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Curry, Irvin's skills don't go unnoticed

By Jack Bogaczyk

The 77th annual NFL Draft isn't expected to be like the first one was for the Mountain State.

No first-rounders expected.

Way back in February 1936, at the first draft at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, the sixth name ever called in an NFL college player selection process was that of West Virginia tackle Joe Stydahar - the first-round pick by the Chicago Bears.

Stydahar, who played high school football for the Shinnston Spartans and eventually went on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was the first of 11 first-rounders to date for West Virginia schools - eight from WVU and three from Marshall.

The West Virginia Conference never has had a first-round selection ... but it was close.

Also in 1936, West Virginia Wesleyan's Len Barnum, a Parkersburg native, was the Andrew Luck of his day - the first quarterback taken - at No. 12 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates (there were no Steelers until '41).

That made him the third pick in Round 2. No other WVC player has been selected higher than the fourth round.

(As an aside, the last first-rounder in that initial draft became well known in the Mountain State later. Art "Pappy" Lewis, an Ohio University tackle and great coach of Sam Huff and Co. in the 1950s at WVU, was a New York Giants' selection at No. 9 overall.)

Fast forward to the present ... While no Mountaineer or Thundering Herd player is expected to go in Thursday night's first round calls at Radio City Music Hall, I'll be stunned if a couple of familiar names aren't off the board by late in Round 2 on Friday night.

And both bring something similar to the table.

Defensive ends Vinny Curry of Marshall and Bruce Irvin of WVU have great value as projected second-round picks. In a pass-first league like the NFL has been for years now, there are only two positions where stars are more valuable than men who can rush, harass and hit the passer.

That would be quarterback, obviously, and left offensive tackle, the primary protector against those aforementioned rushers toward a right-handed QB.

While Curry is more a prototype defensive end than Irvin, both are valued by NFL personnel men for their root skill - getting into an opponents' backfield. It stands to reason Curry will play up front in a 4-3. The smaller more versatile Irvin - a safety to start out in junior college - will be an outside linebacker ("rush end" if you'd prefer) in a 3-4.

What both are is relentless in their rushes. And once they get into an NFL camp and learn more about "how" to rush the QB, they're going to be even more valuable.

As one former NFL personnel man told me Tuesday, Curry and Irvin are what in the business have been called "one-down guys."

Except the insider added that it's been a while since the NFL was a league where third down was that one down. The ball goes in the air early and often. So, there's no reason a "one-down guy" can't multiply his impact these days.

A few analysts have said Curry could sneak into the first round, becoming the third Herd alum to make that grade, joining Randy Moss, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. Most think the former Marshall star will go in the first 10-12 picks of Round 2.

If you want a guesstimate from here, I'm going with Vinny to Miami (and its new 4-3 defensive scheme) at No. 44 ... coincidentally the same spot (2, 44) current WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck was picked as Mountaineer QB in 1982 by the Houston Oilers.

Irvin might stay on the board until the last few picks of Round 2, because he truly is a bit more of a specialist than Curry. While his work ethic and willingness to overcome a degree of personal difficulty - including never graduating from high school and going the GED route to junior college, then BCS brand football - he has had some character issues.

I think "Bruuuuce" will be one of four Mountaineer players to go in the draft's seven rounds, before defensive lineman Julian Miller, cornerback Keith Tandy and linebacker Najae Goode.

If those three are selected, it will bring the number of NFL-drafted WVU players recruited during the Rich Rodriguez regime to 17. Irvin came in during Bill Stewart's three-season tour of duty.  

My projection for Irvin is No. 52 to Tennessee, or No. 58 by the Texans (although the Packers and Patriots might love him to slip a spot or few later into their 3-4s).

A draft throwback in history is interesting, too.

That first draft in 1936 had one QB - the Buckhannon Bobcats' Barnum - in nine rounds, and 81 selections by nine clubs. This 77th draft might have three quarterbacks taken in the first eight picks. That's why guys like Irvin and Curry are crucial in today's pro game.

The rush-in's are coming, the rush-in's are coming ...

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.


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