If you’re a fan of college football in the state of West Virginia, you had plenty of reasons to pay attention to this past weekend’s NFL draft. Whether you were happy once it was over was another conversation altogether.
Some draft hopefuls exceeded expectations. Some were sitting on their couches Saturday evening pretty disappointed. Here are some of the draft winners and losers from the Mountain State’s college football programs.
John Cominsky, University of Charleston: Cominsky was the runaway winner of the weekend. In five years, he went from a barely recruited converted quarterback on a partial Division II scholarship to a fourth-round draft pick at defensive line for the Atlanta Falcons. That vault into the middle rounds was a product of relentless and tireless work and a great support system.
It’s a fact that’s been discussed to death, but we’ll dig up the corpse again here: Cominsky walked in to UC at 215 pounds. He walked out at 285 and looked like Paul Bunyan running sub-4.7-second 40-yard dashes. A UC or Morris Harvey football player hadn’t been drafted since 1943 and Cominsky broke that streak. That’s amazing. And very draft-worthy.
UC football: Cominsky isn’t the only former Golden Eagle getting his shot at an NFL roster in the next couple of months. Defensive end Kahzin Daniels signed a rookie free-agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and defensive back Jonte Pooler was invited to the Cleveland Browns’ rookie mini-camp. That’s a pretty good showing for Pat Kirkland’s Mountain East Conference program, and all three of those guys were Golden Eagles their entire careers.
“It’s great for our program,” Kirkland said. “It’s a good example for our young kids in our program, to show that hard work does pay off. In recruiting, I can’t even explain how big that is for our recruiting going forward.
“I think John Cominsky showed them that, hey, you can be a big fish in a small pond and get a lot of recognition,” he added. “It’s not going to guarantee you anything, but at least it’ll give you a look that you need.”
What that also does is keep UC on pro football scouting radars. Will they always have a John Cominsky on the team? No, but NFL scouts will always make sure to check.
Will Grier, West Virginia: Is it a little bit of a downer that a guy draft pundits said might sneak into the first round didn’t get picked until the third? Maybe, but everything else about Grier’s journey to the Carolina Panthers sets up beautifully.
First, he’s headed just up the street. He’s a Charlotte guy who owned six Steve Smith Panthers jerseys. How many guys get to play for the team they spent their childhood cheering for?
Also, he’s not walking into the locker room forced to be a savior. Cam Newton is still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL and just came off a season with a career-best 67.9-percent completion rate. He’s the starter, but Grier can become a capable backup. Newton also turns 30 on May 11 and has undergone two shoulder surgeries since 2017. If his body starts rebelling against him, Grier can step in for the short-term, and the Panthers have someone they can groom for the long-term.
Yodny Cajuste, West Virginia: Cajuste went to the New England Patriots with the pick right after Grier in the third round. The offensive tackle was being considered a possible first-round pick even with his history of injuries, but then had quad surgery in March that should put him on the shelf for three months. That and season-ending knee injuries in 2015 and 2016 throw up big red flags for durability concerns.
Yet he’s a relatively inexperienced player who didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school, and when he’s on the field, he’s fantastic. That probably kept him from sliding further and allowed him to land with the defending Super Bowl champions.
David Sills, West Virginia: Pockets of the Twitter-verse were apoplectic Saturday evening when the former Biletnikoff Award finalist went undrafted despite catching 33 touchdowns over the past two seasons. While there are plenty of numbers that made him stand out at WVU, two in particular stand out as reasons why he went without a phone call over seven rounds.
Those are 4.57 and 14 — his 40-yard dash time and bench press total at the NFL combine.
That 40 time was one of the slowest among receivers at the combine. Eleven linebackers and edge rushers ran as fast or faster. If a receiver can’t outrun those guys, how can he break away from defensive backs? And while his 14 reps at 225 pounds wasn’t as bad as former Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow’s seven, it wasn’t near former Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf’s 27. And when you look at what scouts considered one of Sills’ weaknesses, lack of strength was at the top of the list.
The NFL draft is a numbers game. A slow 40 or standing a couple inches too short can cripple a player’s draft prospects to a point where touchdown or sack totals can’t save them. Division II players climb draft boards and Power 5 players slide down them because of good or bad results in those combine categories.
It’s not like Sills was completely shut out from the NFL. He signed a free-agent deal with the Buffalo Bills, who finished dead last in the league in pass receptions in 2018. He’ll have every chance to make that roster, so everyone can pack the rage GIFs in mothballs for a while.
Marshall football: The Thundering Herd did not hear one of its players’ names called in the NFL draft for the fourth straight year. The last Marshall player drafted was corner Darryl Roberts in the seventh round in 2015. That matches the longest Herd drought since the span between when Troy Brown was picked in the eighth round in 1993 and Randy Moss was the 21st overall pick in 1998.
It’s not like Marshall struggled as a team in that time. The Herd has won at least eight games in three of the last four seasons and won three bowl games. MU had two legitimate draft prospects in safety Malik Gant and receiver Tyre Brady.
But analysts dinged Gant’s coverage ability and Brady’s lack of technique on short routes. Both were late-round prospects, and in those rounds teams can surprise with their picks. College football programs use their ability to get players to the NFL as a recruiting tool. That’s one tool the Herd has to keep in the box for now.
If there’s a silver lining for Gant and Brady, it’s that as rookie free agents, they were able to pick their destinations. That way, they could find what they felt was the best fit rather than try to fit into the roster of the team that picked them.