Home Analysis: Elliott’s UVA transfer-portal class meeting the needs for 2024

Analysis: Elliott’s UVA transfer-portal class meeting the needs for 2024

Chris Graham
tony elliott
Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia Football coach Tony Elliott entered the 2023-2024 offseason with two imperatives: don’t lose anybody significant to the portal, and as possible, mine the portal to address roster deficiencies.

Big check marks for both for Elliott on meeting those goals.

Before the transfer portal formally opened on Dec. 4, I wrote a column on the eight players that Virginia could not afford to lose.

The Great 8: linebacker Kam Robinson, safety Jonas Sanker, wideout Malachi Fields, quarterback Anthony Colandrea, cornerback Dre Walker, offensive linemen McKale Boley and Blake Steen, edge rusher Chico Bennett Jr.

I would have put offensive lineman Brian Stevens on that list had it been clear that he would have been eligible to return for a sixth year, and defensive end Kam Butler would have made the list if there had been any thought that he could be back for a seventh.

Guys just on the other side of the cut line for my list who are nice adds are D linemen Jahmeer Carter and Ben Smiley.

That’s 12 guys that were key contributors in 2023 that are coming back.

The 14 UVA players in the portal, no offense meant here, all expendable, and that’s not just me saying that – of the 14, only two, tailback Amaad Foston (Hampton) and O lineman Snoop Leota-Amaama (Nevada) have landed scholarship offers elsewhere.

Weighing it all out, On3 ranks Elliott’s 2024 transfer class 27th nationally, and 247Sports has it 38th nationally.

For all his troubles on the prep recruiting trail – On3 had the 2024 Virginia class 74th, 247Sports had it 82nd – not bad, what Elliott was able to do with the transfers.


anthony colandrea
Anthony Colandrea. Photo: UVA Athletics

The depth at QB was addressed with the addition of New Mexico State QB Gavin Frakes from the transfer portal.

Frakes, a 6’4”, 220-pound redshirt freshman, sat out the 2023 season as a redshirt after starting five games as a true freshman in 2022.

After New Mexico State coach Jerry Kill decided to step down after a successful two-year run back on Dec. 23, Frakes decided to hit the transfer portal, and reports had him setting his sights on Virginia early on.

Frakes, at the least, should provide depth to the QB room at Virginia, which has the great problem of having had two guys, Anthony Colandrea and Tony Muskett, get multiple starts in the 2023 season.

Colandrea, a true freshman, finished the season as the QB1 after Muskett, a grad transfer from Monmouth, who won the starting job in the final week of training camp, went down to injury in Virginia’s 45-17 loss to Georgia Tech on Nov. 4.

Colandrea led the team in passing (1,958 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs, 62.6% completion rate, 139.6 QB rating), but Muskett put up nice numbers in his more limited action (1,031 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs, 63.% completion rate, 128.8 QB rating).

The issue for Elliott was lack of depth behind those two, with the third-string guy in 2023 being a walk-on, Grady Brosterhous, who was used primarily in short-yardage situations this past season.

Frakes passed for 550 yards, four TDs, seven INTs and had a 105.5 QB rating at NMSU in 2022.

Wideouts and tight ends

malachi fields
Malachi Fields. Photo: UVA Athletics

Elliott beefed up the wide-receiver room via the portal with Chris Tyree (82 catches on 102 targets, 945 yards, 11.5 yards per catch, 7 TDs, 124.1 NFL passer rating on his targets in four seasons at Notre Dame), Trell Harris (39 catches on 68 targets, 534 yards, 13.7 yards per catch, two TDs, 92.4 NFL passer rating on his targets in two seasons at Kent State), and former four-star prep recruit Andre Greene (five catches in two seasons at UNC).

Those guys, combined with Fields (58 catches on 100 targets, 811 yards, 14.0 yards per catch, five TDs, 71.7 NFL passer rating on his targets in 2023), that’s a deep and talented WR unit.

The tight end group, which had just one returnee on the roster, freshman John Rogers,  adds two incoming transfers, former Clemson tight end Sage Ennis and former Harvard tight end Tyler Neville.

Ennis will be a grad transfer after seeing action for four seasons at Clemson, where Elliott was the offensive coordinator through the end of the 2021 season. The 6’4”, 235-pounder was on the field for a total of 457 offensive snaps over his four years, 173 in the 2023 season.

As a receiver, Ennis had a modest six catches on 10 targets across his four seasons. Ennis had a Pro Football Focus blocking grade of 61.0 in 2023.

Neville, a 6’4”, 235-pound big target, is a Williamsburg native (Lafayette High School) who will compete as a grad transfer at Virginia in 2024. Neville had 24 catches on 45 targets at Harvard in 2023, gaining 283 yards and scoring four TDs, with a Pro Football Focus grade of 71.3.

