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2021 NFL Mock Draft: Predicting landing spots for Virginia football

A number of Cavaliers will be hoping to find a new home in the pro ranks once the draft kicks off on Thursday

<p>Coming off of a strong season at Virginia, running back Shane Simpson has generated buzz among scouts as a mid to late-round pick in the draft.</p>

Coming off of a strong season at Virginia, running back Shane Simpson has generated buzz among scouts as a mid to late-round pick in the draft.

With the 2021 NFL Draft fast approaching and various declared prospects from the Virginia football team, the Cavaliers are looking to add new faces to the pros. Last year in the 2020 NFL Draft, two members of the Virginia football team heard their names called – Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Joe Reed and New York Jets cornerback Bryce Hall. 

Coming off of the heels of the team Pro Day from approximately a month ago, many players hope to have boosted their stock in the eyes of scouts. With the draft this year returning to an in-person format, let’s take a look at the potential landing spots for Virginia football players.

Charles Snowden — Round 4, Pick No. 114 to the Denver Broncos

Standing at 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, Snowden brings freakish athleticism to the table at the outside linebacker position. In the 2019-2020 season, Snowden was a key fixture in the Virginia defense, racking up 72 total tackles, five sacks and a fumble recovery. After picking up where he left off this past season, Snowden suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of play. 

Currently on track for a strong recovery, Snowden would be a tremendous asset to a 3-4 defense in the NFL as he is stout in defending the run and pass. Additionally, possessing the speed to blitz, Snowden may very well find a home in Denver as a member of Coach Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense.

Despite having stud linebackers Bradley Chubb and Von Miller on the roster, the Broncos lack true depth at the position. With this being the case, Snowden certainly has the capability to be groomed into an eventual three-down defender.

Tony Poljan — Round 5, Pick No. 166 to the Tennessee Titans

New to Virginia in 2020, Poljan finished off his college career with the Cavaliers after spending his previous years at Central Michigan. As a Chippewa, Poljan notched 45 career receptions for 718 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. 

In one year at Virginia, the tight end put up an impressive 38 receptions for 411 yards and six more touchdown receptions. That stat line placed Poljan at No. 7 in the nation among tight ends in receptions and receiving touchdowns. Poljan also rings in at No. 2 all-time for Virginia’s single season list for touchdowns by a tight end. 

Following the departure of former starting tight end Jonnu Smith, the Tennessee Titans will be looking to replenish the position in the 2021 draft. Although the Titans may very well draft a tight end much sooner than the fifth round, it is highly possible for the team to double dip and pick up Poljan later on. 

With a big 6-foot-7 and 265-pound frame, Poljan’s size and toughness will allow him to be an impactful blocker in the run game for the run-heavy Tennessee offense as well as in pass protection. His pass-catching production will only make him a more valuable prospect for a team like the Titans, which lost Smith and wide receiver Corey Davis to free agency. 

Shane Simpson — Round 6, Pick No. 213 to the Buffalo Bills

Another transfer to Virginia in the 2020-2021 season after transferring from Towsend, Simpson proved to be a solid contributor to the offensive side of the ball for the Cavaliers. Carrying the ball 54 times for 278 yards through 10 games, Simpson brought an element of explosiveness to the Virginia offense. 

Simpson was a receiving threat coming out of the backfield – posting 13 receptions for 133 yards during the season. He also showed the ability to find the endzone with two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown. 

While having the potential to become a three-down running back in the NFL, Simpson has the versatility to serve as more of a complementary back for a team such as the Buffalo Bills. Outside of wide receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Devin Singletary, the Bills lack dynamic offensive playmakers in which Simpson can fill that void. 

Buffalo has reportedly already shown interest in Simpson as they met with him months back. Simpson’s rushing and receiving abilities in addition to his ability to contribute on special teams as a returner make him an intriguing prospect.

Zane Zandier — Signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent

A cornerstone of the Virginia defense in past seasons, Zandier brings another level of physicality to the table at the inside linebacker position. In 48 games played as a Cavalier, Zandier’s stat line includes 253 total tackles, 9.5 sacks and one interception. 

Despite his strong football instincts and heavy-hitting prowess, Zandier may lack the elite athleticism and quickness needed to excel as a starter in the NFL. However, with the linebacker’s full effort and aggression being on display in recent years, he should still find a home in the pros. 

Dealing with the recent retirement of veteran linebacker Sean Lee, the Dallas Cowboys will be looking to add depth to the position in the draft. Zandier could find a role as a rotational player on defense and eventually work his way up the depth chart while also being a key contributor on special teams.

Brian Delaney — Signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent

While they are not drafted too frequently, kickers remain a crucial part of the professional game. Having a reliable kicker is deemed as a necessity in the NFL with regard to field goals and extra points, as many games are determined by such narrow margins. 

Delaney has been as reliable as they come for Virginia from 2018 to 2020 posting field goal percentages of 75.0, 83.3 and 76.9 in each season, respectively. Additionally, with 113 career extra point attempts under his belt, Delaney has only missed the point after on three occasions. 

Although unlikely to be drafted, it is possible for Delaney to be signed as an undrafted free agent and be brought in to compete in camp against other kickers to potentially earn a spot. In the previous NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings suffered from the kicking woes of now-released kicker Dan Bailey. 

Granted that Minneosta signed his would-be replacement in kicker Greg Joseph, many teams opt to bring in a competitor for the starting spot during camp – which might be the very situation Delaney finds himself in.

Terrell Jana — Selected in the 2021 CFL Draft

When announcing that he would forgo his extra year of NCAA eligibility, Jana stated that he was not only declaring for the NFL Draft, but the CFL Draft as well. A native of Vancouver, B.C., Jana had a credible campaign this past season, snagging 36 passes for 423 yards.

If Jana were to land on a NFL squad, it would most likely be as an undrafted free agent. However, the wide receiver is viewed as a top prospect in the CFL Draft, meaning he would likely receive a prominent role with the team that selects him.

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