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Players from Virginia schools in the NFL Draft, plus free-agent signings

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Virginia Tech led all state schools with four selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, and Virginia and Liberty each had a player go in the third round.

Here is our roundup of players from Virginia schools taken in the 2022 draft, and those who signed as free agents with NFL teams following the draft.

Virginia Tech

The 2022 NFL Draft featured three Tech offensive players and one defensive player being selected. Tight end James Mitchell was the first off the board, getting selected in the fifth round (No. 177 overall) by the Detroit Lions. He became the fourth Hokie to be selected by the franchise.

Three Hokies were taken in the sixth round, starting with defensive lineman Amaré Barno (Carolina, No. 189) and then offensive linemen Luke Tenuta (Buffalo, No. 209) and Lecitus Smith (Arizona, No. 215) followed.

Virginia

Virginia tight end Jelani Woods was chosen by the Indianapolis Colts during the third round of the 2022 National Football League Draft. He was the 73rd overall player selected in the draft.

A first-team All-ACC pick in 2021, Woods caught 44 passes in 11 games for 598 yards. He averaged 13.6 yards per catch and had eight receptions go for scores.

“Jelani’s unique — I’m not gonna lie to you,” Colts general manager said. “I think he’s got really big upside, both as a receiving tight end and as a blocker. We think he’s going to be able to block … he’s a unique athlete, and he’s a guy that’s always open.”

Woods transferred to UVA from Oklahoma State, where he had appeared in 34 games with 28 career starts. With the Cowboys, he had 31 career receptions for 361 yards and four touchdowns.

“With me, I’m more of a physical guy,” Woods said. “Definitely would say a guy that attacks everything he does. Run blocking, I’m definitely very aggressive. I love contact, so I’m kind of into that. Running routes, I’m very physical at the point of attack, making breaks and I like to bang a lot. I would say I’m a versatile player that likes to do both pretty much, blocking and running routes.”

Virginia safety Joey Blount agreed to terms with the Seattle Seahawks as a free-agent signee, while wide receiver Ra’Shaun Henry is headed to the Carolina Panthers as a free agent.

Liberty

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis became the ninth player in program history to be selected in the NFL Draft when the Tennessee Titans picked him in the third round on Friday.

Willis was the 86th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He is the first Flame selected in the draft since wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden was taken in the fourth round in 2020 (142nd overall pick).

Willis was Liberty’s top offensive threat, accounting for 65.9 percent of the Flames’ total offensive yards in 2021. On the season, Willis completed 207-of-339 passing attempts for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns. The redshirt junior was also Liberty’s leading rusher, having carried the ball 197 times for 878 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Willis led the Flames to their third-straight bowl win when Liberty knocked off Eastern Michigan, 56-20, in the LendingTree Bowl on Dec. 18. Willis was named the game’s overall MVP after accounting for five touchdowns (two rushing; three passing) and 289 total offensive yards in the victory.

Willis finished the year ranked No. 8 in the country in points responsible for (242/18.6 per game), No. 18 in passing touchdowns (27), No. 20 total offense (287.7 yards per game), and No. 20 in passing yards per competition (13.83).

ODU

Former ODU football standouts Stone Smartt and Isaac Weaver signed as undrafted free agents with the Los Angeles Chargers and Jordan Young with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A four-year starter on the ODU offensive line, Weaver tied the school record for career starts with 48. He started 28 career games at left tackle, 19 at center and one at left guard. As a senior, he started 10 at center, two at left tackle and one at left guard. A three-time All-Conference USA selection, Weaver helped pave the way for Blake Watson to become the second Monarch to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, and also helped ODU break the single-game rushing record with 358 in a win against Hampton this past season.

“I’m extremely excited for Isaac,” Rahne said. “He has been a leader since the day I stepped on campus and his competitiveness was a hallmark of our team last year. His combination of strength, intensity, size and intelligence will help him have a great career at the next level.”

