It’s a tough question. Most of our favorite Mountaineers have not had success at the next level. Pat White and Major Harris specifically spring to mind. While the two most iconic Mountaineers in my lifetime were virtual unknowns in the “League”, let’s look at the guys that made it.
- Sam Huff
He predates me and, I assume, most of you. He played guard and tackle for the Mountaineers from 1952-1955. His #75 jersey is retired- and this school does not retire jerseys willy nilly. He was a first team All-American at WVU in 1955, played in the NFL championship game, and was a four time Pro-Bowler. He’s the GOAT, and his number is on the wall to prove it.
2. Adam “Pacman” Jones
Say what you want about Adam, he has shown staying power in the league. He was the sixth overall pick in the ‘04 draft. He has nearly 5,000 return yards in the NFL. He has forced 7 fumbles and has 15 INT’s. He’s scored 8 touchdowns and is still one of the best cover corners in the NFL. In a league that sees cornerbacks come and go quickly, he’s shown that he’s one of the best corners in the league, time and again. In my opinion, he’s unequivocally the second pick. Top that all with the fact that he was the sixth overall pick and has a Pro-Bowl to his name. He’s #2 because it’s really, really hard to have staying power as a CB in the modern NFL.
3. Marc Bulger
Bulger is a Pittsburgh kid who started a family dynasty at WVU. His sisters played basketball for West Virginia and he was one of, if not the best, passer that ever worn the old gold and blue. White and Harris will always get the the attention as the best QB’s in WVU history, but Bulger is, and for the foreseeable future will be, the best and most successful QB in the NFL. The fact that he did it in the Nehlen era only adds to his impressive legacy. Add in that he took over for Warner in St. Louis makes it even more incredible. Bulger’s WVU teams were loaded (Amos Zeroue, Shawne Foreman, David Saunders, Anthony Becht, Khori Ivy, and more), but he threw the ball around as well or better than anyone who ever threw it in Morgantown, and then he did it in the NFL.
We can all agree that that highlight reel is ridiculous, right? For a lot of reasons.
4. Darryl Talley
I know that this one will be controversial. Talley was a heck of a Mountaineer and a great Pro. He was Coach Don Nehlen’s first consensus all-american, played for 14 NFL seasons, and went to four straight Super Bowls. He never missed a game in 12 consecutive NFL seasons. He scored three touchdowns and is easily the spot where you should all tell me that I am wrong, young, and stupid.
5. Brian Jozwiak
I’ll be the first person to tell you that I don’t know how to evaluate offensive linemen. I’ll also be the first to assure you that Joz was a beast. He was the fifth Mountaineer ever to be taken in the first round of the draft. He was taken seventh overall, and played only three full seasons before a hip injury ended it all. His tenure was short, but his ability, and talent, was enormous.
6. Aaron Beasley
He was a legend. He led the Mountaineers, and the nation, with 10 interceptions as a Junior. He was a third round pick and a 14 year pro. He killed it in the NFL. He started 105 games, had 24 INT’s, 10 forced fumbles, and 8.5 sacks as a cornerback. If you’re picking an “all-time WVU” team, the CB position starts and ends with Aaron and Pac-man.
7. Bruce Irvin
Bruuuuuuucccceeeee. He had a short and wonderful career in Morgantown. He’s only the second Mountaineer on this list that is still playing in the NFL. First (and still, I believe, only) player to be ejected from a Super Bowl, Bruce can still shoot up these rankings. He was taken 15th overall by the Seahawks and will be an anchor on what should be an incredible Raiders defense this season. The man has already scored two NFL touchdowns from the outside LB position, and likely has more to come. He’s above Turnbull, because I like to think that he has a lot more to prove.
8. Renaldo Turnbull
Renaldo was another monster. He was taken 14th overall in the 1990 NFL draft. He played for 7 seasons and had 45.5 sacks. He was a one time Pro-Bowl selection and, in 1993, recorded 13 sacks. That was good enough to earn him first team All-NFL honors. He was mired on some pretty bad Saints teams, but his individual efforts were awesome.
This makes me rethink my rankings.
9. Anthony Becht
He was the 27th overall pick and played forever in the NFL. 11 seasons, five teams, over 1,500 yards, with more than 20 touchdowns, and you will never hear someone that played with him say a bad word about him. As a traditional tight end, his position is now gone from the NFL forever, but for what a TE was supposed to be, when he played, Anthony Becht was perfect for it.
(He’s a pretty good announcer now, too)
10. Tavon Austin
This one is hard, mostly because I so much want it to be true. Tavon is paid like a top receiver, has all the ball skills of a top receiver, and yet has never performed like a top receiver. He is tiny. He is fast. He has not been used like he should be used. He is only included on this list in the hope that someone in LA can find a way to use him that makes sense. Because this:
Just watch those highlights and tell me he’s not one move away from the goal line every time he touches the ball.
My favorite WVU linebacker of all time. Maybe it was the huge sign right behind my parent’s seats that read “prepare to be Slayed and Canutered”; maybe because he was unstoppable. Canute was a consensus All-American who played five seasons for the Bengals and probably had a shortened career because of it.