WVU May Make Draft History

Quarterback Geno Smith and receiver Tavon Austin have a chance to make some history for the West Virginia University football program tonight, should they both be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

The school, which has generally succeeded in getting players into the NFL, has never had two first-round picks in the same season.

Smith figures to be the first quarterback taken, though there’s no guarantee that will be in the first round the way things have shaken the past few months. The last time a quarterback wasn’t selected in the first round, Michigan State’s Tony Banks was the first pick in the second round of the 1996 draft. You have to go back to 1988 to find the only other time it’s happened, when Ohio’s State’s Tom Tupa was the first quarterback taken … in the third round.

Austin already has people predicting he’ll be the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Most mock drafts have him going in the 13-16 range.

WVU has had nine first-round picks in its history and three since 2000 in Bruce Irvin (2012), Adam Jones (2006), and Anthony Becht (2000).

The Mountaineers came close in 1990 when Renaldo Turnbull was picked in the first round and Reggie Rembert went in the second. More recently, Jones was selected in the first round and Chris Henry fell to the third in 2006.

If you’re looking for the gold standard of WVU drafts, at least among the top three rounds, that took place in 1956, when Joe Marconi was taken in the first round, Bruce Bosley went in the second round, and both Fred Wyant and Sam Huff were selected in the third round.

The most players West Virginia has had selected in one draft was eight in 1954. Since the draft was cut to seven rounds in 1994, WVU’s best draft was 1999, when six players were selected.

Back to today, Smith and Austin took different paths to the draft. While no one could be sure Smith would be an NFL-type player, he had everything college coaches wanted when he signed with WVU out of Miramar High School in Florida.

Coming off a senior season in which he threw for 4,205 yards, 42 touchdowns, and five interceptions, and a career that produced numbers that dwarf any other QB in school history, scouts drool over Smith with the usual lines: His size (6-foot-2, 208), his ability to ”make all the throws,” that he’s a student of the game, and he’s an intense competitor.

Austin’s path was different. Though he was highly recruited, his size (5-8, 173 today) left him a bit under the radar of most NFL general managers early in his career. He arrived at WVU as a running back, but with guys like Noel Devine already in the backfield, he was moved to receiver to take advantage of his speed and hands.

There were questions near the end of his sophomore season that he might be moved back to running back but then head coach Bill Stewart said he preferred bigger back and was leaning that way. When Dana Holgorsen came aboard the next season with his high-energy passing attack, there was little question where Austin’s future lay.

During the last two seasons, Austin caught 215 passes for 2,475 yards and 20 touchdowns. He added another 1,751 yards and three touchdowns on kickoff returns and found himself in the top three of total yardage in college football both seasons.

The NFL GMs took notice.

They still question his size, but they notice he never takes big hits. His speed jumps off any video and it’s even more impressive live.

He’s got a chance to be the highest-picked receiver in WVU history.

Not to be forgotten in all of this is fellow receiver Stedman Bailey, another player who produced the types of numbers NFL scouts love, but his size (5-10, 188) are working against him.

He’s generally looked at as a third-round pick.

Either way, it has the potential to be an historic night for the Mountaineers and the draft.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at jelliott@theintelligencer.net