RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — When it comes to producing elite football talent, Virginia does not necessarily have the same reputation as powerhouses like Texas, Florida or California.
Sure, some of the best players in history have come from Virginia, such as Lawrence Taylor, Kam Chancellor, Willie Lanier and Michael Vick, but the relatively small quantity of prospects historically has made players like them the exception rather than the rule.
Every year, the NFL Draft gives fans the opportunity to get a preview of the next generation of NFL talent and young players take the next steps on their journey to becoming household names. Keep reading to see who Virginia has sent to football’s biggest stage this year:
Round 7, Pick #259: Nazeeh Johnson
6’2″, 189 Lbs.
High School: Millbrook (Winchester)
College: Marshall University (West Virginia)
Nazeeh Johnson was a standout on both sides of the ball at Millbrook High School in Winchester. As a senior defensive back in 2015, Johnson deflected ten passes and had four interceptions. On offense, Johnson played both running back and wideout. He rushed for over a thousand yards, had 19 touchdowns, and caught 16 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns.
Johnson started all 13 games as a redshirt sophomore and junior at Marshall University. During his redshirt senior season, he led the Thundering Herd in interceptions and was selected to the All-Conference USA second team. In 2021, he was an honorable mention to the All-Conference USA team.
Johnson was selected in the seventh round by the Kansas City Chiefs. He will likely be in a backup role or on special teams, but anything is possible given the amount of uncertainty surrounding Kansas City’s secondary this year.
Round 6, Pick #216: Curtis Brooks
6’2″, 285 Lbs.
Position: Defensive Tackle
High School: George Washington (Danville)
Last season, Curtis Brooks was one of the best defensive players on a team that was so good, it changed the way people think about non-Power Five programs. As a high schooler, Curtis Brooks was called one of the area’s “most terrorizing” defensive lineman by the Danville Register & Bee and was named to the All-Region 4A second team.
In college, Brooks was part of a defense that led the American Athletic Conference in rushing, scoring, passing efficiency and total defense in 2020. In 2021, Brooks led the Bearcats in sacks and tackles for loss, and was named First Team All-AAC. During that season, Cincinnati ranked No. 5 in scoring defense, No. 10 in overall defense and gave up the fourth-fewest yards per play in the nation.
Brooks was selected by the Indianapolis Colts, who already have a great defense but could certainly use more young talent on the interior line.
Round 6, Pick #209: Luke Tenuta
6’9″, 322 Lbs.
High School: Western Albemarle (Crozet)
College: Virginia Tech
Luke Tenuta was an all-state football player in Class 3A at Western Albemarle, recording 52.5 tackles and 11 tackles for loss on the defensive line and receiving all-conference, all-district and all-region honors on the offensive line.
In his first season as a Hokie, Tenuta blocked a field goal to force overtime against North Carolina in a game that Virginia Tech would win 43-41. The next year, Tenuta was part of a Hokies offensive line that led the Atlantic Coast Conference in average rushing yards per game and broke the school record for average yards per carry.
Tenuta was named to the All-ACC Third Team in 2020 and was invited to the East-West Shrine Bowl in 2022. Tenuta was drafted by the Buffalo Bills and is currently listed as their third-string left tackle.
Round 5, Pick 177: James Mitchell
6’3″, 255 Lbs.
Position: Tight End
High School: Union (Big Stone Gap)
College: Virginia Tech
As a high schooler in Big Stone Gap, James Mitchell was an all-state tight end all four years and was named VHSL Class 2A Offensive Player of the Year in 2017.
In college, Mitchell scored on the ground and through the air with the Hokies. In 2019, Mitchell carried the ball five times and went into the end zone on all of those occasions except one. He also caught 21 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns. In 2020, Mitchell had two games with over 60 receiving yards and one with over 100. He missed much of the 2021 season due to a knee injury.
Mitchell was selected by the Detroit Lions, and as the fourth tight end on the depth chart, he’ll most likely see the field on special teams. He could eventually make his way to becoming a target for quarterback Jared Goff if the tight end room begins to deal with injuries.
Round 4, Pick #130: Jordan Stout
6’3″, 209 Lbs.
High School: Honaker (Russell County)
College: Penn State
Jordan Stout was selected 50 picks before the “punt god” Matt Ariaza, who broke the NCAA record for average yards per punt last year and has become one of the most hyped punter prospects in history. In high school in Southeastern Virginia, Stout was all-state and all-conference three times and was perfect in his nine field-goal attempts as a senior.
Stout played his first year of college football at Virginia Tech, where he ranked No. 4 in FBS for touchback percentage. In his first year after transferring to Penn State, he ranked fourth in FBS for touchbacks and was named team captain the season after. In his last year at Penn State, Stout was a Resee’s Senior Bowl All-American and was awarded the Eddleman-Fields Big Ten Punter of the Year.
Stout was selected by the Baltimore Ravens, where he’ll be able to learn under seasoned veteran and former Pro Bowler Sam Koch.
Round 4, Pick #120: Brandon Smith
6’3″, 241 Lbs.
Position: Middle Linebacker
High School: Louisa County
College: Penn State
Brandon Smith, who was born in Henrico County but attended Louisa County High School, was one of the most highly-regarded linebacker prospects in this year’s draft and somehow fell all the way to the fourth round.
As a senior in high school, Smith was selected to the USA Today All-USA first team, MaxPreps All-America first team and was named 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year, VHSL Class 4 Defensive Player of the Year, and a finalist for the high school Butkus Award, among numerous other awards and accolades.
Coming out of high school, Smith was ranked the 12th overall player in the nation, No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 1 player in Virginia. As a Nittany Lion, Smith was voted third-team All-Big Ten by coaches and was a Butkus Award semifinalist.
Smith was selected by the Carolina Panthers and could definitely see playing time this year, as they continue to find a replacement for Panthers legend and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Luke Kuechly.