The Times West Virginian

May 11, 2014

Undrafted Mountaineers have long road to the NFL

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Saturday was graduation day in Morgantown but perhaps the most excited West Virginia students weren’t even on hand.

As most of the graduates head off into the unknown, Charles Sims and Will Clarke began preparing themselves for their next step in life. Both already had their degrees but they weren’t ready to put them to use as they were heading off into the NFL, the only two West Virginia players drafted.

Not that you expected any more from a 4-7 team.

Sims, a versatile running back, went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round and Clarke, a tall, long-armed defensive end/linebacker who will be used as a pass rusher, went in the same third round to Cincinnati.

For the other Mountaineers who had a chance — safety Darwin Cook, offensive lineman Pat Eger, offensive lineman Curits Feight, defensive lineman Shaq Rowell, linebacker Doug Rigg and wide receiver Ivan McCartney it was a long three days.

They were longshots to be drafted and knew it.

It was Cook, the most likely to have been drafted, who put it best.

“When you suck you’re not going to get picked,” he said on Pro Day. The “you” he was referring to was not himself but his team that did not have a good year.

Now he and the others sit with their phones — it used to by their phones — and wait for calls from teams or their agents, calls that tell them whether there is interest in them as free agents.

Not being drafted isn’t the kiss of death.

Offensive tackle Don Barkley was signed as a free agent by the Green Bay Packers in 2012 and has gone on to win a starting job.

The previous year Will Johnson came out of WVU undrafted, signed with the Steelers, where he found his niche as a fullback.

That doesn’t come easily but it is possible. You get a chance but you buck the odds of beating out a drafted player whom the club has a financial investment in.

Clarke probably has more to prove than Sims as he begins his career, being considered more of a project. He does have an opening, however, as Bengals’ defensive end Michael Johnson left as a free agent.

While he possesses physical tools like 6-foot-7, 270-pound size, teams are unsure if he should play down on the line or up as a linebacker.

What’s more, at WVU, his play was sporadic, not being the dominating kind of pass rusher that Bruce Irvin was earlier, leading for him to be a first-round draft pick.

Sims, on the other hand, came with a lot of NFL skills honed after playing at Houston for three years, transferring to WVU to prepare himself for the draft.

He has size to pass block, speed to run, good hands to work as a pass receiver and skills to return kicks, while also possessing credentials to become WVU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009 while also leading the team in pass receptions.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.