Surprises As WVU Alums Fall in NFL Draft Order
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia was not undefeated this past football season but it certainly was underrated in the National Football League draft.
The school got so little respect for its personnel in this draft that it might consider changing its name from WVU to RDU… Rodney Dangerfield University.
After quarterback Will Grier was a near-midnight choice in the third round on the second day with the 100th pick, the tone was set. This was a draft in which some thought Grier would at best be a first-round pick or a late second-round selection at worst .
Seconds later, with the next pick, tackle Yodny Cajuste was selected to help avoid a shutout through the first two days.
Three other players were Saturday draft picks to wrap up the draft. Wide receiver Gary Jennings was gobbled up by Seattle in the fourth round with the 120th selection followed immediately by tight end Trevon Wesco going to the New York Jets with pick No. 121.
Then linebacker David Long lasted until the sixth round when he was taken by the Tennessee Titans with the 188th pick…the last Mountaineer chosen.
In a shocking turn of events, David Sills V was completely passed over. Two-hundred and fifty-four picks over three days and no one wanted him, a repeat All-Big 12 selection at wide receiver, and a third-team AP All-American after being named a second team All-American last year.
Sills signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent shortly after the draft.
Grier finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting and was second team All-Big 12 behind Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma, Long was the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year and a second team AP All-American, Cajuste an All-Big 12 first team selection and a second-team Football Writers Association All-American.
It is difficult to explain away their low draft positions, for this was a team that finished 8-4 and came within four points of qualifying for the Big 12 Championship game, losing the regular season finale to eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback by a field goal, 59-56.
Grier was the central figure in the draft for WVU. With two brothers who are Internet sensations, there was a strong Internet presence at his house for his watch party, one that turned into a downer as the first day turned into the second and second day was reaching its conclusion.
But then came a call from the Panthers general manager Marty Hurney and coach Ron Rivera telling Grier he had been picked by his hometown team. As the scene was streamed around the world, Grier promised Rivera, “I won’t let you down.”
What made the scene so surreal is that Grier’s home is just down the road from the Panthers’ facility.
“I could walk there,” Grier told the Charlotte Observer.
Grier then repeated a theme he started at the NFL Combine.
“I think the Panthers just got the best quarterback in the draft and long term I’d love to bring a Super Bowl to Charlotte,” he said.
It’s a long-term goal because the Panthers are well-established at quarterback with Cam Newton, and Hurney made it clear Grier was not being brought in to challenge for his job.
“Nothing to do with Cam,” Hurney said. “This is about depth and bringing in young guys and developing young quarterbacks. This has nothing to do with Cam Newton. Cam Newton is our starting quarterback and our franchise quarterback.”
Newton is 30 and Hurney says he does not feel threatened.
“Nobody appreciates the concept of depth more than Cam Newton does,” Hurney said. “This is another guy in the quarterback room. Knowing Will Grier and spending time with him, I think he’s going to get along with Cam and the rest of the quarterbacks as well.”
Jennings also had a family watch party going when his call finally came and it became frantic.
First there was a phone from general manager John Schneider, to whom Jennings vowed, “I won’t let you down.”
“You fired up?” asked Schneider.
“Yeah, let’s get it,” answered Jennings.
Coach Pete Carroll then came on the phone and Jennings greeted him with “I’m ready to roll. Let’s go.”
“The coaches are fired up, too,” said Carroll. “They can’t wait to yell at you.”
“I’m ready, coach,” Jennings said, laughing as everyone in the room broke out into a loud cheer, jumping on each other and hugging.