West Virginia has recently enjoyed a rise in NFL Draft picks, having twelve players selected since 2012, including three first round selections. The three first round selections are the most WVU has had in a four-year period in program history.
With the recent success on draft night, WVU has developed an expectation to produce draft picks. So, who on WVU’s roster will keep this success going? Not just in the 2016 NFL Draft, but beyond as well.
CBSSports.com has the hard hitting safety listed as the 5th best strong safety prospect, and 154th player overall. Many consider him as the top senior safety in this year’s class. Joseph, listed at 5’11, has developed a reputation as the hardest hitter in the BIG 12. We know he can hit. Now he needs to show improvement in tackling. If he improves up that, any NFL franchise would love to add a hard nosed player like Joseph to their secondary.
Listed as the 16th running back, Shell is a player who is primed for a breakout season. He will be entering his 2nd season in the Mountaineer offense, and will be the featured back. After sharing touches with a stable of backs last season, Shell will earn more touches with the departure of Dreamius Smith and Andrew Buie. Shell will have the opportunity to do more this season, and increase his production and become more attractive to NFL franchises.
The leader in the middle for the Mountaineer defense, Kwiatkoski was recently named the 9th inside linebacker by NFL Draft expert Todd McShay. The leader in tackles for consecutive seasons, Kwiatkoski returns for his senior year as the man in the middle for a defense that expects to be a top defense in the country. A member of the preseason all-conference team in the Big 12, Kwiatkoski should hear his name called in the middle round of next years draft, and will provide immediate leadership for a defense.
Every year, players have breakout seasons (See: Kevin White) and work their ways onto an NFL roster. Who are the possible candidates for WVU to breakout onto the NFL radars? Keep in mind, when mentioning some of these players, it does not mean I think they will be drafted. There are many ways to become professional, and many of WVU’s current pros went undrafted and have still made a name for themselves.
While he did not pop up onto the top prospects list from CBSSports.com, NFLDraftScout.com has Dillon listed as the 18th safety. As one a leader of a defense that expects to be one of the best in the country, Dillon will will benefit from the success as a unit, and should work his way up the draft boards. The West Virginia secondary should be one of the better secondaries in the country, which will help Dillon’s case, and put him in the spotlight.
A stretch? Absolutely. Howard is everything pro typical NFL Quarterbacks aren’t. He is 6’0 on a good day, lacks college experience (for now) and he does not play in a pro-style offense. But, if Howard would have a true breakout season this year (4,000 plus yards, lots of touchdowns and jaw dropping plays), Howard could find himself on an NFL roster whenever he decides to declare. There have been plenty of short quarterbacks to make the NFL, and if Howard would breakout, he could hear his name on draft weekend.
In the last three NFL drafts, WVU has had four wide receivers taken, two going in the first round. At this point last year, if you said Kevin White would be a top 10 pick, most people would have laughed in your face. But, like I previously mentioned, players can break out and rise up the draft boards. And what position would be better than this one? The Mountaineer offense is designed for star wide receivers, with former players under coach Holgorsen shining in his air-raid offense. His offenses have produced the likes of Wes Welker, Dez Bryant, Michael Crabtree, plus our beloved WVUPros Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Super Mario, and Kevin White.
Now, the question is which players are the likely candidates? One option is Shelton Gibson. He has the talent, the tools, and the speed to breakout this season. He is draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore, but for the sake of Mountaineer fans let’s hope he sticks around a few more years.
The more likely option would be Jordan Thompson. If, and this is a big if, Jordan can produce out of the slot position in this offense, and produce numbers close to what Tavon posted, Thompson could find himself on an NFL roster next season. Also, to my surprise, Thompson was the 137th wideout on CBSSports.com’s early prospect list. While this seems low, and 137 receivers will not be taken next season, it is a good step for Thompson to be mentioned on the list.
Another receiver who made this list is KJ Myers. While Myers has lacked production in his years as a Mountaineer, he was given a ranking as the 85th receiver. He believes to be on the right track this year and should earn playing time, which is a step forward to where he has been. Myers is a tall receiver that can be a good red zone threat, and some teams may find that appealing and give him a shot to make a roster.
All in all, any player for West Virginia could break out this year and earn a spot next year. These types of things are unpredictable, and even Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay swing and miss every year. Any player can have a great season next year, and WVU will look to continue its recent string of success with the draft, and continue to build a top program.
The 8th fullback, Clay is more of a reach than the previous players mentioned. Clay benefits from his size, listed at 6-3 265, Clay is a safe bet to at least sign a contract if he goes undrafted. Fullbacks often do not get drafted and still make the roster, so Clay will have a good chance to prove he is worthy of a roster spot.
Punters are not taken often in the draft, with only the top two or three being selected. O’Toole is listed as the 5th punter, so if he can have a solid season booting the ball, he could work himself into the upper tier of punters, and possibly into a draft selection. O’Toole should find himself on an NFL roster next year with a good 2015 season, and could win a job on a roster.