2016 was an awesome year for the Mountaineers in the NFL Draft. West Virginia had 5 players drafted, tied for 8th most of any school, and had probably their 2nd best draft class of the modern era behind the class of 1999. What’s even better is that it seems like most of the guys are going to have a pretty good shot at early playing time. Let’s take a look at everybody’s situation.
Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders –
They say that it’s not a reach if a guy is your guy, and Karl Joseph was the definitely Oakland’s guy. Lucky for him that the Raiders are showing signs of life for the first time in over a decade.
The Raiders invested heavily in their defense in free agency, adding Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, and most importantly, your friend and my favorite Mr. Bruce Irvin to a group that already includes a returning-from-being-suspended Aldon Smith and 3rd year stud Khalil Mack. Bruce Irvin, for one, was clearly not at all excited at the prospect of a Mountaineer reunion in the Bay..
Joseph compliments that group perfectly. Smith, Irvin, and Mack are going to get after quarterbacks. Sean Smith is going to swallow receivers on the outside. Reggie Nelson is going hawk balls. These are facts of life. This is going to allow Karl to simply do what he does: make plays. He’s going to be the Queen on Ken Norton’s chessboard. It’s a perfect role for him.
As far as playing time goes, I think he’s gonna follow the Todd Gurley plan. He’s definitely who the Raiders want out there as a starter, but I think they’re going to ease him into it. Joseph could start for them for the next 10 years so there’s absolutely no reason to rush him back before he’s ready. However, he’s on schedule to be 100% well before the regular season starts so don’t be surprised if you see him out there Week 1.
Daryl Worley, Carolina Panthers –
I have to be honest, this pick shocked me. At first. The more I think about it though, the more I love it. I live down here in Charlotte and hear plenty about the Panthers, and was fairly surprised at how casually everybody took the Josh Norman news. In Gettleman We Trust, they said, and I have to tell you, I think he might have gotten this one extremely right.
You see, the Panthers play a zone coverage scheme. They have the best front 7 in football, and they know it, and as such they don’t make things over-complicated on the back end. In general, they simply ask their corners to win downfield battles with the increasingly large wide receivers in the NFL. To do that you need to have a big body, good athleticism, and good ball skills. Worley has all those things, and I think he is more than capable of doing most of the things they asked Josh Norman to do. Most of Worley’s struggles in college came in man coverage situations where he would occasionally get caught looking in the backfield and would be slow to react to routes. In the Panthers zone scheme he will be coached to react to the quarterback, so one of his biggest weaknesses in college could become one of his biggest strengths in the League. I’m really excited that I’ll have front row seats to keep an eye on his development in this system, and wouldn’t be surprised at all if he challenges for a starting spot right away.
Nick Kwiatkoski, Chicago Bears –
Polish Sausage. Ditka. Ditka. Kwiatkoski. Bears. Credit to my friend Nathan for the Superfans reference. Seriously though, how the hell could this have gone any better for Nick? He goes to a team that you know wants him (the Bears moved up 4 spots to pick him in the 4th), with a strong defensive and linebacking tradition, where he fits in both on and off the field.
First, his name and play style. A hard-nosed linebacker named Nick Kwiatkoski? They are going to absolutely love that in Chicago. If he can contribute at all this year, and I’m sure that he will at least on special teams, he’s going to be a household name for Bears fans by the end of the preseason.
Second, the scheme. The Bears switched to a 3-4 base defense last year which I think behooves Nick’s chances of playing early. Though he’s athletic and versatile enough to play in a 4-3, I think he may be better suited to play somewhere in the middle of a 3-4, which is exactly what the Bears will ask him to do. In that position he won’t be asked to cover in space quite as frequently, which if you’re being harsh is one of his weaknesses.
Overall, Nick is a great fit here both culturally and tactically. He’s a hard nosed, lunch pail kind of guy that the Bears fanbase will quickly identify with and has the right skill set to answer the questions asked of a 3-4 middle linebacker. Though I think Nick will have a difficult time unseating either Jerrell Freeman or Danny Trevathan for a starting spot in the short term, I do think he will be a strong contributor on special teams right away and push for spot playing time by years end.
Wendell Smallwood, Philadelphia Eagles –
If you read my draft profile of Wendell, you know that I liked him going to the Eagles. He grew up a Philly fan, they had a need at running back, and utilize a blocking scheme that’s well-suited to his running style. The only difference is that I thought they’d have to snag him at 79; I didn’t think they’d want to risk him not being there at 153. However, risk it they did, and it paid off because they ended up getting their dude anyways.
A quick peak at the Eagles roster shows that they have 4 other running backs hanging around. However, I think you could argue that only 2 of them (Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles) will definitely be ahead of Wendell on the depth chart heading into training camp. The other two are Kenjon Barner, who’s never really been anything other than a kick returner in the NFL, and Kevin Monangai, who spent last year on the Eagles practice squad. You have think that the shiny new draft pick will get chances ahead of those 2.
It’s hard to know exactly how he’ll fit into the offense simply because Doug Pederson is a 1st time head coach/play caller, but from what I’ve been reading he plans to open the offense up a bit. I think this benefits Smallwood, who’s very solid in the passing game both as a blocker and a receiver. Whether Sam Bradford or Carson Wentz ends up starting, they’re going to need someone who can protect them some times and be an outlet at others, and Wendell can definitely fill both those roles.
The unfortunate thing for Wendell is that so can Darren Sproles. Sproles has made a career out of his versatility and is as good as there is at catching passes out of the backfield. The good thing for Wendell is that Sproles is 33 and in the final year of his contract. He’s one of the great 3rd down/all-purpose backs in the NFL; who better for Wendell to study under for a year before taking the reigns? Ultimately I think this has to be what the Eagles have planned for him: he will provide depth in the short-term and has the skill set to step in for either Matthews and Sproles if necessary, before hopefully taking on an increased workload next year and beyond.
KJ Dillon, Houston Texans –
I like KJ’s situation less than any of the others simply because there’s so much uncertainty surrounding it. The Texans made the playoffs last year, but that’s likely because the AFC South was really terrible. This year the Jags should be improved, the Titans should be improved, and the Colts should be better again, and that makes postseason football and a successful season way less of a certainty.
I also don’t like the way the Texans depth chart looks. Though I wouldn’t say that any of guys currently in front of him are necessarily better than KJ, that’s still a lot of muck to wade through to get on the field. I think they drafted him as a special teams guy with let’s-wait-and-see potential and he’s a better than that.
The one good thing that he has going for him in Houston is that he’d be part of a great defense. Brian Cushing, Vince Wilfork, Whitney Mercilus, and Jonathan Joseph are all ballers. They also have this guy, JJ Watt, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, who is apparently pretty good as a defensive end. If KJ can sift through the bullshit and get some playing time he couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to play with and learn from.
Ultimately, it’s a boom-or-bust situation for a boom-or-bust type of player. KJ is a great athlete with a versatile skill set who can fill a variety of roles. There is always going to be a spot on an NFL roster for that type of player. The problem though is that with the depth chart cluster F in front of him, he may never get the playing time necessary to develop into anything more than that. So much of a player’s development is tied to the situation he gets drafted into, and a depth chart quagmire in the worst division in football isn’t a great one.