The 2011 NFL Draft is in the books and it saw a total of four Mountaineers get drafted. I gave my predictions on who and where they would get drafted in a column last week. Of my 7 predictions, the one that I got correct was that Scooter Berry wouldn't get drafted. The four Mountaineers taken were the most drafted from WVU since the 2000 Draft. The four that did get drafted were Brandon Hogan, Robert Sands, J.T. Thomas, and Chris Neild. The most notable Mountaineer that did not get drafted was Noel Devine. I'll explain further down in this column how this is not necessarily a setback for Devine.
The four Mountaineer defensive players taken were the 3rd most players on the defensive side of the ball of any school besides UNC and Ohio State. The Mountaineers had more players drafted than heavyweights Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Virginia Tech, and future Big East opponent, TCU. The Big East as a whole had 22 players drafted, 4 more than last year.
We'll tell you where Hogan, Sands, Thomas, and Neild were drafted, what their new teams have to say about them, how they'll fit in, and who could be starting soon.
Brandon Hogan- Pick # 98 Carolina Panthers: The Panthers began the third day of the draft by drafting Brandon Hogan. The Panthers have a reputation for drafting players that the feel will stay out of trouble. Hogan (and Cam Newton to a degree) seem to go against that philosophy. The Panthers are going through a shift in philosophy with new head coach Ron Rivera. Ron Meeks, the Panthers defensive coordinator that served under departed coach, John Fox, was retained. Meeks is a coordinator that is able to develop young defensive players quickly. Hogan was drafted to fill a need that the Panthers have at cornerback. Hogan is still recovering from a torn ACL. Carolina could lose two starters from last season before next season begins (Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble). This is from a defense that already lacks depth. Hogan could see the field very quickly. Hogan says that he will be ready for football, both on the field and off it. Ron Rivera is counting on it.
"With the research we did on him, some flags do come up," Rivera told the Charlotte Observer of Hogan. "But I had a very nice conversation with him. I laid it out. There's no three strikes you're out. You're here to do it our way, the right way, the Panthers way. If not, there will be some consequences. He seemed to understand that."
Robert Sands- Pick #134 Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have issues on the offensive side of the ball with Carson Palmer decreeing that he's played his last game in a Bengal uniform and Chad Ochocino/ Johnson could be on his way out of town as well. Their defense on the other hand is actually decent. Sands will join another former Mountaineer in the defensive backfield with Adam Jones. Like Hogan, Sands was also drafted to fill a need and could see immediate playing time at free safety and on special teams. It was thought after the Combine and WVU's Pro Day that Sands may be better suited as an OLB in the NFL. The Bengals say they're going to keep him at free safety. The Bengals have two other guys at that position that are going into the final years of their contracts (Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson.) ESPN opines that Sands needs to learn how to cover better, but still finds a way to get into position. Could contribute as a situational run stopper and on special teams right away.
"He has some of the things you can't really coach," Bengals coach, Marvin Lewis, told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "and that's his size and speed, and his ability to go play the ball in his range."
J.T. Thomas- Pick #195 Chicago Bears: Thomas got picked to a team that is looking to develop young depth behind incumbents, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs at linebacker. The knock on Thomas is that he lacks the size to be effective at LB at the next level. He has the athleticism and tools to develop into a key reserve and strong special teams player. Bears GM, Jerry Angelo, says that Thomas will be a reserve linebacker and be a key special teams contributor.
"He fits us perfectly," Angelo said. "He played multiple roles there at West Virginia. He can play all three (linebacker) positions."
Chris Neild- Pick #253 Washington Redskins: One pick away from being 'Mr. Irrelevant', SI.com lists Chris Neild as a 'Draft Steal.' Neild has the tools and skills to add depth right away.
"The fact that Neild was the second-to-last player selected is mind-blowing. He's a 320-pound slugger who brings his lunch pail to work every day and is a prospect coaches will love," Tony Pauline wrote on SI.com. "Don't be surprised if he's starting by the end of his rookie season."
Among those Mountaineers that went undrafted were Noel Devine, Jock Sanders, Scooter Berry, and Anthony Leonard. Devine is the most shocking of the four to go undrafted, but may wind up with many options when the lockout ends. He had multiple teams interested in him before the draft with New Orleans, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore among them. He had injury and durability problems as his WVU career drew to a close and was then lumped into the same categories as Dexter McCluster and Darren Sproles. Those are players that fill niche roles on their respective teams. Those things hurt Devine's chances of getting drafted. Now, he is a free-agent, free to sign with any team he chooses. Going undrafted doesn't always mean that a player will never be put in a position to succeed in the NFL. Now, Devine and his agent will have the opportunity to decide which team that comes calling will be the best fit for him. In last year's Pro Bowl, 23 players were undrafted rookie free-agents at some point. Last year's leading rookie rusher, LeGarrette Blount, rushed for over 1,000 yards as an undrafted free-agent.
Hopefully, Devine, Sanders, Berry, Leonard and Co. will find a home on an NFL roster. Keep checking back here for more updates on the undrafteds and those players that were lucky enough to hear their names called over the weekend.