The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 28, 2011

WVU has history of late picks doing well

MORGANTOWN — If the draft experts are right, and if they are experts they certainly are supposed to be right, then this will be another year of lean pickings for West Virginia University in the NFL draft that beings tonight and runs through Saturday.

While the early rounds are filled with intrigue, it does not concern anyone from WVU.

In fact, there is no certainty that any NFL player will be picked and certainly not until the mid- to late rounds, considering that even the best of them carry warts.

But let it be suggested to those in the NFL “war rooms,” as the cliché-ridden announcers often refer to the team offices where the draft is being plotted out, that WVU has a history of having mid- to low-round players develop into either stars or successful players.

With little to do in the early rounds but to wait and see if NFL scouts can overlook running back Noel Devine’s down senior season or Brandon Hogan’s often strange behavior and season-ending knee injury, we thought it might be fun to look at the best bargains WVU has sent to the league.

To be considered a bargain, we threw out first- and second-round selections, for those players are normally high profile and expected to succeed. That is why they are snatched up early and given the big dollars.

But those selected from the third round on down are considered something of a gamble.

So which WVU players were lottery winners for the teams that drafted them?

No. 1: MLB Sam Huff

A rather easy choice here. Huff was a third-round selection of the New York Giants in 1956, but during training camp coach Jim Lee Howell wasn’t sure where he should be playing. So distressed was Huff that he left camp, only to be stopped by a Giant assistant coach before he could get on a flight home.

That assistant was Vince Lombardi.

The Giants defensive coordinator Tom Landry was installing a revolutionary 4-3 defense and moved Huff to middle linebacker, a position he would come to define. He was turned into a legend by the CBS-TV news program “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” which aired as part of the series “The Twentieth Century.”

Huff went on to reach the NFL Hall of Fame.

No. 2: DB Tom Pridemore

You would have expected after having a WVU Hall of Fame career that Pridemore would have impressed someone, but he wasn’t drafted until the ninth round of the 1978 draft by the Atlanta Falcons.

At WVU, Pridemore set records for most career interception return yards, most single-game interception return yards and most career interceptions (15) and holds the NCAA record for the longest interception return of 102 yards.

All Atlanta got for a ninth-round selection was a player who started at free safety for eight years, intercepted 21 passes, including seven in one season. He ran a Joe Montana interception back 101 yards for another record.

No. 3: QB Marc Bulger

Marc Bulger was the quarterback who couldn’t in the eyes of the NFL. He had broken all the passing records at WVU and had showed that Don Nehlen knew something more than the draw play as a coach, but the NFL didn’t think his arm or body were strong enough.

That was 11 years ago and he’s still playing after New Orleans drafted him in the sixth round, a pick they apparently felt they didn’t need because they cut him. He went to Atlanta, where he spent two weeks on the taxi squad, then went to St. Louis.

Bulger wound up the 2004 MVP in the Pro Bowl, reached 1,000 completions faster than any quarterback in NFL history and has passed for more than 22,000 yards.

No. 4: C Mike Compton

After being a consensus All-American for WVU in 1992, Compton lasted until the third round of the NFL draft before Detroit selected him.

A good pick? Compton started for the Lions until 2001, blocking for Barry Sanders as he set NFL rushing records, then went to the New England Patriots, with whom he earned two Super Bowl rings in three years.

No. 5: KR Fulton Walker

A native West Virginian who played from Frank Cignetti and Don Nehlen, Walker was a sixth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins.

He was a defensive back during a career that lasted only five years but made his mark as a kick returner, etching his name into the NFL record book when he returned punts for 692 yards in 1985. That record would stand until Desmond Howard broke it in 1996 with 870 yards.

Walker would become a Super Bowl legend, however, in Super Bowls XVII and XIX. He returned the first kickoff in Super Bowl history to go for a touchdown, going 98 yards, in XVII, and had a 93-yard kickoff return in XIX.

No. 6: C Rich Braham

Braham walked on at WVU out of University High but soon won a scholarship to say nothing of second-team All-America honors. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in the third round of the 1994 draft and he played with them, both at center and guard, through good days and injury, until 2006.

In all he played 13 years and would have kept going except for a knee injury against Cleveland that forced his retirement.

No. 7: DB Aaron Beasley

Aaron Beasley may have been the best cornerback ever at WVU, earning All-American honors and picking off a school record 10 passes during the 1994 season, including at least one in six straight games.

He was picked in the third round by the Jacksonville Jaguars and became a fixture in their secondary, before moving to the New York Jets and Falcons. He played 121 NFL games and had 24 interceptions.

No. 8: RB Adrian Murrell

Adrian Murrell came to West Virginia from Hawaii, which is a move some may question, but it worked out for him after he gained more than 900 yards as a sophomore and more than 1,100 as a junior, exiting in 1996 to become a fifth-round draft pick of the New York Jets.

Murrell played five years with the Jets, moving on to Arizona, Washington and Dallas before retiring with 5,199 yards, including three 1,000-yard seasons, while gaining 1,369 yards receiving.

No. 9: DB Bo Orlando

Bo Orlando came out of Pennsylvania to join Don Nehlen at West Virginia and was the strong safety on the unbeaten 1988 team. He was drafted in the sixth round with the 157th pick of the 1989 draft.

Orlando would play nine NFL seasons, finishing his career back home with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He intercepted 10 passes in his career.

No. 10: FB Tom Woodeshick

In 1963, when Tom Woodeshick finished his career at WVU, the NFL and the upstart AFL were battling. Each had a draft, and Woodeshick was picked in the third round of the AFL draft by the Buffalo Bills and the eighth round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Woodeshick had a hard-knocking, 10-year NFL career, gaining 3,577 rushing yards and catching passes for another 1,175 yards while being one of the league’s best blockers. In 1968 and 1969 he gained 947 and 831 yards.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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