WVU Players Figure Prominently In This Year’s NFL Draft
Six former Mountaineer football players appear likely to hear their names called in the upcoming NFL Draft, which will take place this Thursday through Saturday in Nashville .
While WVU has produced four first-round picks in the past seven drafts, most of this year’s projections predict that none of the West Virginia alums will go that high in this draft. But all the mock drafts expect six Mountaineers to go at some point before the seventh round is completed on Saturday.
If offensive lineman Yodny Cajuste, quarterback Will Grier, wide receiver Gary Jennings, linebacker David Long, wide receiver David Sills and tight end Trevon Wesco all are drafted this year, it would be among the most productive NFL drafts for WVU players in the history of pro football’s selection process, which dates back to 1936. West Virginia lineman Joe Stydahar was the second-ever NFL pick in that first-ever draft of ‘36, taken by Chicago one choice after Jay Berwanger (Philadelphia), though Berwanger, who won the initial Heisman Trophy, never played in the NFL.
Since Stydahar, there have been 188 other Mountaineers drafted by NFL teams, including at least one each year from 2003 to 2018. All indications are that streak will continue in 2019.
The most WVU players ever drafted came in 1989, when eight Mountaineers from the previous season’s Fiesta Bowl team were selected (Bo Orlando, Craig Taylor, Undra Johnson, Craig Parker, A.B. Brown, Alvoid Mays, Pat Marlatt and Brian Smider). But the NFL Draft that year consisted of 12 rounds in 1989, almost double the current seven rounds. West Virginia also saw seven of its players picked in 1990 (Renaldo Turnbull, Reggie Rembert, Mike Fox, Basil Proctor, Jack Linn, Lonnie Brockman and Major Harris) in another 12-round draft. There were also seven Mountaineers chosen in the 1954 draft (Tommy Allman, Ralph Starkey, Bill Marker, Ben Dunkerley, Jerry Cooper, Bill Jarrett and Jack Stone), which was 30 rounds in length.
The NFL Draft moved to its current seven-round model in 1994, and since then the most Mountaineers picked was six in 1999 (Charles Fisher, John Thornton, Solomon Page, Gary Stills, Amos Zereoue and Kevin Landolt), all of whom were taken in the first four rounds. WVU produced five draft choices in 2016 (Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley, Nick Kwiatkoski, Wendell Smallwood and K.J. Dillon), and four in 2011 (Brandon Hogan, Robert Sands, J.T. Thomas and Chris Nield), 2000 (Anthony Becht, Jerry Porter, Barrett Green and Marc Bulger) and 1996 (Aaron Beasley, John Browning, Kantroy Barber and Lovett Purnell).
This year, besides Cajuste, Grier, Jennings, Long, Sills and Wesco, there are a number of other seniors from last year’s West Virginia squad who also hope to either be drafted or at least get free agent opportunities in the NFL. Those other pro prospects include defensive backs Dravon Askew-Henry and Toyous Avery, defensive linemen Kenny Bigelow, Jabril Robinson and Ezekiel Rose, offensive linemen Joe Brown and Isaiah Hardy, wide receiver Dominique Maiden and punter Billy Kinney.
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According to NFL.com, six former Mountaineers are projected to be picked in this year’s draft, and all are projected to go in rounds three through five.
Here is a look at the NFL.com analysis of each of those WVU prospects:
NFL.com analysis of Yodny Cajuste: Draft projection round 3-4 – “Well built with physical ability to stay in front of NFL pass rushers if he continues to refine his pass sets and improve his hand usage. Cajuste has the traits and talent but doesn’t play as ‘bendy’ in his lower body as expected, which causes inconsistencies with balance in both the run and pass game. He might end up being more of a positional and stalemate blocker than drive blocker in the run game so he will need to shine in pass pro, which will take work. He has starting tackle talent with the body type for consideration inside.”
NFL.com analysis of Will Grier: Draft projection round 4 – “Grier benefited from the West Virginia system, but that same system definitely benefited from his time there. He is a confident leader who would much rather press for the big throw than play it safe underneath. His lack of plus arm talent and release quickness might not match his gunslinger mentality against an NFL secondary. Grier will have to win from the pocket, which means working the middle of the field with better anticipation and getting rid of the ball much sooner. His disappointing Senior Bowl and combine performances have likely hurt his stock.”
NFL.com analysis of wide receiver Gary Jennings: Draft projection round 3-4 – “Possession receiver with impressive combination of size, speed and contested catch toughness. Jennings was one of the fastest players at the Senior Bowl, according to Zebra Technology tracking, and his 4.42 combine time and huge numbers in explosive testing are sure to push him up draft boards. He needs to play faster and sharpen his routes to become more than a traits-based backup.”
NFL.com analysis of linebacker David Long: Draft projection round 4 – “Ultra-productive but undersized, teams will have to decipher how much of his production is translatable and how much came from his brazen, downhill approach. Long plays with a ‘scared money don’t make money’ approach that hit jackpots but pulled him out of position more than NFL coaches will be comfortable, with, but teams would rather dial back aggression than try and coach it up. He plays with some twitch, but his lack of size and strength could push him into a role as a backup 4-3 WILL with eventual starter potential in the right scheme.”
NFL.com analysis of wide receiver David Sills: Draft projection round 4-5 – “Tall, thin target with below-average play strength and separation ability, but very impressive ball skills to compete when it’s in the air. Sills won’t see as many free releases and easy long balls on the next level. He needs to get stronger and more efficient with his press release technique and dig into the craft of route running to make himself a more viable first- and second-level target. He should continue to improve but the transition to the pros could be challenging early on.”
NFL.com analysis of tight end Trevon Wesco: Draft projection round 4-5 – “Wesco has the play strength and toughness of an NFL tight end, but he’s still very raw in the passing game, which could take some time to shore up. He has a terrific demeanor as a run-blocker and the footwork to become much more consistent in sustaining blocks once he gets his hand placement corrected. Teams might view him as an early developmental prospect on the practice squad with a chance to compete for a move tight end spot in the future.”