The 2018 season was disappointing to Mountaineer fans for several reasons. But several West Virginia players solidified their draft status over the course of the year. As the 2019 NFL Draft quickly approaches, we are locking in our Mountaineers’ draft predictions now. The draft begins on April 25 with the first round, continues with the second and third rounds on April 26, and concludes with the final four round on April 27.
The Mountaineers’ most notable prospect, of course, is quarterback Will Grier. Grier was a preseason Heisman candidate and finished fourth in both our final Heisman poll and the official poll. Certainly, Grier’s decision to sit out for the Camping World Bowl was divisive among fans. That said, the move is no longer uncommon in college football’s changing landscape, and it will not impact his draft status negatively.
Instead, the knock on Grier is more fundamental. Scouts nearly universally pan his downfield passing, saying he lacks arm strength to put adequate zip on his long balls. Many scouts also criticize his athleticism and vision, noting that he locks into his reads early and causes turnovers as a result.
Grier’s strengths lie with his touch and accuracy. He anticipates route development well and, as a result, leads his receivers open. Grier has made many a pass where only his receiver could make a play on it, like his final touchdown strike to Gary Jennings in the Texas game. Scouts also view Grier’s composure and intangible leadership traits favorably.
Word around the NFL is that the teams like Grier more than the “experts” do, and most mock drafts figure Grier into the equation anywhere between the late-second and late-third round. Our prediction is more optimistic, as we would not be surprised to see Grier selected as early as late in the first round. We would be surprised, however, if Grier fell below the second round.
From the day of his enrollment at West Virginia University, Yodny Cajuste earned the moniker “The Created Player.” In fact, a couple of alumni, Noel Devine and Jarrett Brown attended the Mountaineers’ Spring Game wearing gold t-shirts sporting a new brand, Created Player, this past weekend. Cajuste has flashed the strength and instinct necessary to shine at the next level. But Cajuste really earned his nickname through his work ethic and leadership.
Scouts have knocked Cajuste’s top-level strength and speed, though Cajuste certainly dispelled those notions by impressing scouts at the combine finishing fourth among offensive line prospects at the recent combine. Cajuste’s technique has otherwise impressed scouts.
In some pre-season mock drafts, Cajuste was rated as highly as a first-round prospect. Cajuste likely won’t hear his name called on the first day of the NFL draft, but he should know his fate by the end of day two as a mid- to late-third round selection.
David Sills’ story has been repeated ad nauseam for the past year. Long story short, after a circuitous path, Sills ended up embracing his role as Grier’s go-to receiver. All told, he hauled in 33 touchdown receptions in his two years with Grier, not bad for a guy with dreams of playing an entirely different position.
Reports over the last several weeks have linked Sills to a number of teams, including the Steelers, Cowboys, Saints, and Patriots. Critics question Sills’ athleticism, but scouts also identify Sills’ technique, route running, and awareness as qualities he can use to gain separation and make plays at the next level. Sills’ hands are likely a neutral trait, as he has made some truly phenomenal catches but has also dropped some easily catchable balls.
Sills should hear his name called in the third round, though we would not be surprised to hear him very late in the second round either.
David Long enjoyed a phenomenal career in Morgantown, finishing an all-time great. Even at times when Tony Gibson’s defense was at its worst, Long proved a bright spot. Long finished his 2018 season as the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He accumulated 108 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
Long has been a high-octane and remarkably-instinctual linebacker for the Mountaineers for three years, and fans will miss his intensity. But their loss will be a lucky NFL team’s gain. Many scouts view Long’s size at 5’11, 227 pounds as hard limitations on his NFL ceiling. In the right system, however, Long could make an immediate and drastic impact.
We predict Long will be selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL draft.
Gary Jennings proved his worth as a sure-handed possession receiver this season. When the Mountaineers needed a first down through the air, Grier dialed Jennings’ number most frequently. Jennings drew a lot of comparisons to Daikiel Shorts and Ka’Raun White as a result. But, make no mistake, he was an improvement on both.
While Sills certainly grabbed most of the attention among the Mountaineers’ receivers, Jennings has more speed and athleticism. This may give Jennings a slightly better professional ceiling than Sills. As a result, we predict a late-third to mid-fourth round selection for Jennings.
Trevon Wesco was a relative unknown before this season. His position, tight end (or H-back, as the prior staff insisted), had little to no function in the Mountaineer offense under former Head Coach Dana Holgorsen until this season. But Wesco quickly became a fan favorite, showing toughness and character reminiscent of Owen Schmitt.
Wesco demonstrated the most strength at the recent NFL combine for the incoming group of tight ends. And, while he is still raw, Wesco’s athleticism and sure-handedness are traits teams will have difficulty passing up, especially in the final few rounds. The major criticisms of Wesco are his limited production at the college level and his top-end speed.
Of all the Mountaineers this past season, Wesco has undoubtedly raised his draft stock the most. Many experts predict Wesco will be drafted somewhere in the final round. We believe teams are much higher on him, however. As a result, in what is arguably the biggest surprise of our predictions, we say that Wesco will be drafted in the fifth round.
Undrafted Free Agents
The Mountaineers have at least two more players that should find an NFL home following the draft.
First, Kenny Bigelow showed major resilience this season in pursuing his life-long NFL dream. Several unfortunate injuries limited playing time early in his career. But the former five-star may have played well enough, in fact, to push himself into the final round. It seems more likely, however, that he inks a deal as an undrafted free agent immediately following the draft.
Dravon Askew-Henry also faced injury early in his career. A knee injury limited his projected development. And a position and role change last season did not help. That said, Askew-Henry will still provide value to an NFL team. He likely finds a home as an undrafted free agent.