Former Mountaineers Smith, Austin near top of draft class
April 20, 2013 8:00 AM
Christopher Jackson/Associated Press
Former West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin and his former quarterback Geno Smith could be first-round picks in the NFL draft.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
West Virginia likely will make a big impact on the 2013 NFL draft with two players projected to go in the first round -- quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver Tavon Austin.
Both will be in New York on draft day, which could be an historic one for West Virginia because no two Mountaineers have been drafted in the first round the same year.
Receiver Stedman Bailey also is expected to be taken in the early rounds.
"Those guys are extremely talented genetically. But I think it's a good recruiting tool when you have guys drafted that high," said West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. "You really can push the offense. The numbers you can put up and how it can showcase your talents on the national stage, I think it helps the program in a lot of different ways."
Smith has met with several teams the past few weeks and is considered the best quarterback in a class that lacks the cache of the group last year. He could be a top-5 pick or drop out of the top 10, although most analysts agree he will be a first-round pick.
Smith has been linked to Jacksonville -- which met with him for nearly two hours after West Virginia's pro day in March -- Philadelphia, Buffalo, Oakland and several others.
Smith's star faded somewhat as the Mountaineers struggled in the Big 12 Conference last fall and went on a five-game losing skid, but he had a solid NFL combine performance and a better pro day on campus after working all winter with former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke.
Smith ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash, and his footwork at the team's pro day appeared to quell concerns about his mobility in the pocket. He also completed 60 of 64 passes, many from under center. Ball-security issues (32 career fumbles) seem to be biggest knock against him.
ESPN analyst and former NFL coach Jon Gruden said Smith is more versatile than he is given credit for and can fit into any system.
"I've seen him drive the ball accurately down the field. I've seen him throw the ball with touch and accuracy, make quick decisions and I've seen him be dominant at times," said Gruden.
"Hopefully, the thing that came across is West Virginia runs a lot of plays in every game. 85, 95, 105 plays, up-tempo, no huddle, lot of pressure on the quarterback to get every play communicated at warp speed."
Austin's star, meanwhile, has been on the rise since running a 4.34 at the combine. His yards after the catch are what sets him apart from the classic receiver, and his size -- he's just 5 feet 8 -- is not sounding like it will be much of a turnoff.
Austin, called a "matchup nightmare" by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, was consistent at receiver and later running back, and some analysts project his ability as a receiver, runner and returner could shoot him into the top 10.
Bailey had 25 touchdowns and has been a teammate of Smith since they met in church during middle school. Eventually, they played on the same high school team in Miramar, Fla.
The team's previous first rounder was pass-rushing specialist Bruce Irvin, who surprised a lot of experts by going No. 15 overall to the Seattle Seahawks last year.
Before Irvin, it was Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, chosen No. 6 overall by the Tennessee Titans in 2005 and now with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Before those, Anthony Becht was taken No. 27 overall by the New York Jets in 2000, and linebacker Renaldo Turnbull at No. 14 by New Orleans in 1990.