The Internet can be a fun place for West Virginia University football fans these days.The Mountaineers are highly ranked. Geno Smith leads most Heisman Trophy polls.Then there are the NFL draft sites. Most now have Smith as the top-rated quarterback for the next draft in April.Which leads to a question: Will Smith be the No. 1 overall draft pick?Some websites suggest the Mountain State might have as many as three players taken in the first couple of rounds: Smith, WVU receiver Tavon Austin and Marshall receiver and South Charleston High grad Aaron Dobson.But back to Smith specifically. On Thursday, WVU director of football communications Mike Montoro asked and received a comment from ESPN analyst Todd McShay on the senior QB."This is a highly determined young man with impressive football intelligence," McShay said. "He's made big strides with deep accuracy and appears much more comfortable going through progressions this season."If you're talking top quarterbacks in college football or looking ahead to the 2013 NFL draft, Geno has to be on the very short list at the top."More than one site projects Smith No. 1 and headed to the Cleveland Browns. (Sorry Brandon Weeden.) Another has Smith No. 2. Yet another has him No. 8.To cut through the smoke, I spoke to NFL scouts and executives Thursday. They aren't permitted to go on record, but WVU fans will certainly find their words interesting."Obviously, the numbers and productivity [of Smith] speak for themselves," said one executive. "His numbers are alarming. But he also grades out high in all categories: getting the ball out quickly, arm strength, accuracy, touch throws. He doesn't just throw a fastball. He can change speeds."He has total overall command. He's very much in control."One said the knock on Smith will be he comes out of a "system" offense that produces big numbers regardless of the quarterback."The question is whether he can operate under center," said the scout. "But when he gets the ball out of his hands, he makes plays. And he has unbelievable command."One scout cut straight to the chase.
"He sticks out as the top guy to me," he said. "At least one of the top two. As we move along, players will rise and fall [on draft evaluation boards]. But when you look at [Smith's] consistency, he's definitely at the top."
As you might expect, some scouts are wary."It's hard to say because it's so early," said one. "With the rise [Smith] is on, he could be as high as RG3 [Robert Griffin III]. But there's a lot that goes into it."He said most of the evaluation is extracted from game tape. But there are also NFL combine results. There are interviews at places like the Senior Bowl all-star game, which gets the most NFL executive attention."But the one thing we've really seen this year [from Smith] is accuracy and protection of the ball," said the scout.Here are a couple of off-the-record comments on players projected on websites as other likely No. 1 draft picks:
On LSU's outside linebacker/defensive end Barkevious Mingo: "He's frail, not like Mario Williams or Julius Peppers."And on USC QB Matt Barkley: "I'm not sure he's even in the same class with [Smith]."Austin and Dobson are also highly regarded.
"Austin is explosive and has the potential to be a first- or second rounder," said one. "His [smaller] size is the concern. But as far as the nation's explosive playmakers, he's No. 1 or 2.""We've seen a lot of production from both," said another. "Austin is more quick. Dobson is more of a go-up-and-get it guy."So, yes, there's a good chance WVU could have its first No. 1 overall draft pick. (There have been nine Mountaineers taken in the first round, from Bruce Irvin this year to Joe Stydahar in 1936, the NFL's first draft. Dick Leftridge at No. 3 was the highest WVU player ever taken. That was by the Pittsburgh Steelers.)Also, we'll keep an eye on Austin and Dobson. Scouts certainly are."Our guys," said one scout, "have definitely been trolling your area."nn
And finally . . .A farewell to colorful ESPN commentator Beano Cook, who passed away Wednesday in Pittsburgh at the age of 81.In these parts, Cook will always be remembered for calling WVU his No. 1 team before the 1988 preseason. The Mountaineers, of course, went on to lose to Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship at season's end.Cook hedged after his prediction. He said mid-season that he doesn't "think [WVU] can stay with Notre Dame." He said he thought UCLA actually had the most talent nationally, but decided against traveling to Los Angeles to put together the television spot."By picking West Virginia," Cook said, "I didn't have to fly anywhere. They're just 90 miles away [from home]. Did you know I hate to fly? First word you see in an airport is 'terminal.' "Cook's humor, prediction - whatever the method - and national exposure given to WVU will always be remembered in the Mountain State."He called to do a piece for one of [ESPN's] preseason preview shows," said then-WVU and current Auburn assistant athletic director Shelly Poe. "He said he was going to say we would go undefeated."He was from Pittsburgh and had an affection for [WVU quarterback and Brashear High graduate] Major Harris. Well, they had Major and, I think, Rico Tyler and five or six players behind Beano doing a little rap with a beat box. Afterward, Beano made his prediction."I just remember our coaches rolling their eyes at the prediction, going, 'Oh, brother, what kind of sideshow will this be?' No one ever considered West Virginia."But Cook did. And after his death, Poe was moved to tweet about her former friend."Nothing like a phone call from Beano Cook to make you smile," Poe said. "Stealing a Don Nehlen quote, RIP "to one of the only Pitt guys I like."Indeed, rest in peace, Beano. And thanks for the fun.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.