Maybe NFL talent isn't the answer for WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - I don't know about you, but I'm breathlessly anticipating the last day of the NFL scouting combine and my final opportunity to watch men run around cones.
Well, not really.
Truth is, I can't fault those who spend hours glued to their televisions watching this stuff. To each his own, right? I'd just as soon see the NFL line them all up and run those 40s against each other instead of the clock. And it would be really fun watching them all attack the same cone course at the same time.
I'm not really sure what the NFL gets out of all of this, either. The results all go down in their little books and they might be great for reference. But if it's draft day and you need a wide receiver, which are you more likely to source - what you saw in real football games or the numbers in that book?
The thought here is that NFL folks value the scouting combine far more for the results of physical and mental exams than what guys do in agility, speed and strength drills for which they have trained specifically for a solid two months (and will never again be asked to repeat).
That having been said, at least three of the four West Virginia players invited to the scouting combine have apparently wowed 'em. Tavon Austin ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, Geno Smith made all the throws and answered all the public questions right, and Stedman Bailey was praised for his route running, intelligence and ability to catch the football.
Smith and Austin seem all but certain to be picked in the first round when the draft is held in April and Bailey could work his way into the second round. West Virginia has never had two players taken in the first round of the draft and only three times have three Mountaineers gone in the first two rounds. The last time that happened was when Anthony Becht went in the first round and Jerry Porter and Barrett Green in the second during the 2000 draft.
We bring that up because the 1999 WVU team for which those three played finished 4-7. The 2012 team for which Smith, Austin and Bailey played finished 7-6. Eleven of the 12 WVU teams between those finished with better records despite having fewer top-of-the-draft players playing their final college seasons.
The other two WVU teams that had three players taken in the first two rounds weren't especially memorable, either.
A year before the 1999 team produced a first and two seconds, the 1998 team delivered three second-rounders (Charles Fisher, Solomon Page and John Thornton). That team, which of course included six first- or second-rounders over two years, was 8-4 and lost to Missouri in the Insight.com Bowl.
The 1989 team produced first-rounder Renaldo Turnbull and second-rounders Reggie Rembert and Mike Fox after an 8-3-1 season that was lowlighted by a 31-31 tie with Pitt after blowing a 31-9 lead and a smashing by Clemson in the Gator Bowl, all despite still having Major Harris at quarterback. (Harris was the last of seven players drafted from that team.)
I'm not really sure what all of that means except this: The amount of NFL talent West Virginia has seldom seems to correlate into wildly successful seasons. The rare exception was the 1988 team, which had 15 players picked in the ensuing two NFL drafts and was 11-0 until losing to Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
The three consecutive 11-win teams Rich Rodriguez coached from 2005 through 2007 produced just three players who were drafted in the first three rounds of any subsequent NFL draft. That included Pat White, who lasted a year in the league without ever completing a pass.
The 1993 team that went 11-0 in the regular season had 10 players from the roster eventually drafted, but most were bit players on that team. Only three started the Sugar Bowl loss to Florida - Rich Braham, Aaron Beasley and punter Todd Sauerbrun.
I suppose the bottom line here is that West Virginia fans are still bemoaning the fact that with three of the greatest playmakers the school has ever produced, the 2012 team still stumbled badly, losing five in a row at one point and finishing dreadfully in something called the Pinstripe Bowl. Every time they turn on the NFL Network and watch Smith throwing darts, Austin as a blur and Bailey catching everything, they wonder again, how in the world could 7-6 have happened?
Well, I can't answer that. Just know that it has happened before and might well happen again. And the next time you get all revved up over an approaching football season, for some reason you might want to pick a year when there isn't all that much NFL talent around.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.