For the second year in a row, four recruits from the upcoming recruiting class have elected to enroll early and participate in spring practice with the University of Virginia football program. The crop of early enrollees from a season ago (Jamari Peacock, Lamont Atkins, Riah Burton and Germane Crowell), had little in-game impact, mainly due to positional depth. But the script will be flipped in 2018 as the new crew of quarterbacks—Bryce Perkins and Brennan Armstrong—offensive tackle Bobby Haskins and outside linebacker Noah Taylor will be called upon to make contributions and fill spots left by the flock of senior graduates.
Before we get into it, let’s do refresh our memories about how the ‘Hoos landed these four new players.
Heading into the 2018 signing period, quarterback was a BIG question mark for the Cavaliers. Until November 20th, 2017, the quarterback count stood at one. Armstrong, a dual-threat quarterback out of Ohio, surprised analysts when he announced he switched his commitment from PJ Fleck and the Minnesota Golden Gophers to join the Virginia program. As suddenly as the count had doubled, it quickly reset itself as Wyatt Rector, previously the sole quarterback in the class, announced his de-commitment. Two weeks later, more good news came for Virginia when explosive, JUCO transfer Bryce Perkins informed Bronco of his intentions to travel across the country to play in Charlottesville.
Bobby Haskins and Noah Taylor had slightly less eventful recruitment paths as Taylor was the first in the class to commit on August 20th, 2016 and Haskins followed suit on June 1st, 2017.
Each of these players has been active in publicly voicing their excitement to be in the Orange and Blue so let’s get amped for their careers and learn some more about them.
Brennan Armstrong – The #1 ranking in the 2018 Virginia class goes to Armstrong. The Shelby, Ohio native led his high school team to an impressive 13-1 record during their 2017 campaign and was nothing short of dominant. When breaking down film of Armstrong (and granted, these are the highlights), it’s obvious he has good pocket awareness and is more elusive than any Cavalier QB in recent memory.
However, the most intriguing and exciting part of his game is the physical toughness and passion he demonstrates. While seeing a quarterback playing both ways can be frightening, Armstrong’s 6’2”, 210-pound frame is intimidating for linebackers and running backs alike. His willingness, intentional initiation of, and running through contact is a trait that many of Mendenhall’s BYU quarterbacks utilized to great success in his tenure there.
Another plus to Armstrong’s game is his arm strength. Throughout his film he exhibits powerful on-the-run throws as well as pushing the ball deep downfield while leading his receivers to open grass. The only area noticeably lacking is his accuracy. It will be fascinating to see if he can adapt to the speed of the ACC and fit throws into tight windows while maintaining his mechanics.
The 20th Dual-Threat quarterback ranking is well earned and if he continues to learn and evolve his game to the high level of competition he will face, Armstrong has the answers Virginia has been looking for at the signal calling position.
Bryce Perkins - If it wasn’t already obvious, the Virginia football staff has been making a concerted effort to add explosive play-makers to the depth chart. Perkins, a 6’3”, 215-pound quarterback transferring from Arizona Western Community College, checks that box. Coming out of high school in 2015 he was the 14th ranked dual threat quarterback and was recruited heavily, receiving offers from the likes of UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Northwestern. Perkins started his career at ASU and steadily improved coming off of a red-shirt year until he suffered a neck injury, knocking him out of the starting quarterback competition.
As a high schooler, Perkins’ biggest strength was his designed running and scrambling ability. But as he’s matured and learned the intricacies of the position, his passing game has progressed and made him a dangerous weapon at all levels of the field. His mechanics are solid and consistent and he proved he can make every throw needed to be successful in the ACC, including throws into tight windows and enough power to get the ball to the boundaries.
This year, Perkins led AWCC to the NJCAA National Championship game where they lost to Last Chance U-famed East Mississippi CC by 3. Perkins showed out this season, dominating the competition on the way to putting up the highest completion percentage in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference and accounted for 11 touchdowns in 10 games. Perkins transfers with two years of eligibility remaining and will be immediately able to compete for the starting spot during spring practice and into the fall.
In Mendenhall’s first two seasons at the helm in Charlottesville, his offensive system has lacked the presence of a multi-talented quarterback. It’s a huge plus that the depth chart now features two capable passers and runners. It’s not clear who will start this season between Armstrong and Perkins and odds are their battle will last into the late stages of the preseason. Early on, the edge is in Perkins’ favor simply based on experience and leadership.
Bobby Haskins – The superlative for tallest prospect in the 2018 class goes to Haskins. Measuring in at 6’7”, and 260pounds, Haskins is a physically imposing eighteen year old. At the beginning of his recruiting, his primary position was tight end where he presented quite the mismatch for opposing linebackers with his combination of size and speed. As his high school career wore on, he received a ton of reps as a primarily blocking tight end and offensive tackle in his senior season. His progress as a tackle led the Cavaliers to offer him at the same position.
Being that he was a versatile offensive talent early in his career, Haskins’ footwork and coordination is already ahead of the curve for a new OT. Learning that he would be enrolling early was important news as it gives him an extra semester to continue to learn the details of the new spot and become familiar with the terminology and communication that is vital for all big men up front.
Another factor in Haskins’ favor is that at six-foot-seven, he already put on 25 pounds during his senior year and has plenty of room on his frame to get in the weight room and behind a dining hall table to add on another 30 to 40 pounds. Seeing how he changes his body and picks up on the college game will be an interesting story to keep tabs on throughout his career.
Noah Taylor – As was mentioned before, Taylor is the longest standing commitment in the 2018 class and has the potential to be the most exciting recruit on the defensive side of the ball. His measurables are fascinating as he comes in at 6’5, 200 pounds, leaving no doubt he will have the opportunity to prove his worth at the “Will” and possibly “Jack” linebacker-defensive end hybrid position.
Taylor demonstrated great natural instinct for maintaining the edge, blowing up run plays and slipping off blocks with ease this season for the Avalon School in Maryland. He also already has the ability to make an impact in the pass rush game due to his superb length when swatting balls out of the air. and torching linemen off the end. The biggest obstacle for Noah will be learning how to beat ACC-caliber offensive lineman when he’s asked to get to the passer.
Taylor will be given the opportunity to compete for snaps with fellow 2018 commit Javar Garrett, as well as veterans Chris Peace, Chris Moore and Charles Snowden.
Takeaways – Brennan Armstrong and Bryce Perkins are the two central pieces to keep an eye on because they will be the determining factors for how the offense will progress and look in the upcoming season. It’s impossible to convey how important a dual threat quarterback is to the Mendenall/Anae offensive attack but one of these two will have the opportunity to demonstrate the new aspect they bring to the field.
Bronco Mendenhall and the staff being able to get these four guys to enroll early is a positive sign for the ‘Hoos. Knowing important talents are already practicing with the team, developing physically and learning how to compete at a high level should give fans confidence the program is moving in the right direction. #HoosRising