The West Virginia University football team has an opportunity to make school history this weekend as five Mountaineers are projected to be selected in the 2016 NFL Draft in Chicago.
WVU hasn’t had five players selected in the same draft since 1999, when six different Mountaineers were selected. But in a class highlighted by its defensive talent, the chances of “West Virginia” being announced on stage is highly likely.
Karl Joseph is the top rated safety in the draft according to NFL.com’s Mike Mayock and has the highest draft projection out of his West Virginia counterparts. In 2015, Joseph had put together his best season at WVU, but an ACL injury abruptly ended his season, leaving his draft stock dwindling.
At the time of his injury, Joseph led the FBS with five interceptions in a mere four weeks. Joseph also recorded 20 tackles and one sack, but it was the physical play that put Joseph on the map.
While the ACL injury has lowered his draft stock, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has Joseph selected with the 21st pick to the Washington Redskins, but other projections have the safety going to the Pittsburgh Steelers at 25, especially after Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made an appearance at WVU’s pro-day on April 4.
Along with Joseph, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski has built off a strong performance last year and in the NFL combine. He’s WVU’s No. 2 draft prospect on Kiper’s big board.
In his senior season, Kwiatkoski showed why he’s one of the most pure linebackers in the draft. He led the Mountaineers in tackles and recorded 11 tackles for loss, accumulating to upwards to 44 yards, the most of any Mountaineer in 2015.
At the Combine in Indianapolis, Kwiatkoski was a top performer in the 20-yard shuffle with a time of 4.22 seconds, but also broad jumped 120 inches and bench pressed 19 reps.
Kwiatkoski’s long journey at WVU has ended. From redshirting his first year in Morgantown to leaving with a bowl win, Kwiatkoski is ready for the next challenge: the NFL. His draft selection is projected in round five or six, with teams like the New England Patriots rumored around his name.
Daryl Worley skipped his senior year and is directly behind Kwiatkoski on the draft charts as Worley is the No. 114 ranked player, sitting behind Kwiatkoski’s No. 108 ranking. Worley and Joseph made the WVU secondary, one of the scariest in college football.
In 2015, Worley led the Mountaineers in interceptions and recorded 49 tackles. He was unable to showcase his talent in the Cactus Bowl due to an academic issue, but his consistency from his WVU tenure is what attracted NFL scouts.
Since his freshman year, Worley had only one season where he finished with sub-40 tackles, and that was his first year in Morgantown when he still had 36 tackles. His interception production increased as well, in part to being a part of a very defensive scheme. Worley is projected to be a late round pick.
K.J. Dillon is the last defensive player to be a WVU draft prospect. However, Dillon is the most versatile player position wise, able to be on defense and special teams.
Dillon recorded 76 yards on 10 returns while handling punt/kickoff duties for WVU. In that time, Dillon filled in for Joseph during his injury and recorded two interceptions.
What separated Dillon from a lot of safeties in the draft class is his 40-yard dash time at the combine. Among safety prospects, Dillon recorded the fourth fastest 40-time at 4.53 seconds, 0.20 seconds off the record. Much like Worley, Dillon’s draft projection is similar, where he is projected to be a sixth or seventh round selection.
Wendell Smallwood rounds out the top five and is the only offensive player to be a projected selection.
Smallwood, the reigning Big 12 conference-rushing leader, is the highest rated running back from the Big 12. Like Worley, Smallwood took advantage when his draft stock was up and declared for the draft early.
He piled together over 1500 yards rushing in 13 games and in the Combine was a top performer in the three-cone drill, used to test agility and highly regarded in recruiting and the 60-yard shuffle. Smallwood is looking to be the first WVU RB taken in the NFL draft since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Charles Sims in 2014.
Smallwood is also projected as a late round pick, but many teams could use his style in the backfield.
The draft will last all weekend starting with round one at 8 p.m. tonight. Rounds two and three begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, while the final four to seven rounds start at noon on April 30.