Bronco Mendenhall and the Virginia football program added two more prospects to their 2020 recruiting class Wednesday, finalizing their class with 15 recruits.
Fresh off an Orange Bowl appearance and ACC Coastal Division title last season, Virginia enters the 2020 season with a strong group of returners and raised expectations. UVa wants to become a national contender and losses to Clemson and Florida showed that the program still has some distance to climb to reach those goals.
With a marquee season opener against Georgia coming next season, there’s an immediate chance for the Cavaliers to prove their national worth.
Looking deeper into the future, however, the 2020 recruiting class hopes to join forces with their fellow underclassmen to develop UVa into a top ACC football program for years to come.
Maintaining excellence starts by adding quality talent each season. Virginia feels it did that with its 2020 recruiting class.
“Our emphasis was on finding the right fits for positions based on matriculation at particular positions,” Mendenhall said. “With it being a smaller-than-usual class, it meant we needed to achieve that to continue to build our depth and address future position needs. At the same time, we recruited quality individuals who have a desire, mindset and work ethic to help us continue our unbroken growth and who align with the principles and values of UVa.”
Here are three takeaways from this year’s class.
The long game
Virginia’s top recruit of the 2020 class is offensive lineman Andrew Gentry. The Colorado native sums up Virginia’s goals with this class, as he won’t play a snap for the Cavaliers until 2022 at the earliest. He’s spending two years on a religious mission trip before joining UVa.
While the other recruits aren’t serving missions before joining UVa, Mendenhall’s 2020 recruiting class might take a few years before making a major impact.
Entering next season, Virginia returns players likely to earn nearly every starting position on both sides of the ball. Brennan Armstrong is the early frontrunner to earn the quarterback job, and despite recent losses at running back with both Lamont Atkins and PK Kier leaving the program, the tailback position seems locked in with Wayne Taulapapa and Mike Hollins.
The offensive line returns nearly every key contributor, which leaves wide receiver as the main area of need offensively. The Cavaliers added a pair of wide receiver recruits in their 2020 class.
Defensively, major contributors return at every position group. Finding playing time outside of potential special teams opportunities seems unlikely for most of Virginia’s 2020 recruits.
The class features a few special talents, like Gentry, but returning talent makes it tough to see some of the prospects earning meaningful playing time in 2020. That’s a good sign for the Cavaliers, who like their returning pieces and won’t need to rush recruits onto the field.
WR, RB still needs
UVa added Lavel Davis and Demick Starling to its wide receiver group in recruiting. Davis checks in at an impressive 6-foot-7 tall and could fill the role of Hasise Dubois in an offense needing a receiver who can secure contested catches in the red zone. Starling comes to Virginia without much recruiting buzz. He’s an elite athlete who starred on his school’s track team.
Both players possess different and valuable skills, but it remains to be seen what they can do in their first season in Charlottesville. It’s tough to go from high school football to Power 5 competition in one year.
Outside of those recruits, Virginia returns Terrell Jana, Tavares Kelly Jr. and Billy Kemp IV. All three receivers are possession receivers who don’t quite fill the hole left by Dubois. The Cavaliers could be on the market for a wide receiver transfer this offseason.
At running back, Taulapapa and Hollins are the two main options with Atkins and Kier leaving. UVa’s rushing attack outside of Bryce Perkins left a lot to be desired last season. Taulapapa and Hollins are both talented and could take a major step forward with improved offensive line play, but running back depth remains critically important.
Virginia didn’t add any running backs in its 2020 class. The two key returners could fill the starting roles, but it’s likely the Cavaliers want another supporting piece or two in the backfield. They may move a player from another position to running back or add a transfer.
Running back and wide receiver are two areas the Cavaliers may need help in the form of transfers or position changes.
LB lineage continues
Under Mendenhall, the Cavaliers’ linebackers create havoc. Micah Kiser dominated for the Cavaliers in 2016 and 2017, and Jordan Mack filled the role of the team’s top linebacker last season.
With Charles Snowden, Noah Taylor and Zane Zandier all returning, next year’s unit should be fearsome. The 2020 recruiting class brings in the next batch of elite linebackers.
Gentry is the team’s top 2020 recruit, but Jonathan Horton and Brandon Williams, two linebackers from Louisiana, rank second and third, according to 247 Sports. They’re both elite athletes with the ability to stop the run and rush the passer. Both players performed as outside linebackers and defensive ends in high school, making coverage skills an area for growth.
Sam Brady, the third linebacker in the 2020 class, comes to UVa with solid coverage skills. He needs to add weight, considering he’s listed at 200 pounds, but he played wide receiver and safety in high school. He brings ball skills that Horton and Williams don’t quite have.
With so much returning talent at linebacker, the incoming trio can take its time learning the defensive system and developing in the strength program before taking the torch from the upperclassmen linebackers.