In recent years, the West Virginia football program, regardless of on-field success, has developed a solid penchant for producing NFL draft picks, as evidenced by the selections of Kenny Robinson and Colton McKivitz on Saturday.
As such, it can be expected that there is some next-level talent sitting on the roster even today as several current Mountaineers have demonstrated skills that could get them selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. While the team’s youth may be one of its strongest suits, there are still a few upcoming juniors and seniors with the potential to hear their names called by Roger Goodell next year.
DT Darius Stills
The most obvious choice here, Stills claimed First Team All-Big 12 honors in his first season as a starter under defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. In 12 games, 11 of them starts, the elder son of Gary Stills collected a team-high 14.5 tackles for loss while tying younger brother Dante for the high mark with 7.0 sacks.
Overall, he capped off a breakout junior season with 47 total tackles, 28 unassisted, five quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a blocked field goal. After briefly considering a move to the pro ranks at season’s end, he decided to return for his senior season in Morgantown.
With Big 12 standouts like Brayvion Roy, Ross Blacklock, Neville Gallimore, and conference Defensive Player of the Year James Lynch gone to the NFL, Stills stands out as one of the top interior lineman in the conference and the only Big 12 First Team defensive tackle remaining.
As one of the best returning defensive lineman in the nation, the eyes of quite a few professional scouts will be on Darius Stills in 2020.
NFL Comparison: Matt Ioannidis, Washington Redskins.
DE Dante Stills
From one brother to the other, Dante Stills enters his junior season as a sleeping giant. Despite starting just three games last season due to a timeshare with the now-graduated Reese Donahue, Stills earned Second Team All-Big 12 honors for the 2019 season.
Stacking up 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks, he was a pass rushing force, causing serious problems for opposing backfields while less than 40 snaps per game on the defensive side of the ball. With defensive line coach Jordan Lesley suggesting that a more trim Dante Stills will be seen this season makes it even more likely that he will flourish with more time on the field.
With the ability to play all over the defensive line, Stills has the elite combination of size and athleticism to impress NFL scouts during his junior season. With an uptick in snaps and a more well-rounded role in 2020, he could breakout and turn into a high-level pro-prospect.
NFL Comparison: Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers.
WR T.J. Simmons
Stuck behind a group of talented upperclassmen in 2018 and battling injuries in 2019, T.J. Simmons has never really been able to get going at full speed since transferring to West Virginia from Alabama.
However, with Neal Brown’s offense highlighting Simmons’ inside receiver position, those flashes could quickly turn into major production during the 2020 season. Finishing with catches for 455 yards and four touchdowns in ten games last season, he finished as the third-leading receiver behind freshman standout Sam James and graduate transfer George Campbell.
Simmons has the hands and build to make tough plays over the middle in the vein of former Mountaineers like Daikiel Shorts and brings traits to the table that are coveted in the National Football League. It is not often that seniors get talked about as players with untapped potential but if T.J. Simmons can turn potential into production, he could hear his name called next spring.
NFL Comparison: Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals.
With this trio of standouts, West Virginia has the potential to put together another strong draft class for 2021. The Stills brothers and T.J. Simmons have individual skills that make them extremely marketable at the next level.
Whether it’s current production or the potential to bring it later, there is certainly a level of professional caliber talent set to wear the old gold and blue if the 2020 season takes place.