Year: Redshirt Freshman
Hometown: Princeton, NJ
A number of Virginia football players haved changed positions since Bronco Mendenhall took over last December. That group includes Chris Sharp, a redshirt freshman out of New Jersey. Sharp was originally recruited by Mike London’s staff as a RB after a successful high school career. This spring, however, Sharp moved to safety. He’ll add depth there in 2016 and will likely play a large role in the defensive backfield in 2017 and beyond.
Sharp’s story of transition is an interesting one. He was arguably one of the best RBs in New Jersey as a senior, leading his conference in rushing and winning numerous awards throughout the state and Mid-Atlantic region. He was 3 star recruit according to ESPN, Scout and 247sports, and he boasted offers from schools in the ACC, Big 10, Big 12. Sharp also played OLB in high school. Though at under 200 pounds, it would have been tough for him to play linebacker at the college level.
Virginia isn’t exactly stacked when it comes to young running backs, so Sharp’s path to the field at RB looked to be an an easy one. It’s no surprise, then, that he was slotted there as a freshman. Taquan Mizzell, Albert Reid, and Connor Wingo-Reeves will graduate after the 2016 season. Virginia only has two other RBs on the roster, and will bring in at least 2 running back recruits.
Not much was said about Sharp during his redshirt season. He did have the distinction of being named Scout team player of the week for Offense, Defense and Special Teams (in 3 different weeks). When the new coaching staff came in, he wasn’t mentioned much. But now that fall camp has begun, it appears Sharp has been moved to safety. And reports say he’s looked very good there.
It’s understandably hard to judge Sharp at safety based on HS film, since he never lined up there. Still, here is his high school highlight video. The video is broken up into offense and defense. Though you expect to see RB highlights in the offense half of the video, most of the plays are long TD catches Sharp makes while split out as a WR. The defense half begins at about the 2:20 mark.
The offensive highlights show off Sharp’s speed. On the 4th play, he runs about 50 yards on a simple off-guard play. He makes one guy miss and leaves him in the dust. He also shows good hands. The defensive highlights, meanwhile, show a run stopper who sets his sights on the RB and gets him to the ground. When it’s an interior run, he squares his shoulders and wraps up. When he can’t do that, he gets the runner by the ankles and brings him down. There is only one play shown where Sharp is covering a pass, and it’s a short flare pass. Sharp makes the tackle after a short reception.
We haven’t found any highlights of Sharp in pass coverage. It’s not clear if that’s because he wasn’t asked to play pass coverage, because the teams he faced didn’t throw many underneath passes that he would've covered, or because he isn’t very good in pass coverage. Suffice it to say, this is one question mark that Sharp will need to answer in his new role.
Entering his 2nd year in the program, Sharp checks in under 200 pounds. He remains too small to play linebacker, but I’d argue that this might be his most natural position. Could he possibly move to OLB in the future, similar to what Malcolm Cook has done? Or will he develop enough pass coverage skills to play a role similar to what Kelvin Rainey played last year? Rainey is a physical, downhill safety who excels in run support but struggles a bit in pass coverage. Sharp could be on the same path as Rainey, which would be a boon to UVA’s defensive backfield going forward. If Sharp can prove himself at safety, he’ll have a clear path to a starting role as early as 2017.