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PILLOFF: 2020 NFL Draft projections for Virginia football

Predicting the NFL landing spots of many former Cavaliers

<p>In Kansas City, Hall could recover fully from his injury and become a full-time starter in just his second season.</p>

In Kansas City, Hall could recover fully from his injury and become a full-time starter in just his second season.

After training for months, several Virginia players have aspirations of being selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, which will begin virtually Thursday and conclude Saturday. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia’s Pro Day was canceled, meaning that many players were unable to showcase their talents to NFL scouts in person. Despite the challenging circumstances, let’s take a look at where Virginia football players may land at the professional level.

Bryce Hall — Round 2, Pick 63 to the Kansas City Chiefs

Following a breakout junior year, Hall was selected to the AP All-America first team and was projected to be a first-round pick. However, in 2019, Hall suffered an ankle injury in Virginia’s loss to Miami Oct. 11, ending his senior season and lowering his draft stock. Although invited to the NFL Combine — an annual week-long event that gives select college football players the opportunity to showcase their skills to NFL executives, coaches and scouts — he was unable to perform important drills such as the 40-yard-dash and vertical jump. Nevertheless, Hall is a talented cornerback, possessing ideal size — with his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame — and high football intelligence.

After losing Kendall Fuller in the offseason to the Washington Redskins, the reigning Super Bowl champions are in need of another starting cornerback. Hall, who grew up a Kansas City fan, would improve an already-solid passing defense which gave up the sixth-fewest passing yards per game last season. Hall would also team up with another former Cavalier, safety Juan Thornhill, a second-round pick in the 2018 draft. When the pair played together in Charlottesville, Hall led the FBS in passes defended. Lastly, Chavarious Ward and Bashaud Breeland — the Chiefs’ current starting cornerbacks — are in the final year of their respective contracts. In Kansas City, Hall could recover fully from his injury and become a full-time starter in just his second season.

Joe Reed — Round 5, Pick 179 to the Dallas Cowboys

As the recipient of the Jet Award — awarded to the top return specialist in college football — former wide receiver Reed can make an immediate impact in the NFL as a kick returner. In 2019, he led the nation in kick return average and is one of ten players in FBS history with over 3000 kick return yards. Reed can also contribute in the passing game, as he caught 77 passes in his final season. He showed off his athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine, with a 4.47-second 40-yard dash and a 38-inch vertical jump.

The Dallas Cowboys averaged just 16.3 kick return yards per attempt last season, the worst in the NFL. Reed averaged over double that mark in his final season, and his performance on special teams would improve the Cowboys immediately. New Cowboys Coach Mike McCarthy could also utilize Reed’s offensive versatility as both a wide receiver and a running back. The Cowboys lack wide receiver depth behind Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup after Randall Cobb’s departure and could certainly use a running back with excellent receiving ability.

Jordan Mack: Round 6, Pick 198 to the Pittsburgh Steelers

Mack was a standout player throughout his career in Charlottesville, starting 43 total games and ending his career with 289 total tackles. In 2019, Mack blossomed as a playmaker, registering a career-high 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. At the Combine, Mack showcased his size — 6-foot-2 and 241 pounds — but did not participate in athletic testing due to an injury. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been looking for another inside linebacker since Ryan Shazier’s devastating back injury in 2017 forced him into early retirement. They drafted Devin Bush in the first round of the 2018 Draft, but the Steelers are still searching for more options at the position. Scouts think that Mack can play both inside and outside linebacker in the NFL, as well as special teams. This versatility would benefit Pittsburgh and its rapidly improving defense.

Bryce Perkins: Round 6, Pick 203 to the New Orleans Saints

Perkins left Charlottesville with the second-most quarterback wins, the most yards in a single season and the most total yards in school history in his two seasons as a starter. He led Virginia to back-to-back winning seasons and its first-ever appearance in the Orange Bowl. Despite these achievements, Perkins was not invited to the NFL Combine and lost the opportunity to impress NFL teams after Virginia’s Pro Day was canceled. However, Perkins is a dynamic quarterback with the ability to make plays both on the ground and in the air.

The Saints are in need of another quarterback following the departure of Teddy Bridgewater in free agency — they only have 41-year-old Drew Brees and dual-threat Taysom Hill under contract currently. Perkins could replace Hill — a free agent after this season — who Coach Sean Payton utilizes at quarterback, on special teams and as a receiver. Both Perkins and Hill are fantastic athletes who played under Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall, and Perkins could flourish given the opportunity to play with All-Pros Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.

Hasise Dubois: Signed by the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent

Dubois led the Cavaliers in receiving in 2019 — surpassing one thousand yards — and was second on the team in receptions. Perhaps Dubois’ most impressive trait is his safe hands. He recorded 110 targets in 2019 without a drop, leading the country in that category. Despite these accomplishments, similar to Perkins, Dubois was not invited to the Combine and could not make an impression on NFL scouts. That being said, Dubois could be an immediate contributor for the Los Angeles Chargers, who had 21 drops last season — the seventh most in the NFL. Dubois would give a new starting quarterback in Los Angeles a solid, reliable weapon at wide receiver.

Eli Hanback: Signed by the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent

Hanback was a four-year starter at Virginia, starting a total of 48 games out of 52 played. He was a disruptive force on the defensive line and played several positions for Mendenhall. Hanback also delivered for the Cavaliers in big moments — he recovered the touchdown to seal Virginia’s win against Virginia Tech in the 2019 Commonwealth Cup. Hanback is big — 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds — and experienced player on the defensive line but was not invited to the NFL Combine. The Houston Texans need depth behind superstar J.J. Watt in the defensive front seven and Hanback could line up as a defensive end opposite of Watt. He provides excellent run-stopping abilities that would help shore up the Houston rushing defense, which was ranked in the bottom 10 in opponent rushing yards per game last season.

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