By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It started, really, with all the turmoil around West Virginia University’s Geno Smith and whether or not he was a. the best quarterback in this year’s NFL draft and b. whether he was a first — or second-round talent.
Certainly a year ago, considering the crop of quarterbacks that came out, no one would have argued about him going in the second round, which makes you understand that all of this is as much a matter of circumstance as it is talent.
It got you to thinking, though, if you as a fan can really tell which players belong a. in the first round; b. in the draft; c. as a free agent; or d. using their collegiate major to find gainful employment.
Most of a fan’s opinion — and for that matter, any non-NFL executive, coach or scout not named Kiper or Mayock — is based upon what they have seen.
So it was that we began wondering just from what we had seen over the years of the players who went in the NFL Draft if we could agree with their placing, which led us into a good bit of research as we wandered down memory lane.
What had these players — we used the skilled offensive players because, to be honest, I would have no idea how any offensive lineman did and defensive players really can’t be rated by their statistics — done against West Virginia over their careers?
Had they dominated the Mountaineers, which you would expect of a high draft pick, or had they had trouble against WVU, indicating a low draft pick or no draft pick at all?
First, it is intriguing to see how many of these players there were who faced the Mountaineers, a figure inflated by changing conferences so that they introduced a whole new group of opponents this season.
Certainly, following their performances this past year, two players seemed to be worthy of first-round selection, although to judge anyone against what passed for a defense on the West Virginia side would prove to be risky.
But 17 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns would certainly seem to make Terrence Williams of Baylor worthy of first-round status, although one suspects the Big 12’s defensive performance in general would drag that down. After all, there was a player who caught 14 passes for 303 yards and five touchdowns in a game who was no better than a third-round pick — and that was WVU’s Stedman Bailey out of that same game against the Bears.
As it turned out, both went in the third round, Williams to the Dallas Cowboys.
Then you had a quarterback who completed 38 of 51 passes for 554 yards and six touchdowns. It was enough to make some think that Landry Jones of Oklahoma would be a first-round selection, but he slipped to a fourth-round pick by the Steelers, who may just be beginning to think about a successor to Ben Roethlisberger.
Of course, if you liked Jones, you had to like the guy he was throwing to, Kenny Stills, who simply caught 10 passes for 91 yards and four touchdowns, the last one coming with 24 seconds left to secure a 50-49 victory over the Mountaineers.
As long as we’re discussing heroics, there was TCU’s Josh Boyce, who tormented the Mountaineers all game with six catches for 180 yards and two TDs, but his biggest catch doesn’t show in the statistics, for it went for the two-point conversion that won the game in overtime.
Going back to quarterbacks, we noted a day earlier that EJ Manuel, who was the surprise first-round selection of the Buffalo Bills, had stunned WVU as a freshman in winning the MVP award in the Gator Bowl game that gave FSU coach Bobby Bowden his final victory.
And what of Ryan Nassib, who was being talked up on television? Nassib beat WVU in the Pinstripe Bowl, but he did it by crossing them up. While everyone had thrown on the Mountaineers all season, and Nassib had thrown for 229 yards and four TDs against them in 2011, he completed just 12 of 24 for only 134 yards while the running game accounted for 395 yards in a surprisingly easy upset of WVU.
Nassib was a fourth-round pick as the only player in the entire draft whose last name began with an N off his passing potential, but another longtime Mountaineer nemesis at quarterback, B.J. Daniels of South Florida, slipped into the draft in the final round.
Daniels faced WVU three times and completed 54 of 100 passes for 577 yards and four TDs while rushing 38 times for 156 yards.
There was one receiver the NFL rated a lot higher than he played against West Virginia, and that was Marshall’s Aaron Dobson, who went in the second round. Oh, Dobson had a big game against the Mountaineers in 2010 when he caught four balls for 120 yards and a touchdown, but having drawn their attention the next year he caught six balls for just 22 yards and had four catches for 72 yards last year against a rather shaky defense.
The fastest player WVU faced all season was Texas’ track star Marquis Goodwin, whose 4.27 40-yard dash was even faster than Tavon Austin’s 4.34 at the Combine, and he had a strong game against WVU. He was contained to 24 yards on his receptions, but one of them pulled Texas to within three points with 15 seconds left in the game, while he returned three kickoffs for 102 yards.
This was not a good year for running backs in the draft, and no one really overwhelmed WVU, Maryland’s Kevin Dorsey, a seventh-round pick, rushing just three times for 31 yards after having carried nine times for 79 yards and a touchdown the previous season, while Joseph Randle of Oklahoma State, a fifth-round pick, carried 21 times for 81 yards.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.