Virginia football had a successful final day of the NFL Draft in terms of players receiving the opportunity to play professionally. All three prospects anticipated to sign deals with NFL teams — wide receivers Dontayvion Wicks and Keytaon Thompson and cornerback Anthony Johnson — were signed to contracts. Wicks was drafted 159th overall to the Green Bay Packers, while Thompson and Johnson signed undrafted free agent contracts with the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints, respectively.
Before the festivities could take place, a more important recognition was needed for the Cavalier program. The families of Lavel Davis Jr., D'Sean Perry and Devin Chandler got to see their NFL dreams realized Thursday before the official draft began, when the three were honorarily selected first overall by their favorite NFL teams. Commissioner Roger Goodell — along with Virginia alumni Melissa Stark and D’Brickashaw Ferguson — joined the families of the fallen Cavaliers to display jerseys bearing the last names of Davis Jr., Perry and Chandler.
Upon being drafted, Wicks commented on honoring his former teammates after the tragedy last November.
“I was close with them and doing this for them. ... I know they're watching me, so I'm going to continue working hard every day,” Wicks said.
Wicks was the 19th receiver drafted this year and the second by Green Bay. He will join a new era of Packer football with budding star quarterback, Jordan Love. In addition to Wicks, Green Bay took a few other offensive weapons. Michigan State receiver Jayden Reed was drafted 50th overall, and the tight end duo of Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave and South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft were also selected by the team in order to support Love.
The star receiver finished his Virginia career with 1,964 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. His most productive season by far was 2021, where he finished with nine touchdowns and just over 1,200 receiving yards as quarterback Brennan Armstrong’s most popular receiver. Wicks was the second Virginia player in as many years to be drafted, joining Jelani Woods in 2022.
Green Bay’s wide receiver room is full of young talent and significant playing time will be up for grabs. Wicks has already built chemistry with fellow draftee Jayden Reed, one of three offensive skill position players taken in the first two rounds by the team in a clear effort to improve pass-catching talent.
“I was at the Senior Bowl with Jayden Reed who was drafted early,” Wicks said. “[I] Was able to talk to him a lot and build a connection with him."
In the pros, former teammates will turn into rivals as Thompson will aim to make a talented Lions roster and compete against Wicks in the NFC North division. The transfer from Mississippi State spent only three years at Virginia but played seemingly every offensive skill position possible. Thompson rushed for 506 yards and eight touchdowns in his Cavaliers career while also amassing 1,667 receiving yards and another five scores.
Only six Lions receivers have more than 10 career catches, meaning Thompson will have a legitimate chance to impress the coaching staff in training camp and become a meaningful contributor for an upstart Detroit squad.
Wicks and Thompson are now the fourth and fifth active Virginia wide receivers in the NFL. They join Joe Reed of the rival Chicago Bears, Olamide Zaccheaus of the Philadelphia Eagles and Ra’Shaun Henry of the Atlanta Falcons.
Johnson signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent. Johnson caught every pass in a workout with New Orleans before the draft — and Saints senior defensive assistant Pete Giunta took him out to the Charlottesville Ben & Jerry’s as a reward.
Another transfer, Johnson played two years for the Cavaliers after making his way over from Louisville. In Charlottesville the cornerback blossomed into one of the best in the ACC, earning First Team all-conference honors in 2022. Johnson intercepted five passes as a Cavalier and defended 17 more in addition to making 94 total tackles as a defensive leader for Virginia.
While New Orleans features a strong group of cornerbacks and safeties, Johnson can make an immediate impact on special teams and is one of just three rookie defensive backs acquired by the Saints this offseason. One of the others is Virginia senior cornerback Darrius Bratton, who just received an invitation to the upcoming rookie minicamp.
The four Cavaliers now have months to prepare and practice in order to attempt to make the 53-man roster in the 2023 season. NFL bylaws require teams to cut their 90-man rosters to 53 players August 29.