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West Virginia Won’t Win the National Championship in ‘17, But Just Might in 2018

Could 2018 be the year for the Mountaineers?

Discover Orange Bowl - West Virginia v Clemson
Could 2018 see Dana standing beside Will Grier and a National Championship trophy?

[Writer's Note: This article is based upon the best available depth chart and may not feature players who have shifted during camp.]

The West Virginia Mountaineers boasted a host of returning talent in 2016. A senior quarterback, junior receivers, a senior offensive line, senior defensive linemen. That amount of returning talent helped pave the way to the Mountaineers second 10-win season of the Dana Holgorsen era.

As often happens with teams that returned a host of talent, the 2017 Mountaineers are one of the teams in Power 5 conferences that do not return a lot of production. Losing Skyler Howard, Shelton Gibson, Daikeil Shorts, Tyler Orlosky, Adam Pankey, Noble Nwachukwu, Darrien Howard, and Rasul Douglas, among others, has Big 12 media writers predicting the team to finish middle of the pack in the conference.

2017 WVU Depth Chart

Position Player Year
Position Player Year
Quarterback Will Grier R-Junior
Running Back Justin Crawford Senior
Fullback Elijah Wellman R-Senior
Tight End Trevon Wesco R-Junior
Wide Receiver (X) David Sills Junior
Wide Receive (Z) Ka'Raun White R-Senior
Inside Receiver (Y) Gary Jennings Junior
Left Tackle Yodny Cajuste R-Junior
Left Guard Kyle Bosch R-Senior
Center Matt Jones R-Sophomore
Right Guard Grant Lingafelter R-Senior
Right Tackle Colton McKivitz R-Sophomore
Defensive End Adam Shuler R-Sophomore
Nose Tackle Xavier Pegues R-Senior
Defensive End Reese Donahue Sophomore
SAM Linebacker Xavier Preston Senior
MIKE Linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton R-Senior
WILL Linebacker David Long R-Sophomore
Left Cornerback Hakeem Bailey R-Sophomore
Right Cornerback Elijah Battle Senior
SPUR Safety Kyzir White Senior
Free Safety Dravon Askew-Henry R-Junior
BANDIT Safety Toyous Avery R-Junior

Looking at the current depth chart, there are familiar names, but names that haven’t seen a lot of playing time. Will Grier is a former Parade All-American but hasn’t thrown a football in a live game since October 10, 2015. The leading returning receiver had 48 catches for 583 yards. The starting defensive line is two sophomores and a senior, and 4 of 6 defensive backs weren’t starters in 2016, while Dravon Askew-Henry is returning from an ACL tear.

It makes sense why the Mountaineers wouldn’t be picked high. There is talent there but it is unknown how the talent will mesh right now.

But what about 2018? Do you see what I see in the 2017 depth chart? There are only 10 seniors. 12 players are slated to return in 2018, including quarterback Will Grier. No single position has to be overhauled, as it has in 2016 and 2017.

2018 West Virginia Depth Chart

Position Player Year
Position Player Year
Quarterback Will Grier R-Senior
Running Back Kennedy McCoy Junior
Fullback Elijah Drummond R-Sophomore
Tight End Trevon Wesco R-Senior
Wide Receiver (X) David Sills Senior
Wide Receive (Z) Ricky Rogers R-Senior
Inside Receiver (Y) Gary Jennings Senior
Left Tackle Yodny Cajuste R-Senior
Left Guard Chase Behrndt R-Sophomore
Center Matt Jones R-Junior
Right Guard Josh Sills R-Sophomore
Right Tackle Colton McKivitz R-Junior
Defensive End Adam Shuler R-Junior
Nose Tackle Jaleel Fields R-Senior
Defensive End Reese Donahue Junior
SAM Linebacker Zach Sandwisch R-Sophomore
MIKE Linebacker Adam Hensley Junior
WILL Linebacker David Long R-Junior
Left Cornerback Hakeem Bailey R-Junior
Right Cornerback Jordan Adams R-Junior
SPUR Safety Derrick Pitts Sophomore
Free Safety Dravon Askew-Henry R-Senior
BANDIT Safety Toyous Avery R-Senior

Only four members of the offense will be “new”, two of which will be on the offensive line. The only skill players on offense to replace is fullback Elijah Wellman and X receiver Ka’Raun White.

On defense, both Reese Donahue and Adam Shuler are slated to return at defensive end. Linebacker will lose Al-Rasheed Benton and Xavier Preston but will return David Long, along with talented players like Brendan Ferns, Logan Thimons and Adam Hensley.

Hakeem Bailey will return at cornerback while Dravon Askew-Henry and Toyous Avery will be back at safety.

Overall, the 2017 team will gain a lot of valuable experience and will surprise many in the national media. It will then set up the team to have a very special 2018 season with a senior experienced quarterback and experienced senior skill players on both offense and defense.