Potential exists for West Virginia's most productive draft

West Virginia wide receiver David Sills V (13) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

By BOB HERTZEL
CNHI Sports
MORGANTOWN — Write the names down, because over the next three days you figure to hear a lot of them.

Will Grier. David Sills V. Gary Jennings Jr. Yodny Cajuste. David Long Jr. Trevon Wesco.

They are expected to be the six West Virginia players selected in this year’s NFL draft held beginning tonight at 8 p.m. and running through Saturday in Nashville. If all six go, it will make it one of the most productive drafts ever for WVU.

And while there hasn’t been much pre-draft hype about it, who knows if someone might take late-round stabs at the likes of Dravon Askew-Henry, Toyous Avery Jr., Jabril Robinson or Kenny Bigelow Jr.

The sheer numbers make you wonder just how WVU finished last season 8-4 and explains why there was no outcry when Dana Holgorsen left for Houston.

Let’s take a look where this draft may rank with others in WVU history.

For sheer numbers, the 1954 and 1989 drafts delivered the most players to the NFL with eight chosen.

Neither draft, however, was loaded with top line draft picks.

In 1989, no Mountaineer went before Bo Orlando, who went in the sixth round.

The 1954 draft was bloated with players because they drafted to the 30th round. Fullback Tommy Allman, who put together a solid NFL career, was the highest WVU player drafted, going in the fourth round.

The 1956 draft, while producing five selections, was probably the best group WVU ever sent to the NFL, headed by Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff — a bargain as a third-round pick.

Huff was joined by Bruce Bosley, who played both offensive and defensive line and was a four-time Pro Bowler while starting for a decade in the NFL, mostly for the 49ers, and Joe Marconi, who played fullback for 11 years with the Rams and Bears.

The 1990 draft produced seven draft picks, which included the most disappointing selection ever for Mountaineer fans when quarterback Major Harris, perhaps the most spectacular player ever at the school, lasted until Oakland took him in the 12th round as a defensive back.

That was one of the Mountaineers’ most productive drafts, though, including a lot of players who had been juniors on the 1988 undefeated team.

Renaldo Turnbull was a first-round pick and played eight years with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, while Reggie Rembert and Mike Fox were picked in the second round.

Perhaps the best draft WVU ever had without a No. 1 draft choice was in 1990, when six players were drafted between the second and fourth rounds.

The group included second-rounders Solomon Page and John Thornton, both who put together solid NFL careers. Thornton sent WVU a promising recruit in his son Jalen Thornton this year.

A third pick in the second round was Charles Fisher, one of the great cornerbacks in the school’s history, but he suffered a career-ending knee injury in the first quarter of his first game as he won a starting job with the New York Giants.

Third-round picks were two of the greatet players ever at WVU, running back Amos Zereoue and pass rusher Gary Stills, while defensive lineman Kevin Landolt was picked in the sixth round.

The most pressing question this year is whether Grier will be a first-round selection, but he has history working against him. WVU has had only 11 first-round selections in the 73-year history of the NFL, none of them quarterbacks, and the record of success with the 11 picked is spotty at best.

The first draft did produce a Hall of Famer in the first round in Joe Stydahar, a tackle with the Bears. But that apparently didn’t open too many eyes to WVU football, for it was another 20 years before a Mountaineer went in the first round, he being Marconi.

Injuries have plagued the Mountaineers picked in the first round. Brian Jozwiak had knee problems that kept him from reaching his potential, and wide receiver Kevin White has battled the injury jinx since being the Bears’ first-round pick in 2015.

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Hinton native Dick Leftridge of WVU with the third pick of the 1966 draft, making him the highest draft pick ever for WVU, but he carried only eight times for 17 yards in four games during his one-year career.

Linebacker Chuck Howley, a first-round pick of the Bears, wound up becoming a Super Bowl MVP for Dallas after it appeared his career had ended.

After having had only five first-round picks in the 20th century, since 2000 the NFL has beaten a path to WVU’s door and taken six players in the first round — tight end Anthony Becht, cornerback Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, defensive end Bruce Irvin, wide receivers Tavon Austin and Kevin White and safety Karl Joseph.

Should Grier last to the second round, he would join Oliver Luck, Pat White and Geno Smith as WVU QBs taken in that round.