Military Bowl presented by - Virginia Tech v Tulane
Getty Images

One of the great offseason traditions in college football is hunting for a team that could exceed expectations during the upcoming season. The quest for that squad is constant, whether you want to call them a sleeper team or dark horse contender.

Popular criteria for finding these teams has always been a strong finish to the previous season and a favorable schedule in the next. This is why Virginia Tech is a program being thrown around in a lot of these conversations. After a 2-4 start to the 2023 season that saw the Hokies lose games to Purdue, Rutgers and Marshall while getting spanked by Florida State, a corner was turned. Virginia Tech won five of its final seven games, including comfortable wins over Wake Forest, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia and Tulane in a rain-soaked Military Bowl.

A peek at the 2024 schedule shows promise. While there are nonconference games at Vanderbilt as well as rematches with Marshall and Rutgers, only the tilt against the Commodores is on the road. As for conference play, there's a road trip to Miami to start and a home game against Clemson, but there is no Florida State. There's no NC State. Notre Dame is nowhere to be found (it's not a conference game, but you'd still prefer to avoid the Fighting Irish). There are plenty of winnable games and opportunities to improve on last year's 7-5 record and make a surprise run to the ACC Championship Game.

While all that's important, there's another reason people are high on the Hokies. His name is Kyron Drones, and regardless of how things finished last season or what's on the schedule in 2024, Drones' development and improvement as the team's star quarterback will ultimately decide how far the Hokies go this coming season.

Who is Kyron Drones?

Drones is one of my favorite archetypes of college quarterbacks. He's a tank. A four-star member of the 2021 recruiting class, Drones originally committed to Baylor and played sparingly over two seasons with the Bears before transferring to Blacksburg, Virginia, last season. When he showed up in Waco, Texas, as a freshman, he was listed at 6-2 and 195 pounds. He's now listed at 6-2 and 234 pounds; and, make no mistake, the 40 pounds he's added haven't come from spending too much time in the cafeteria.

It's no coincidence that Virginia Tech's improvement down the stretch last season came as Drones played better. As a transfer, Drones didn't begin last season as Tech's starting QB. That honor went to Grant Wells, who started the first two games and lost the job to Drones ahead of the road trip to Rutgers. Considering he had just transferred in, it makes sense that Drones would need time to get comfortable, which showed in the results. Here's a breakdown of his numbers in his first four starts compared to the final seven.

Kyron DronesPassing EfficiencyPass YPGRush YPGPass TDRush TDYPAWhoopsy Daisy RateSuper Cool New QB Metric

First four starts









Final seven starts









For clarity, Whoopsy Daisy Rate is the number of interceptions and fumbles by a QB divided by snaps played. The lower the number, the better. The column labeled Super Cool New QB Metric is another metric I've created modeled after passing efficiency, but it also includes a quarterback's rushing output. I have developed the metric but still need to create a name. A score of 100 is average, and anything higher than 150 is pretty dang good. Elite territory creeps in at about 175 (only Bo Nix and Jayden Daniels crossed that threshold in 2023). Drones' overall mark of 103.11 ranked 60th of 130 qualified QBs, so he was above average, but there's plenty of room to grow.

That's evident not only when looking at the numbers but also when looking at the tape.

Drones the runner

As you'd expect with a 235-pound QB who can move, the Hokies used Drones frequently in the run game. His size is his greatest asset as a runner, as you rarely saw him brought down by the first defender to make contact with him, and he often broke defensive linemen's tackle attempts. Drones is not the most explosive open-field runner, though. In fact, while he improved as the season progressed, his instincts as a runner could use fine tuning. There are plenty of instances where Drones runs into a tackle when he could have picked up more yards.

This play against Wake Forest is a good example. Drones follows his back and right guard on a draw (a play the Hokies run frequently), and as he crosses the line of scrimmage, he has three blockers in front of him on three defenders. If Drones simply continues running in a straight line, he's liable to pick up another 10 yards and maybe more if he breaks a tackle. Instead, he cuts left directly into an engaged defender and goes down for a short gain. What could've been a chunk play ended with 5 yards.

That's the most glaring example, and while there are other plays featuring much less bewildering decisions, this isn't the only head-scratcher. Of course, there are good moments, too! While you don't see many of the 59-yard runs he had against Boston College, Drones effectively picks up yards in smaller chunks to help keep the chains moving.

He's unlikely to ever develop into former LSU QB and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels in the open field because he lacks top-end speed. If he gains a better understanding of how to read blocks, however, he could become an even more effective runner, which would benefit the Hokies offense.

Drones the passer

This is the area where Drones needs to improve the most and one that will have the greatest impact on the ceiling of Virginia Tech's offense. Virginia Tech did not run the most complex playbook last season. While some new wrinkles were added as the season went on, the Hokies primarily ran a lot of the same plays repeatedly. The offense was tailored to Drones' strengths, a logical decision by Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen.

One thing they like to do is get Drones rolling to his right; he shows strong accuracy throwing on the move, and the threat of his legs can keep defenders from getting enough depth in coverage. No play exemplifies this better than a simple rollout flood concept Tech ran repeatedly. In the play, one receiver runs a vertical clear out while another runs a deep out. Then, there's a crosser from the left -- usually the tight end -- and the low man running a route closer to the line of scrimmage.

In this example against Boston College, the receiver running the lowest route gets caught up in the carnage at the line of scrimmage as he comes across from the left side of the formation, but Drones still finds the crosser in tight end Dae'Quan Wright for a big gain. This is where Drones typically goes with the ball on this play, so I assume it's his first read.

Progression is another aspect of Drones' game that needs development. For the most part, when Drones can go to the first read on a play, he's effective. He displays good timing and accuracy. He's not nearly as consistent or reliable when the first read is not there. This is not out of the ordinary for the majority of young quarterbacks. While Drones didn't turn the ball over a lot last year, based on some of the decisions he made when the first read wasn't there, you can argue he was rather lucky.

Drones also struggled with the deep ball. He was only 9 of 42 on passes of at least 20 air yards last season, and more than a few of the misses were by yards, not feet or inches. While he's unlikely to become a pinpoint passer down the field, you want to see better accuracy on these plays to force defenses to cover a larger portion of the field. It would make things easier for everybody, not just Drones.


Final thoughts

I understand if you get the impression I'm not a fan given my critiques, but that is not the case. I am very much a Kyron Drones fan, and he's included in my pre-spring QB Power Rankings for a reason.

There isn't a QB in the country without weaknesses. If you need proof, ask 15 different college football fans who the best QB will be in college football next season. You'll get 10 different answers. Drones is not somebody I anticipate being the best QB in the country, but who he is right now is an above-average starter who can help you win games.

As I said from the beginning, if Virginia Tech wants to take another step forward in 2024, it'll need Drones to take a step forward himself. As I break down Drones as a prospect, I do not see a player likely to develop into an early-round draft pick. However, I do see a player who can grow from being an above-average college QB to a good and possibly even great college QB. A full offseason preparing as the starter certainly won't hurt, and more reps should also be beneficial.

He's a player I plan on keeping a close eye on in the 2024 season.