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Everything to know about Virginia football’s transfer acquisitions

The offseason has yielded a strong return of incoming talent for Coach Tony Elliott

<p>The incoming veteran talent, high-potential underclassmen and likely starters will be crucial for a rebuild and provide flashes of hope for Cavalier fans.</p>

The incoming veteran talent, high-potential underclassmen and likely starters will be crucial for a rebuild and provide flashes of hope for Cavalier fans.

Another three-win season is not going to suffice for Cavalier football, and it’s no secret that the pressure is mounting on Coach Tony Elliott as he enters his third season at Virginia. In 2024 Elliott and his staff must prove he has a vision for the program. The transfer portal opened Dec. 4 and stretched until Jan. 2, providing a small window to go shopping for superstars. In that time, Virginia rushed to accumulate talent and bolster a roster in need of support — and ultimately, the Cavalier transfer crop yielded a slew of promising additions.

Wide receivers

Junior Trell Harris, formerly of Kent State

Harris has a long, 6-foot-1, 187-pound frame that makes him a great fit for the perimeter. His 400 receiving yards and one touchdown with the Flashes weren’t gaudy statistics, but much of his lack of production was due to external factors. Kent State utilized Harris as a deep threat, targeting him on “go routes” 37 percent of the time. It isn’t necessarily impossible to produce in such a vertical role, but with Kent State’s shaky quarterback play, it wasn’t a great fit for Harris. Only 63.9 percent of Harris’ targets were deemed catchable by Pro Football Focus. 

Even if Harris has a limited route tree and is only the offense’s designated “go” receiver, he will still have plenty of value. Anything he offers outside of that will be a bonus. Coming from the Mid-American Conference, he will have to prove he’s up to ACC competition, but Harris could be a valuable asset for freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea — who struggled mightily on perimeter throws upwards of 20 yards in 2023. He posted a 46.64 passer rating. Harris will look to boost that number in 2024.

Chris Tyree, formerly of Notre Dame

Tyree is a carbon copy of Malik Washington, the star of Virginia’s 2023 season — and a future NFL Draft pick. Tyree, a 5-foot-10 ball of muscle, is perfectly suited to play the slot. A running back for three seasons at Notre Dame, Tyree had to refine his receiving skills to switch positions, but he never lost his backfield physicality. Both Tyree and Washington play with a disproportionate aggression that endears them to their teammates, and while Washington possesses a rare veteran’s nuance, Tyree brings field-stretching speed to the position. The bar is high, but Tyree is poised to pick up where the Second-Team All-American left off.

Andre Greene Jr., formerly of North Carolina.

After two underwhelming seasons at North Carolina, Andre Greene Jr. decided to come back to his home state. Greene, a Richmond native, was the third-ranked prospect in Virginia in 2022 and the nation’s fourth ranked receiver. He caught only five passes with the Tar Heels, but his leaping touchdown grab against Oregon in the 2022 Holiday Bowl offers a taste of what he’ll bring to Virginia. With the frame and skillset of a tall ‘X Receiver’ playing on the boundary, Greene will presumably be encroaching on junior Malachi Fields’ target share. But if everyone is content to play their roles rather than be the whole show, Virginia could have one of the best receiving corps in the whole country. More on Tyree and Greene can be found here.

Tight Ends 

Graduate student Tyler Neville, formerly of Harvard

Neville is a two-time First Team All-Ivy honoree with a complete skill set. In Neville, Virginia gains a competent receiver who caught 24 passes for 283 yards and four touchdowns for the Crimson last season, but his forte is his run blocking. Harvard offensive coordinator Mickey Fein sees him as a fit for Virginia’s outside zone-heavy run game. 

“You have to have some athletic ability when you're running outside zone [scheme], and he definitely has that.” Fein said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “When you have to torque that certain defensive end or outside linebacker when you are on the edge, he definitely has the strength to do that.” 

Neville’s athleticism could do wonders, as Virginia tight ends have not registered more than five touchdowns in either of Elliott’s two seasons at the helm. Neville could win the starting job outright, or at least be a valuable contributor in the run game.

Sage Ennis, formerly of Clemson

Ennis was the eighteenth-ranked tight end in the class of 2020 but struggled to get onto the field at Clemson. He caught six passes for 77 yards in four seasons with the Tigers. Elliot was Ennis’ tight end coach at Clemson in 2021 — a reason Ennis eventually chose Virginia, according to Elliot. Ennis has a gritty play style, and he is a willing blocker in the run game. The Cavalier offense currently has flashy talent in their receivers, so Ennis’ impact should be made in more of a complementary role.

Offensive Line 

Drake Metcalf, formerly of Central Florida

Metcalf is slated to make his third stop in college football by announcing his transfer to Virginia. After a two-year stint at Stanford, he landed at the University of Central Florida where he appeared in six games, making four starts. He earned a 64.7 grade from PFF last season, with a strong 81.4 pass block rating. Metcalf’s 61.2 run block rating is pedestrian, but reuniting with offensive line coach Terry Heffernan — whom the Cavaliers hired last spring — could buoy his performance. Metcalf is a tad undersized at 292 pounds, but he is quick on his feet and excels against second-level defenders — an essential skill in for Virginia’s zone-heavy running scheme.

Defensive Backs 

Kempton Shine, formerly of Eastern Michigan

Shine is an opportunistic player who knows how to get his hands on the football. He totaled 22 passes defended in his final two seasons at Eastern Michigan and grabbed one interception. Shine allowed a 53.3 percent completion percentage and four touchdowns in coverage in 2023. His 32.1 coverage grade from PFF is abysmal, but Eastern Michigan put him in tough situations — he was often tasked with shadowing the opposing No. 1 wide receiver, following them all over the field from the perimeter to the slot. Shine is a fiery competitor who brings a necessary attitude to the Cavalier secondary.

Kendren Smith, formerly of Pennsylvania 

Smith brings a veteran presence to the cornerback room. The graduate student and former Penn team captain started every game for the Quakers over the past two seasons. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Smith is a larger cornerback, and he doesn’t shy away from contact, amassing 58 tackles in 2023, two of which were for loss. Injuries are a part of the game, and having such a dependable player, with the size and experience to play any position in the secondary, is indispensable. Smith can play all across the defensive backfield in a pinch, giving the Cavaliers a savvy and mature player and a perfect bridge for a secondary in the midst of a youth movement.

Jam Jackson, formerly of Robert Morris

Heading in from a small school, Jackson made his mark on the Big South Conference as he was named Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year. He was also named Third Team FCS All-American. With multiple seasons of eligibility remaining, Jackson could potentially adjust well to higher competition and become a playmaker for a streaky Cavalier defense.

Corey Thomas Jr., formerly of Akron

Thomas is an intriguing case study. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound hybrid between safety and linebacker is a physically imposing defender, but his role is rather unclear. As of now, Elliott has him placed at safety. Thomas possesses a rare physical profile and high upside and versatility. His lack of weight could be detrimental in the run game, but it will work to his strength in coverage against opposing tight ends. The physicality of the ACC will likely be an adjustment, but Thomas will be a tantalizing Swiss army knife for defensive coordinator John Rudzinski. 

With these incoming additions to Virginia football, Elliott and his staff are positioning themselves for significant improvement in 2024. The incoming veteran talent, high-potential underclassmen and likely starters will be crucial for a rebuild and provide flashes of hope for Cavalier fans. Elliott’s new lineup provides a glimpse of a promising future for a program much in need of a step forward. 


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