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Virginia Football Position Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Likely UVA’s strongest positional group, the receiving corps will have to help carry the Wahoo offense despite reduced depth.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like every year, heading into the season, there is one unit for the Virginia Cavaliers that stands out above and beyond the rest of the team. Last year, it was the OL. That was a mixed bag, as the Hoos couldn’t run the ball at all, and yet managed to break almost every offensive record in the school’s history and finish with the number three offense in the nation.

This year, the OL could be a problem. But the offense should still be quite good and there are two reasons for that. One is QB Brennan Armstrong. The other is arguably the best and deepest WR corps in the nation.

Returning Starters

Wide Receivers

Dontayvion Wicks broke Virginia’s single-season receiving record last year, in his first full season on the field. He missed the entire 2020 season due to injury after playing sparingly as a true freshman in 2019. He had 57 catches for 1203 yards (21 ypc) and 9 TDs last year. He was 14th in the nation in receiving.

There isn’t much Wicks can’t do from the WR spot. He had a number of deep catches last season.

He can also take a short pass and go the distance. This actually is almost too easy for Wicks. The Yellow Jackets blitz off the edge, meaning the safety has a long way to go to get to Wicks. It’s a good read from both Armstrong and Wicks to read the blitz and complete the quick pass. Wicks has just one man to beat before he’s off to the races.

And, of course, Wicks has great hands. This is obviously both a poor decision and a poor throw (off his back foot) from Armstrong. But for Wicks to catch this after Miami looked to have a sure interception is amazing. His hands, his concentration, and his awareness are off the charts.

Wicks is just the tip of the iceberg. Billy Kemp is fourth on UVA’s list of career receptions, and he returns for a fifth season. Kemp isn’t as dynamic as Wicks, averaging just 9.4 ypc. But Kemp is always open and has great hands. A repeat of his 74 catch campaign from last season would tie him with Olamide Zaccheus for most receptions in a UVA career. Kemp was 30th in the nation in receptions per game (6.2)...

...Which was surpassed by Keytaon Thompson, at 19th in the nation (6.5). Thompson didn’t even come to UVA as a WR and started a bowl game at QB for Mississippi State. Also, he wasn’t even listed on the depth chart as a WR last season. But he had 78 grabs (6th all-time season for the Hoos) for 990 yards (also 6th), and added 39 carries for 247 yards (6.3 ypc).

And finally, Lavel Davis didn’t even play last season, but the 6’7” WR started 8 games in 2020 and totalled 20 catches for 515 yards as a true freshman despite missing two games (out of 10).

When you think of a 6’7” WR, this is the kind of play you expect. It’s a jump ball into the endzone and Davis uses his size to pluck the ball away from the DB.

But Davis isn’t just a big guy. He’s got wheels too.

Which of Wicks, Thompson and Davis is the best WR on the team? You could make an argument for any of them, though Davis obviously has to show he’s over the injury and back to full strength. These guys will battle all season long to see who has the advantage.

Tight Ends

Jelani Woods started 10 games at TE last year, but he is with the Indianapolis Colts right now. Fellow TE Grant Misch also started 5 times last year, as the Hoos opened with two TEs a few times (and Woods missed two games).

Woods, of course, was the star of the TE unit. He had 44 catches for 598 yards and 8 TDs. Misch has 5 catches for 26 yards and 2 TDs in his career. But there is a reason why Misch is still seeing the field regularly. He’s a very good blocker, and although he isn’t particularly big or fast, he has good hands. He is at his best around the endzone, which is why 40% of his catches are TDs.

Returning Contributors

Wide Receiver

Amazingly, the group of WRs listed above isn’t all there is, although the depth has been hit hard by injury with sophomore Malachi Fields and four star freshman Dakota Twitty each suffering serious injuries that will likely keep them out for the entire 2022 campaign.

Still, Demick Starling looks poised to expand on his limited playing time from last year. He’s actually in his third year and has looked good in limited opportunities. If Kemp hadn’t returned for an extra year, Starling may have started in the slot.

Yes, it’s William and Mary, but it was still a relatively close game and look how open Starling is. He isn’t as polished a route runner as Kemp is, but he may be more dynamic on the field. This was one of just four receptions Starling had on the season. Fields, on the other hand, had 11 grabs last year including a 51 yarder against Louisville.

With everybody healthy, it is going to be tough for these guys to push their way onto the field. But if there are any injuries among the starting WR unit, Starling could be a big contributor


Wide Receiver

There aren’t a ton of new faces in the WR room, especially with the aforementioned Twitty suffering an ACL injury that should mean a first year redshirt. It’s a shame that he won’t have the chance to be a part of the WR room this year especially considering how talented he is.

It’s hard to glean much from this, as the 6’4” Twitty just looks like a man among boys in most of these highlights. But you see him coming back to help out his QB, a good skill for a young WR to have. And, of course, you can see the speed. Hopefully when he does return from injury next year he’ll be able to replace the production UVA is expected to lose from Thompson, Wicks, and Kemp IV all on their way out.

Sophomore walk-on Ethan Davies could be another name to watch for a few snaps here or there. He had a sweet catch in UVA’s final fall camp practice in the back of the end-zone off a pretty throw from Brennan Armstrong and was playing with the one’s in UVA’s red-zone snaps that day.

Other names to watch who are probably more likely to be listed on the depth chart are juniors Devin Chandler and Nathaniel Beal while senior Josh Clifford could probably provide emergency depth as well.

Tight End

Outside of Misch, there is basically zero experience in the TE room. Joshua Rawlings and walk-on Sackett Wood have seen the field, but sparingly. Rawlings and redshirt freshman Jack Whitmer are the only two scholarship players at the position behind Misch.

Rawlings and Whitmer both have the size for the position. Rawlings should be more ready to contribute, as he was an early enrollee and now enters his third season (although he missed the entire 2020 season with injury). Whitmer has yet to see the field and likely enters his second season behind Rawlings on the depth chart.

After fall camp, Wood appears to be the man behind Misch off of what the staff has said about him while Rawlings has higher potential.

Projected Depth Chart

This is based on Elliott’s depth charts at Clemson, where he started in 11 personnel (3 WRs).

Projected Depth Chart

: WR1 WR2 WR3 TE
: WR1 WR2 WR3 TE
Starters Wicks Thompson Kemp Misch
Backups Chandler Davis Starling Wood
Third team Clifford Beal Davies Rawlings

As mentioned, Davis really needs to show he’s 100%. He’ll get his snaps, and Thompson will see time in the slot. But this seems like the most likely depth chart for the opener against Richmond.