 6-5, 258 pounds, the sort of under-the-radar guy who can catch the ball and block who seems to excel in the NFL these days. He seems to be down a bit on some draft boards and probably won’t go terribly high. I saw some pretty good cornerbacks but most of those guys are higher on the draft board. A little further down the list is a guy like Rod Sweeting at Georgia Tech, who is a little undersized but was a solid cover guy. Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine at Florida State were by far the best defensive ends I saw. Werner is probably a top-five pick. Carradine might be a little bit more of a sleeper.
Leo: As a former beat writer for an FCS team, who are some main prospects from this level of college football? In particular, do you believe a player like Kevin Fogg from Liberty (Leo’s alma mater) has a chance to make an NFL roster?
Chris: Fogg is petitioning for a medical hardship year and hopes to come back next season. But he’s certainly the sort of player who has carved a niche out for himself not only as a physical player who can cover at corner, but as a dynamic special teams player who is great in both the kick and punt return games. As you saw with Mike Brown last year, players who can do multiple things well have great value in a game where you have limited roster space. As far as other FCS players, the highest guy I’m seeing on draft boards is Tennessee Tech’s Da’Rick Rogers, the Tennessee transfer wide receiver. I’ve got to think a guy like Miguel Maysonet from Stony Brook will get a look, though. Tough, crafty runner with power inside and shiftiness outside.
Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
Leo: Tell us about Logan Thomas. The Bucs could have a Quarterback dilemma in 2014, and Thomas could play a role if his draft stock stays high. Do you think he’ll be coming out in 2014, or is there any truth to rumblings he’ll come out this year?
Chris: We’ll know the answer by Jan. 15. My sense is that Logan is waiting to see what (if anything) happens with the offensive coaching staff before he makes his decision. I’m not sure what grade he got back from the NFL Draft Advisory board. Tech’s folks won’t make that info public and we haven’t had any access to the players since the bowl game. He said three times during the season that he plans on coming back but then said at the bowl game that he has “a big decision to make.” The way Tech’s offense struggled at the end of the year, he has to be thinking that staying with the same regime will get him no better results. So we’ll see. I think we’ll have some answers on the coaching staff soon. My gut says Thomas knows he has too much work to do to get better and come back. But stranger things have happened.
Leo: How do you rate Thomas at this time, what is your sense of his potential as an NFL quarterback? Does your opinion change if he’s a 2013 draft choice versus being a 2014 draft choice?
Chris: I still think his potential is high. He had a lot of mechanical issues this season, and those were only exacerbated by the turnover of talent both on the offensive line and at the skill positions. Tech never found a run game this season, and that really put a lot of pressure on Thomas to make plays out of nothing. At times, I think he took on too much of a burden. He cares. He’s a competitor. He wants to improve. He told me back in November that he wants to go to the Manning camp this summer since he wasn’t able to last year. I think he’s a little too flawed right now to be an NFL quarterback, and I’m not sure a team would take a flier on him to have him sit for a year or more. His flaws — high delivery on his throws, bad arm angles, antsy feet in the pocket — are fixable. His supporting cast will be better next season if he comes back. I think there’s plenty of time for him to play his way back into being a first-round pick.
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Leo: Are there any other promising ACC QB’s in 2014/2015 draft classes? Just in case the Buccaneers are shopping for talent at that time.
Chris: A lot of that depends on Tajh Boyd’s decision at Clemson. If he and Thomas stick around, they’ll battle for the title of best QB prospect in the ’14 class. Boston College’s Chase Rettig had a decent year for a bad team but threw too many interceptions. I’m not sure how much of a prospect he is. North Carolina’s Bryn Renner has a chance to be very good next year as well. He threw 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season and benefited from an improved offensive lines (sacked 26 times as a sophomore, 11 times as a junior). If fellow Heel T.J. Yates can start a playoff game in the NFL, I can’t see why Renner won’t get a look.
Leo: As a Redskins fan, could you take a moment and compare young Buccaneers running back Doug Martin to his counterpart in Washington, Alfred Morris? Do you think Morris was just a beneficiary of Shanahan magic this season? Or does he have a future as a franchise back?
Chris: Well, I played against Martin in fantasy during his outburst in Oakland, so color me impressed. Shanahan has had his success with low-round picks, for sure. Morris and Martin are essentially the same size. From my limited viewing of Bucs games, Martin seems like much more of a weapon out of the backfield than Morris is, and both are outstanding downhill runners. I think Martin is faster than Morris, and I think both have outstanding futures in the league. I doubt Morris is a flash in the pan. Martin was the more known commodity, and he lived up to some expectations. Morris’ 1,600-yard season is just too impressive to be considered a fluke.
Thanks for your time Chris! As the offseason goes on, many of the players mentioned here will be profiled on The Pewter Plank, so keep an eye out for the latest NFL draft coverage. Join in the discussion in the comment section below, and let us know what players you think the Buccaneers should be targeting.
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