A four-year starter at linebacker, Young tied Weaver for the school record for career starts, along with former Monarchs Craig Wilkins and Oshane Ximines. Young broke Wilkins’ all-time program record for career tackles with 350. A native of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, Young led the team and finished seventh in Conference USA with 104 tackles this season. He reached double-digits three times and led ODU in tackles four times. In his final home game as a Monarch, he notched a season-best 12 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. In his final collegiate game, the Myrtle Beach Bowl against Tulsa, Young delivered 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack.

“Jordan has earned this opportunity with his toughness, preparation and production,” Rahne said. “Graduating as the all-time leading tackler only speaks to a portion of the monumental impact that he had on Old Dominion football.”

Smartt caught 17 passes for 167 yards and rushed for 10 yards as a senior in eight games. He also returned five kickoffs for a 24-yard average. In 2019, Smartt started seven games at quarterback, completing 101-of-177 passes for 1,006 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 181 yards and five touchdowns.

“Stone is a unique athlete that has a rare combination of size, speed and agility,” Rahne said. “He has just started to reach his full potential on a football field and this opportunity is one of which I know he will take full advantage.”

JMU

Two former James Madison football All-Americans earned rookie mini-camp invitations from NFL franchises in left tackle Liam Fornadel and defensive tackle Mike Greene.

Fornadel received an invitation for mini-camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Greene will have the opportunity with both the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The two were part of four CAA championships, five FCS postseason appearances and two trips to the NCAA Division I National Championship Game.

Fornadel played in 55 career games for the Dukes, making 41 starts on the offensive line, and was a two-time All-American. This past season, he helped JMU’s offense rank third nation in both completion percentage (.676) and pass efficiency rating (171.0), fifth in scoring (38.3), eighth in fewest interceptions (5), 12th on third down (44.4%), 14th in the red zone (88.5%) and 17th in both passing average (276.3) and total offense (435.4).

Greene appeared in 57 games during his career, including 48 starts on the defensive line. He earned First Team All-America laurels in each of his final two seasons, which included being a Stats Perform FCS Buck Buchanan Award finalist in the spring 2021 season (9th in final vote). He was voted 2020 CAA Defensive Player of the Year and was a three time All-CAA selection. Greene finished his career with 177 career tackles with 39.0 tackles for loss, 18.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and one recovery.

Richmond

University of Richmond linebacker Tyler Dressler (Covington, Va.) was invited to participate in a pair of NFL mini-camps in the coming weeks with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets.

Dressler was a five-year member of the Spiders and a three-time first-team All-CAA selection. He played in 43 career games, making 25 starts over his last three seasons. He finished his career with 249 tackles, including 27.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He also added four interceptions in his career.

William & Mary

Former William & Mary All-America offensive lineman Andrew Trainer signed a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Chargers.

A three-year starter at left tackle, Trainer earned All-America honors by Phil Steele following a tremendously productive senior season.

The two-time All-CAA standout garnered first-team all-conference honors last fall after helping W&M lead the CAA and rank 16th nationally with 205.5 rushing yards per game at the conclusion of the regular season. Additionally, W&M’s 19 rushing touchdowns tied for the league’s top total, while it averaged 5.0 yards per carry – nearly matching the program’s single-season record (5.1) set in 1990.

The offensive line was equally as effective in pass protection, as it ranked tied for eighth nationally in fewest sacks allowed per game (1.0) and 10th in fewest sacks allowed (11).

Norfolk State

Former Norfolk State star De’Shaan Dixon has signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Dixon, a native of Chesapeake, racked up 54 tackles and recorded a MEAC-high 12.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in his senior season with the Spartans, earning first-team all-conference honors. He was one of four players to represent NSU at the 2022 HBCU Legacy Bowl in New Orleans.

As a junior, Dixon received an All-MEAC third team selection as he took an increased role in the Spartans’ defense. He totaled 61 tackles,  seven tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and seven quarterback hurries.

Story by Chris Graham

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].