West Virginia University football players Will Clarke and Charles Sims will be watching a lot of television this weekend. That’s because the 2014 NFL Draft begins tonight in New York City on ESPN and the NFL Network.
Although neither player is expected to go in tonight’s first round, both should be taken before the seven-round event finishes up on Saturday.
CBS Sports.com has Clarke rated the 94th-best player in this year’s draft and the ninth-best defensive end with a third round projection.
Clarke performed well in the East-West and Senior Bowl all-star games and was invited to attend this year’s NFL Combine, where he continued to impress scouts, coaches and GMs.
“I think it helped me out a lot,” Clarke said of his combine experience. “They were seeing first-hand my talents going up against the top talent in the nation.”
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock is certainly sold on Clarke’s abilities.
“Will Clarke is one of the fastest-rising players on the draft board,” Mayock said earlier this month. “He doesn’t get much attention nationally because he’s not a first-round pick. Heading into the East-West Game he was a late draftable afterthought but he had a good week there. He’s got a frame at 6-6 – a long defensive end that can put weight on.”
Clarke said he’s not sure whether he will play with his hand down on the ground or standing up in the pros.
“It depends upon the scheme,” he said. “I’ve heard 3-4 and gain weight and play that defensive end or the 4-3, and then I’ve heard some teams tell me I can stand up in the 3-4 and move around some. It’s been all over the place.”
Clarke earned second team all-Big 12 honors as a senior in 2013 after registering a team best six sacks and 17 tackles for losses.
The one name Clarke keeps hearing when scouts compare him to current NFL players is New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Sims is also an intriguing prospect who showed scouts an ability to catch the football out of the backfield both during his week at the Senior Bowl and also at the combine. Sims ran for 1,095 yards and scored 11 touchdowns during his only season playing for the Mountaineers in 2013. Sims said spending a year playing in the Big 12 for West Virginia was beneficial to his pro aspirations.
“Being versatile, catching the ball out of the backfield and lining up at different spots have definitely helped me,” he said.
CBS Sports.com has Sims rated 122nd overall and ninth for his position with a projection of going in either the third or fourth round.
Mayock sees Sims as a likely Saturday choice.
“As far as the running backs, Sims, I have four in the second round right now, two or three in the third round, then I have him in the fourth round along with Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona), Jerick McKinnon (Georgia Southern) and (Lache) Seastrunk from Baylor. I think he’s going to fit right in that fourth round.”
Mayock believes Sims does enough things well to earn a good shot to make an NFL roster this summer.
“I think the combination of catching the football, being a big enough back to pass protect, and some natural running skill sets really helps him,” he said. “He’s a sold fourth-round guy that provides versatility.”
Defensive back Darwin Cook is also a late-round possibility on Saturday. CBS Sports.com has Cook rated as the 16th-best strong safety and the 386th-best overall prospect. There are 256 picks in this year’s draft.
Last year West Virginia had three players go among the first 92 players taken, including first-round pick Tavon Austin of the St. Louis Rams.
Tonight’s first round begins at 8 p.m. with rounds 2-3 starting at 7 p.m. on Friday. The three-day event will conclude on Saturday at noon with the remaining four rounds.