NFL Draft: Double dose of firsts may happen for Mountaineers
NEW YORK -- West Virginia has only had nine first-round NFL draft picks.
Never before have back-to-back years produced first-round picks, though that should change tonight when either receiver Tavon Austin or quarterback Geno Smith is called to the famed stage at Radio City Music Hall.
Whether more history is coming remains unknown.
The Mountaineers have never had two players taken in the first round. Since Austin is considered an unquestioned first-round pick, it would seem the fate of a double dose of draft firsts is attached to when Smith is picked during the seven-round, three-day draft that begins at 8 p.m. on ESPN and the NFL Network.
Smith stopped wondering, never mind caring, a while back.
"My expectation is to go early, but if I don't, it's not going to phase me really," he said. "The only thing I can do is wait until a team calls my name. Then, whatever team I go to, I'll go there and try to win the starting job. Once I'm the starter, I'll try to win games and continue to play toward my other goals because I've got the bar set high for myself."
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AUSTIN'S NAME has risen so high and so suddenly on draft boards because of his performance at the draft combine. Even in the presence of abundant game footage, he said he still needed to convince people he was fast and could run routes and catch passes down the field.
At the combine in February, Austin ran the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds, which was 0.01 seconds off the record set by Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson. Austin's time was later adjusted to an official 4.34 seconds.
"I think I had a good career, but at the end of the day, I tie all this to the combine," Austin said. "That's when they really got to see me run routes and then when I ran that fast time, I think that's what got me to here.
"I think I had to run the 4.2. A lot of people had me as a 4.4 guy and I knew that was wrong. We just never had a timer on us at West Virginia."
Austin also believes he's in the right place at the right time and ready to step into the NFL as teams evolve to accommodate more spread offenses, feature slot receivers and make the most of fast players who are dangerous in space.
"A couple years ago, my name probably wouldn't be mentioned in the league," he said.
Austin said every team he met with vowed to use the touch pass he and Smith made famous, but he said there are other plans for the player who ran for 344 yards against Oklahoma.
"Every team said that they'd definitely like for me to come in and play running back here and there or on third down," he said.
Austin's versatility on offense and in special teams, when combined with the speed from the combine and the elusiveness on film, has propelled him toward the top of the first round.
"Pretty much what they say is when they look at me, they see a special player," Austin said. "They always tell me you can't coach what I do."
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SMITH HAD stayed silent as mock drafts dropped him lower and as scouting reports and popular opinions questioned his potential. That ended with Smith's rebuttal Tuesday on Twitter.
"Just want to thank all those so called 'experts' who say I can't be an NFL QB. Thursday will be a special day but the work has only begun," he wrote.
Naturally, that was a popular topic Wednesday at a pre-draft NFL 60 youth clinic for kids at Chelsea Waterside Park. Smith insisted he was not angered or embittered by the process. He denied the suggestion he waited until he was so close to the draft to respond to what's become widespread criticism.
"It's not even to get back at anyone, first of all," he said. "It's not about getting back at anyone. You can't do that through Twitter. The only way to do that is to prove them wrong on the field. Basically, what I said was I want to thank them for continuing to motivate me by saying things.
"Obviously, I don't read them, but people call me and say, 'Did you hear this? Did you hear that?' No. I don't care about that stuff. But as long as it's out there, I've got to stay on my A game."
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SMITH SAID former teammate and close friend receiver Stedman Bailey will be one of his guests tonight. Bailey is projected to be drafted Friday during the second or third round, though he could wait early Saturday, which features the final four rounds.
"Sted is part of my family, my extended family," Smith said. "I've known him about eight or nine years now. It was just something where he said, 'Hey, I want to come,' and I said, 'OK, you've got a ticket.' "
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SMITH ISN'T bothered by questions about his mechanics. He believes coaches will adjust Smith's style to their liking. He shrugs off claims he's a quarterback whose success is a product of WVU's offensive system. Smith counters that by saying Coach Dana Holgorsen's style has prepared him for multiple offenses and the control of so many decision also made him ready to better manage a team.
The one thing that seems to mess with Smith most is the implication he can't play in bad weather. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said that's one reason Smith won't go No. 8 to Buffalo. The Bills are now coached by former Syracuse Coach Doug Marrone, who was 3-0 against Smith.
"The severe weather games I saw, they were poor games," Mayock said. "If I'm the new head coach at Buffalo and I'm in an outdoor venue, I'm not going there."
After struggling with the wind in a loss at Texas Tech and then having some trouble with the wind and cold at Iowa State, Smith labored through the snow during the Pinstripe Bowl.
"That's one game," he said. "I played and started how many games in my career? I've played in terrible conditions. I played at West Virginia. That was just one game and I don't think I played particularly bad. We just didn't win that game. Overall, I've got to get better, but that's something I've always done."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.