WVU Draft Day Preview
Since 2015, the West Virginia Mountaineers have placed 19 players into the NFL draft. This number represents the second-highest total in that time in the Big 12 conference. Draft day is, of course, a bittersweet day for fans. It represents the fruition of individual athletic efforts, and fans love to see their favorites play on Sunday. Unfortunately, it also represents attrition on the roster, as fan favorites move to the next level. As we do every year, we offer our thoughts and predictions in our annual WVU draft day preview.
This year, WVU’s draft day will be a little quiet. Given the youth on the roster, there simply were not many players who entered the NFL draft. Of those, two stand out as the most likely to hear their names called during the NFL draft, which takes place between April 29 and May 1 in Cleveland. A few others (Chase Behrndt, T.J. Simmons, Kyle Poland, and Mike Brown) might either sneak into the final round or earn contracts as undrafted free agents.
Darius Stills: Still Overlooked on Draft Day?
We interviewed Darius Stills after his stellar 2020 campaign. Stills, as many fans know, earned only a couple of Power Five offers out of high school. Former Head Coach Dana Holgorsen, in fact, offered Stills late in the cycle, and Darius headed home. The rest, as they say, is history. Darius took a bit over a year to get into his groove, but he consistently improved all four years in Morgantown. Thus, despite being oft-overlooked early in his career, Stills transitioned into a consensus All-American in his final season, saving his best for last.
To be clear, Stills always used detractors and critics as fuel. We spoke to him about this, and he readily admits that he has a “big chip on [his] shoulder.” Surprisingly, though, Stills’ detractors remain. Still viewed as undersized despite all of his achievements (and recent precedent for “undersized” defensive linemen in the NFL), Stills wasn’t even invited to the Senior Bowl this year. He continues to work to prove those detractors wrong, and readily admits that “being slept on is a familiar feeling.” Ultimately, Stills just wants to make his believers and fans proud.
What does this mean for his draft day projections? Perhaps not much, as it turns out. Some scouts believe that Stills may ultimately prove himself an NFL starter. Meanwhile, even those, think it will take just the right scheme and fit. Most scouts, however, still doubt Stills can make an impact. We disagree vehemently. That being said, Stills will continue to battle this perception. Nonetheless, we predict Stills to earn a fourth-round selection on draft day
Tony Fields II: Another Undersized Prospect?
Simply put, Tony Fields had an illustrious college career. As a true freshman, Fields compiled 104 tackles at Arizona. He remained consistent throughout his career, racking up 89 and 94 tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons. At Arizona, Fields was used almost exclusively as a WILL linebacker. Prior to his senior season, Fields entered the transfer portal and joined Neal Brown in Morgantown where he transitioned to MIKE linebacker.
In just nine games in the shortened 2020 season, Fields added another 88 tackles. His 2020 production put him on pace for 127 tackles over a 13-game season. To put that into perspective, only four players have produced 100-tackles seasons for the Mountaineers since 2005. The most recent player was also the latest linebacker drafted from the Mountaineers, David Long. He netted 108 tackles in 2018. The year before that, Al-Rasheed Benton piled up 110.
Fields’ production and consistent, is indeed unassailable. Nonetheless, as our NFL site wrote about Tony Fields in our prospect summary, Fields’ biggest cons are his size and potential limit as a WILL in NFL schemes. That said, David Long was an inch shorter and just a few pounds heavier coming out of high school. Long plays a consistent role going into his third year with the Tennessee Titans. Thus, WVU fans do not have to look too far into the past to see a similarly undersized but extremely productive linebacker make the jump into the NFL.
In his combine and pro-day performances, Fields put up solid numbers. His 4.5 40-yard dash time puts him in the second tier of linebackers in this class. He added 17 bench press reps and a 34-inch vertical, also putting him in the high-middle category. At the end of the day, however, Fields, like Stills, will deal with the perception that he remains undersized for the NFL. We don’t think Fields overcomes those doubts quite as well, but we think fans hear his name called on draft day in the fifth or sixth round.