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UVA loses Malik Washington, but still has a lot to work with at wideout

Chris Graham
trell harris uva
UVA wideout Trell Harris. Photo: UVA Athletics

JR Wilson, a junior wideout at Virginia, should know better than to say what he said to reporters last week about the wide-receivers group he’s a part of heading into the 2024 season.

“I would say there is no drop-off. I feel like this is one of the best receiver groups that’s been to UVA in a long time on paper,” said Wilson, who, OK, he’s only been with the program since 2022, Year 1 of the Tony Elliott era, so, sure, we can cut him some slack.

The 2024 group looks like it has potential, but is it the 2021 group – Dontayvion Wicks, Keytaon Thompson, Billy Kemp IV, Ra’Shaun Henry, which accounted for a record-setting 4,711 yards through the air?

If it’s anything close, 2024 is going to be fun.

In the here and now, wide-receivers coach Adam Mims is focused on getting his guys reps in spring practice, and figuring out the pecking order heading into training camp in July.

Mims won’t have Malik Washington (110 catches, 1,426 yards, 9 TDs in 2023) to work with, but Virginia did land a Washington type off the transfer portal in the form of 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).

Elliott also picked up two other valuable receiver pieces from the portal – 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 the top returning wideout from the UVA 2023 wideout group, Malachi 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 right there.

Wilson has been a guy that people who frequent UVA practices will tell you has something to offer that you wouldn’t necessarily see from his profile – he was a three-star prep recruit coming out of Brooklyn, N.Y., not necessarily a prep football hotbed, and he has a very modest 18 catches on 35 targets for 184 yards and a 54.9 NFL passer rating on his targets in his two seasons to this point.

Should throw in here, at tight end, which had just one returnee on the roster, freshman John Rogers, Elliott improved things by adding 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 PFF grade of 71.3.

So, there’s a lot to work with at wideout and at tight end, and a lot of targets for the QBs – the two guys who split the starts in 2023, Tony Muskett and Anthony Colandrea, and New Mexico State transfer Gavin Frakes – to get the ball to.

There’s also a lot of competition between the guys, and a lot of evaluation work for Mims, offensive coordinator Des Kitchings, and Elliott.

“What’s life without competition? There’s gonna be competition everywhere you go,” said Wilson, showing, good attitude there, kid.

“That’s kind of part of the game, you know, and I explained to the guys back in December, that, you know, my job is to find the best players, and we were able to find some pretty good ones to come in and fill some holes that we had,” Mims said.

“It’s healthy competition, you know, and I encourage these guys to have healthy competition, because it’ll push them to be better,” Mims said. “I don’t want guys that will shy away from competition. This is such a competitive sport already, you know. Every play is a one-on-one, every play is man-versus-man. So, you got to be a competitor to play this game. And when we can have healthy competition within our room, it’s only going to make us better.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," 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].