MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The annual NFL Draft begins tomorrow in Philadelphia, and while no West Virginia University football players are expected to have their names called on the first night, that doesn’t mean WVU is going to be shut out of this year’s draft.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas has garnered interest from several teams and could be an option in the third round on Friday or early on Saturday when the fourth round begins.
The East Orange, New Jersey, resident earned second team Associated Press All-America honors during his senior season in 2016 after picking off eight passes, which tied Florida State’s Tarvarus McFadden for the most in the nation.
Douglas’ productivity, size and ball skills make him an intriguing prospect. Some team-affiliated websites such as Kansas City and Arizona have touted Douglas’ attributes as a defender and cite his value as a middle-round pick.
Douglas’ detractors point to his limited straight-line speed (4.59) and short-area quickness to defend smaller, more agile receivers, though. This is also considered a very strong draft class for corners, with as many as seven players earning a first-round draft grade.
According to the website NFLDraftScout.com, Douglas is rated just the 19th best corner in the draft, demonstrating the overall depth and strength of that position this year.
“I can play in any system,” Douglas said earlier this month. “I’ve played zone before. When I came here all we did was play man and zero (coverage). I know I can play any scheme, it’s just a matter of if a team wants me or not.”
On the other hand, a relatively weak wide receiver group may end up benefitting Shelton Gibson, who opted to leave school a year early to put his name into the draft.
Gibson, from Cleveland, caught 43 passes for 951 yards and eight touchdowns during his junior season in 2016 as one of the top deep threats in the Big 12. In 38 career games, Gibson caught 84 passes for 1,898 yards and 17 touchdowns, while also returning 52 career kickoffs for 1,244 yards and one touchdown.
Gibson overcame a slow time during February’s NFL Combine by running a 4.39 at West Virginia’s Pro Day earlier this month, and his downfield explosive playmaking ability will undoubtedly capture the attention of NFL teams.
“A lot of teams asked me if I put in a (draft) grade and I didn’t,” Gibson said. “I understand, yeah, I’m coming out and it was a big thing but I feel like I can go out there and do what I can if I put my mind to it. I don’t care about projections or what round I go in because it doesn’t matter. Once you get there that’s what you are going to be - what you show in practice.”
One NFL mock draft had him going in the sixth round to Philadelphia. NFLDraftScout.com rates Gibson the 16th-best receiver among a group that has only three players with first-round grades, Western Michigan’s Corey Davis, Washington’s John Ross and Clemson’s Mike Williams.
According to NFL Draft expert Mike Mayock, Williams is the only “clean” wide receiver in this year’s class without any questions. There are also some concerns with players rated ahead of Gibson such as Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook, Tennessee Josh Malone, Alabama’s Adarius Stewart, Penn State’s Chris Goodwin and Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel.
“One team - that’s all you need, one person believing in you,” Gibson said. “The biggest thing these coaches want to see is if you compete. I know I always compete at a high level.”
Rimington Trophy finalist Tyler Orlosky could also hear his name called, most likely on Friday or Saturday.
The Cleveland native is the third-rated center in this year’s class, according to NFLDraftScout.com, which projects him potentially going as high as the third round. But other scouting services have not been nearly as favorable. Orlosky is considered quick off the ball with strong hands and outstanding intelligence. On the downside, he’s not overly big and overpowering.
Defensive end Noble Nwachukwu and offensive guard Adam Pankey are two other late-round possibilities or preferred free agents. NFLDraftScout.com listed Pankey as West Virginia’s “most intriguing prospect” who could go undrafted.
“A starter at both tackle and guard for the Mountaineers,” wrote the website, “Pankey goes through inconsistent stretches, but his wide base and core strength makes it easy to absorb bull rushers.”
Nwachukwu was one of the most productive pass rushers in the Big 12 the last two seasons, recording 12 ½ sacks and 20 ½ tackles for losses.
Christian Brown, another unheralded Mountaineer prospect, produced 103 tackles, 11 tackles for losses and four sacks in 53 career games during his four-year career and could secure some interest from teams.
Other Mountaineer players who worked out on Pro Day and are available for this year’s draft include cornerback Maurice Fleming, wide receiver Daikiel Shorts Jr., quarterback Skyler Howard, running back Rushel Shell III, defensive lineman Darrien Howard and safeties Jarrod Harper and Jeremy Tyler.
West Virginia has had 17 players selected since 2012 under coach Dana Holgorsen and five Mountaineers were picked in last year’s draft, including first-rounder Karl Joseph.
The draft will begin Thursday night at 8 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN and NFL Network.
Coverage continues Friday at 7 p.m. with the second and third rounds and concludes with the remaining four rounds on Saturday starting at noon.
Briefly: Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital are scheduled to be in New York City tonight as guests on NFL Draft Live, streaming on Facebook at 7:45 p.m. The show will be hosted by Andy Staples, Albert Breer and Maggie Gray, with Steve Palazzolo and Mike Renner from Pro Football Focus also taking part for expert analysis.
West Virginia’s NFL Draft Picks Under Dana Holgorsen
1, 14, Karl Joseph, S, Oakland Raiders
3, 77, Daryl Worley, CB, Carolina Panthers
4, 113, Nick Kwiatkoski, LB, Chicago Bears
5, 153, Wendell Smallwood, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
5, 159, KJ Dillon, S, Houston Texans
1, 7, Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears
4, 134, Mark Glowinski, G, Seattle Seahawks
5, 158, Shaquille Riddick, DE, Arizona Cardinals
7, 238, Mario Alford, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
3, 69, Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3, 86, Will Clarke, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
1, 8, Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams
2, 39, Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets
3, 92, Stedman Bailey, WR, St. Louis Rams
1, 15, Bruce Irvin, DE, Seattle Seahawks
5, 140, Najee Goode, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6, 174, Keith Tandy, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers