WVU’s NFL Draft Candidates: When Should They Go? And Where Will They?
The only thing sure about the NFL Draft is that many of the selections, and the order in which they go off the board, will not match up to the collegiate performances of the players involved. There are many reasons for this, including the dissonance between collegiate and NFL systems, level of competition, workout performances, lingering injuries and health status.
Perhaps looming even larger are evaluations of players, which often ignore their performances in actual games, and instead focus on measurables or the number of times a player performed an esoteric drill. In other words, things that have some football-like action in them, but don’t resemble games much at all.
Finally, there’s the view of the league as a whole on any particular player. If they all think he’s a fifth-rounder, no one is likely to draft him where he should have gone, because they will be able to get him later with a lower pick. Occasionally, there are outliers (see Bruce Irvin), but sometimes players get tagged and fall into slots that don’t reflect their true value.
What if scouts and player personnel directors put more emphasis on what those prospects did on the playing field, including a look at leadership and off-field behaviors, rather than the number of bench press reps or their Wonderlic scores? That’s the drill here – where would West Virginia’s candidates for spots in the league rate based on what they’ve done, rather than projections which might as well have been made by crystal ball and Ouija board? Here’s one man’s look at their performance round – where they might have been drafted based on what they’ve done – along with a guess as to where they might actually be picked.
QB Will Grier Performance Round: Second Predicted Round: Third
Grier’s numbers should put him no worse than third overall among quarterbacks, but he probably won’t go until at least four other QBs are selected. Much of this positioning is based on runs at the position – if every team that needs a QB takes one with its first pick, he could go higher. Some of the issues with him are realistic, including ball security and a tendency to force a throw here or there, but there just shouldn’t be much arguing with the numbers he put up. Also, labeling him a “system” quarterback is simply a lazy evaluation. If the system were the reason for success, why isn’t every college team running it? Answer: Because there aren’t a lot of quarterbacks like Grier out there.
LB David Long Performance Round: Third Predicted Round: Fourth
Long gets dinged by some projections for too much freelancing. Guess what? That’s what he was coached to do at WVU, especially in his last season, when the positions around him were decimated by injuries. He also takes knocks for being undersized. Anybody remember Sam Mills or Dat Nguyen? Sure, he can’t be a mike backer, but as an outside guy in a 3-4 or a will in a 4-3? Nobody will outwork or outhustle him, and he’ll also be a special teams stalwart while being 100 percent coachable.
TE Trevon Wesco Performance Round: Third Predicted Round: Fifth
Some of the “analysis” on Wesco blows my mind. There are notes about him having to improve his ball catching and work on his blocking technique. Did any of these guys actually watch film? Wesco is not as fleet of foot as a few other tight ends in the draft, and probably needs to improve his route running a bit. But there’s no one that puts all of the old- and new-school tight end skills together better than he does. Hhe had a couple of spectacular catches this year while not dropping catchable passes. Perhaps a team will ignore the conventional ratings and select him where he should be picked.
WR Gary Jennings Performance Round: Third Predicted Round: Fourth
Jennings has proven performance, catches the ball well and can play either slot or the outside. He surprised some evaluators with the speed he showed at the Senior Bowl and at the Combine, even though numerous clips existed of him running by and away from defenders on deep routes at WVU. That should be enough to get him at least to the round in which he belongs in this draft. Again, as at quarterback, how quickly those rated in front of him are taken will have a proportionate effect on where he goes.
WR David Sills Performance Round: Fourth Predicted Round: Fourth
While performance on the field is high on our criteria list here, there are some stats that are overrated. Touchdowns are one of them, as those numbers can be bolstered based on the strengths of the offensive system in use by a player’s team. At WVU over the last two years, power blocking in short yardage situations wasn’t a strength, leading to more passes in the red zone, which helped Sills bolster his touchdown receptions. That’s not Sills’ fault, but it’s tough to give a huge edge to a receiver based on TD catches, unless he had a massive stat line of numerous long-distance scoring catches. Sills also had some struggles with drops during his senior year, but maybe those won’t have a big effect on a team looking for a red zone receiving weapon.
OL Yodny Cajuste Performance Round: Third Predicted Round: Fourth
How much will Cajuste’s injury history affect his draft status? Reported surgery to repair a quad muscle injury at the end of March is just the latest of a series of medical issues that knocked him out of West Virginia’s final regular season game and caused him to miss WVU’s bowl game, the Senior Bowl and any meaningful participation at the NFL Combine. His slot is the toughest to judge – based on assessments of potential, he could be in the third round. He was West Virginia’s third-best offensive lineman in 2018 in my view, but that’s not one that is shared by many evaluators – it’s the injury status that will likely hold sway.