O line

uva offensive line
Photo: UVA Athletics

Next, looking at the O line, this group should actually be a position of strength for Elliott, offensive coordinator Des Kitchings and offensive line coach Terry Heffernan.

The announcement by Stevens that he will return for a COVID-redshirt senior season was a huge shot in the arm.

Stevens, in 2023, played 869 snaps, with a 77.1 Pro Football Focus grade, tops on the unit, and on 473 pass dropbacks, he allowed a starters-low one sack and nine total QB pressures.

With Stevens back at center, Virginia will have seven guys from its 2023 O line who got at least 100 snaps.

The left side of the line will return left guard Noah Josey (870 snaps, three sacks, 23 QB pressures, 63.5 PFF grade) and left tackle McKale Boley (847 snaps, two sacks, 18 QB pressures, 62.8 PFF grade).

The right side returns right guard Ty Furnish (772 snaps, four sacks, 28 QB pressures, 47.9 PFF grade), and three guys who split the snaps at right tackle – Blake Steen (466 snaps, six snaps, 18 QB pressures, 52.2 PFF grade), Ugonna Nnanna (382 snaps, eight sacks, 17 QB pressures, 41.7 PFF grade) and Jimmy Christ (146 snaps, one sack, eight QB pressures, 41.6 PFF grade).

The transfer portal brought in depth in the form of Drake Metcalf, a transfer from Central Florida by way of Stanford, where he played for two seasons under Heffernan.

Metcalf has primarily played at center in his three college seasons, logging 200 snaps at center at Central Florida in 2023 – allowing one sack and two total QB pressures on 90 pass dropbacks, with a 63.0 PFF grade.

Having another guy who can play at center – Stevens started the last 10 games in 2023 at center, taking over for Furnish, who started at center in the first two games of the season – is great for depth.

D line

uva defensive line
Photo: UVA Athletics

The D line benefitted mainly by not losing anybody to the portal. First, we’ll talk about Bennett, who had to battle through a freak knee injury at the end of training camp to get on the field, and ended up getting 556 snaps in 11 games, recording 34 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 28 QB pressures and one sack, and a Pro Football Focus grade of 60.1.

The edge rusher will compete as a sixth-year senior in 2024. He missed the 2021 season at UVA with an ACL injury after transferring from Georgia Tech, where he’d played two seasons at linebacker. Carter, a defensive tackle, will be a fifth-year senior in 2024. In 2023, he was on the field for 557 snaps, with 35 tackles, eight QB pressures and one sack, and a PFF grade of 60.4.

Smiley, like Bennett, will also be a sixth-year in 2024. Smiley was in on 387 snaps in 2023, with 15 tackles, eight QB pressures and two sacks, and a 51.0 PFF grade.

Butler will be a (gulp!) seventh-year in 2024. His college career started way, way back in 2018 at Miami (Ohio), where he played four seasons before transferring to Virginia in 2022.

He played at UVA in 2022 as a grad transfer, then got an extra year from the NCAA along with his teammates in the aftermath of the tragic end to the 2022 season, following the murders of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.

His 2023 got cut short four games in with a pec injury in the NC State game that led to season-ending surgery.

The medical redshirt will get Butler back on the field next fall, which should be a huge boost to the D line.

In 2023, Butler was on the field for 212 snaps, and he recorded 23 tackles, 11 QB pressures, 3.5 sacks and had a 69.5 PFF grade.

The returning guys, grizzled vets, given their age and experience, will make the UVA D line a position group of strength next fall.


Last but not least here in our transfer portal wrap-up, the secondary added three guys from the portal – former Eastern Michigan cornerback Kempton Shine, former Penn cornerback Kendren Smith and former Akron safety/linebacker Corey Thomas.

Shine will be a grad transfer in 2024, after seeing action in four full seasons and four games in his 2019 true freshman season.

Lots of run for Shine – 2,473 career defensive snaps, including a career-high 797 in 2023, in which he achieved a career-best 74.0 PFF grade.

In 2023, Shine had 54 tackles at corner, and in pass coverage, he allowed 31 catches on 55 targets, for 463 yards, five TDs and a 108.4 NFL passer rating against, with five pass breakups.

Smith, in 2023 at Penn, earned an 85.1 PFF grade, getting on the field for 697 defensive snaps, with 57 tackles, and 23 catches allowed on 43 targets, for 178 yards, with six PBUs and a 63.9 NFL passer rating against.

Thomas, a 6’4”, 215-pounder, logged snaps as an edge rusher, linebacker, slot corner and free safety in 2023.

In 598 snaps, he had 51 tackles, two QB pressures, and allowed 16 catches on 27 targets, with two PBUs and an 83.4 NFL passer rating against.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].