West Virginia Football: Breaking Down Mountaineers' Dynamic NFL Draft Prospects

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 29, 2012

MORGANTOWN, WV - SEPTEMBER 22:  Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers hands the ball off to Tavon Austin #1 against the Maryland Terrapins  during the game on September 22, 2012 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  WVU defeated Maryland 31-21.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The West Virginia Mountaineers were a Top Five team early on in the 2012 college football season before a five-game losing streak forced them to finish strong just to be bowl eligible.

One thing is certain: The WVU offense definitely wasn't the problem. Led by QB Geno Smith, the Mountaineers have put up an average of 518.5 yards per game despite a putrid defense that yields over 38 points each contest.

While Smith is garnering hype as the top QB in the 2013 NFL draft class, West Virginia's dynamic duo of receivers in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are projected to be productive pros as well.

Here is a breakdown of this extraordinary trio that drives one of the nation's most prolific offenses, with projections on where they'll be drafted in April included.


WR Stedman Bailey

Despite being the least hyped of the three skill players, Bailey's big-play ability shouldn't be underestimated.

Bailey is 5'10" and 195 pounds and has shown an impressive ability to come down with the ball in one-on-one situations down the field. He has improved throughout his junior year in Morgantown.

Playing alongside a cerebral QB like Smith requires an elevated football IQ, which Bailey has.

In the past four games with a bowl bid on the line, the numbers Bailey has posted have been ridiculous. He is averaging over 11 catches and approximately 168 yards per game, including eight touchdowns.

Projected by CBSSports.com to be a third-round pick, Bailey would be a steal at that stage in the draft. He is overshadowed by Austin for good reason, but it also makes him a very underrated prospect.

There is a reason he draws comparisons to Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers. Of course, it would be ridiculous to assume that Bailey will turn into a superstar at this stage. However, there is plenty of promise, and snagging him in the third round would be a massive bargain.

Draft Stock: Late 2nd Round to Early 3rd Round

WR/RB/KR/PR Tavon Austin

With all those slashes ahead of Austin's name, it's easy to see how he will be shooting up draft boards despite his pint-sized stature.

The true definition of a "home-run" threat, Austin is the most explosive and versatile skills player in this 2013 class. That will allow him to make an instant impact at the NFL level, whether it be on offense or special teams.

Austin's conversion to wide receiver from running back in college has been a massive success. He has caught over 100 passes in each of the past two seasons. But his best game for the Mountaineers may have happened at his old position.

Just over a month ago against the Oklahoma Sooners, a return to running back resulted in 21 carries for a whopping 344 yards and two touchdowns for Austin. He added four catches for 82 yards to boot.

Not only could Austin emerge as an exceptional slot receiver in the NFL, but he could also serve as a valuable scat back that can make people miss in space.

It will be interesting to see where Austin falls in the draft, but his skill set reflects a featherweight version of Minnesota Vikings playmaker Percy Harvin. Although he's 5'9" and only 172 pounds, it's hard to imagine all 32 teams passing on him in the first round.

Draft Stock: Late 1st Round to Early 2nd Round


QB Geno Smith

There aren't many strong quarterback prospects in the 2013 class. Or maybe we were spoiled by the previous crop that featured Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson.

Something very telling about this class is that only Smith even cracks Scouts Inc.'s Top 32 (h/t ESPN), which ranks purely how prospects are evaluated rather than the order they might be drafted in.

Smith only ranks as the 24th-best prospect in that context, but he still has to be considered the No. 1 QB at this point. Some teams are desperate at quarterback, including the potential holders of the top overall pick—the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs.

In a regular year, Smith might be brought in to learn behind a veteran and take over.

But with the groundbreaking play of recent rookie QBs and dire situations under center around the league, the Mountaineers quarterback is likely to be selected very high.

Even though he plays in a spread offense with a strong supporting cast at West Virginia, there are plenty of aspects of Smith's game to like. His 6'3", 220-pound frame gives him ideal size, and his arm strength is adequate for the pros.

Most notable is Smith's accuracy and decision-making, which are both exceptional. Look no further than his 71.4 percent completion rate and 40-to-six touchdown-to-interception ratio as proof. Obvious concerns lurk about Smith's ability to take snaps from under center and how he'll adjust to tighter throwing windows at the NFL level.

One asset that he doesn't use often—his mobility—will come in handy early in his career, and should help him extend plays and be successful in finding throwing lanes.

Draft Stock: No. 1 overall pick to Middle 1st Round