The Virginia Tech Hokies are eager to get back on the field for a potential rebound season. It wasn’t long ago that junior cornerback Jermaine Waller was considered one of the biggest defensive threats in the ACC. This season, Waller is looking to return to that status of high efficiency and dominance on the field.
After playing 12 games in his freshman season in 2018, Waller became an efficient starter in the 2019 season. While Caleb Farley was the number one man-coverage cornerback for the Hokies, Waller was a reliable number two. Waller accumulated 46 total tackles, 33 solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, ten pass breakups, and three interceptions. He was contested 17 times in passes that season while only allowing two receptions. Pro Football Focus gave Waller a 78.2 man-coverage grade for the 2019 season, the fourth-highest among returning cornerbacks in 2020.
Pro Football Focus ranked Waller #16 of all returning defensive backs for the 2020 college football season. Waller’s status on the team rose to the number one cornerback when Farley decided to forgo the 2020 season due to COVID-19 and prepared for the 2021 NFL Draft. Waller played two games in the 2020 season as he battled injuries throughout the season.
Waller returns as the number one man-coverage cornerback, as redshirt freshman Dorian Strong remains the other starting corner. When healthy, Waller is a highly athletic man-coverage cornerback with great instincts. He can judge when the ball is coming to the receiver’s hands where he can make the pass breakup. Waller can stick to his assigned receiver through distinctive routes. Finally, he is one of the most reliable defensive players for the Hokies as he can make tackles in the open field, especially in the backfield, without missing.
The Hokies need to be more efficient on the defensive side of the ball after they were ranked 82nd in the nation in points allowed per game (32.1). They were even worse at defending the opposing passing game. The Hokies were ranked 99th in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game (243.9). Having Waller and Strong returning as the starting cornerbacks for the Hokies will make a tremendous impact on the team’s ability to defend the passing game.
Waller will get his chance for a significant return when the Hokies host the #9 North Carolina Tar Heels on September 3rd. The Tar Heels will be lead by their starting quarterback Heisman Trophy hopeful Sam Howell. He is considered an early top prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft. This game versus North Carolina will be a challenge for the Hokies, but it is one that Waller will be ready for in his return as the number on starting cornerback.