Name: Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell
Hometown: Virginia Beach
24/7: 95, four stars; #3 APB, VA #4, US #67
ESPN: 84, four stars; #10 RB, VA #6, Atl. #15, US #84
Rivals: 6.1, five stars; #1 APB, VA #2, US #26
Scout: four stars; #29 RB
Other offers: Ohio State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Clemson, Tennessee, North Carolina, UCLA, NC State, Miami, California, Purdue, Illinois, Cincinnati, Vanderbilt, Boston College, various others
It's the tao of being a Virginia fan that nothing easy is ever easy. (I think I just found a new slogan for the blog.) Take Taquan Mizzell. Mizzell is a London recruit in the sense that by the time Al Groh left, we just accepted the fact that some kids were Hokies and there was nothing to be done about it. There was no reciprocal phenomenon. Now there is, and Smoke is one of those guys. Tech was never going to get him. WVU and UNC had a shot, but UVA was the heavy favorite for months.
That didn't mean we got to avoid the usual gastrointestinal pangs over the whole thing. Made them worse, actually, as Smoke flirted a bit with a few out-of-state schools. Spring and summer came and nearly went, and every time Mizzell's name was mentioned, diehard recruiting followers had JUST COMMIT ALREADY dancing through their heads.
Fortunately, he finally did. Thus did Mike London land the best-rated recruit he's ever had. Smoke is the whole package at running back, and has the potential to be UVA's best since Thomas Jones. He's got a similar build: not real tall, fairly thick and stocky although not built to be an oxback. He's got some of the best scat-back explosiveness you'll see, especially for a body built to break tackles. You watch his highlights and they're what you expect, except for one thing: he gets through the piles at the line of scrimmage before you even realize it. The only thing he lacks is Usain Bolt's sprinting speed, but it'll still take a pretty fast defensive back - or Manti Te'o at linebacker - to run him down.
Furthermore, Rivals absolutely raves about his pass-catching skills. He is "the ideal 7x7 back," according to their writers. (Too bad actual football is played 11 on 11.) Mizzell went to all sorts of 7x7 camps and proved that linebackers can't cover him. Fun times.
What this adds up to is this: even though Mizzell is built a lot like Thomas Jones, expect his usage to be more like a Jones of a more recent vintage: Perry. You know that Perry Jones is a heck of a pass-catcher out of the backfield; he's even been sent deep on a few routes. He catches screens, slants, wheels, pitchouts, the works, and for some reason, the coaches like to send him plunging into the line like a fullback, too. In Taquan Mizzell, the coaches have a weapon they can use exactly the way they used Perry Jones. Only, Mizzell is bigger, faster, and quicker. What remains to be seen is if he has Jones's running instincts, although I liked those better in 2011 than I did this year.
The other reason Smoke won't be the next Thomas Jones is that the offensive philosophy is different. Mizzell will not get 334 carries while the next back on the pecking order gets 30. That's what it took to get Thomas Jones a hair's breadth from 1,800 rushing yards. (Back then, basically all we had anyway was a freshman Arlen Harris; Antwoine Womack was sitting out the year with whichever one of his many ailments he had at the time.) Smoke will split work with Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson. But make no mistake, the work will be there. If ever there was a recruit less likely to redshirt, I've never seen it. I don't know what the future holds as far as further running back recruits, but it's unlikely one as good as Smoke will be on his way any time soon. If all goes well his workload will do nothing but increase as time goes on, and he could well be a three-years-and-out kind of player. Anyone who ever suggests redshirting Mizzell would do well to remember what happened to VT with Ryan Williams.