The excitement is building to a crescendo for the 2018 season, and many are starting to hop on the West Virginia bandwagon.
The National Football League is also nearing its start, and there are some former Mountaineers to keep an eye on this year.
Today, we break down five former Mountaineers who could have a breakout season. Let’s get to it!
No. 5: DE Will Clarke, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will Clarke had major highs and major lows during his time in the Mountain State. He was a member of the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl team that obliterated Clemson. Then, as a senior in 2013, West Virginia only won four games and lost to Kansas.
Clarke is entering his fifth season in the NFL and his second as a member of the Bucs. He was drafted in back of the third round by Cincinnati in the 2014 NFL Draft. In 35 games for the Bengals, he registered 15 tackles and 4.5 sacks, four of which came in 2016. He was used sparingly, but played well when given the opportunity.
Now, with Tampa Bay, Clarke hopes to mount a surge up the depth chart and find a place he can call home. With the Buccaneers acquiring defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry in the off-season, he is fighting for a backup spot with Noah Spence and William Gholston.
Look for Clarke to eventually earn that backup role at the midway point in the season and have his best year to date.
No. 4: WR Kevin White, Chicago Bears
There’s no question about it — Kevin White is one of the most dominating receivers in Mountaineer football history, but his ability to stay healthy has prevented him from becoming a household name in the NFL. White has had three season-ending injuries since being drafted seventh overall by the Bears. He’s only played in 5 games and has only totaled 21 receptions for 193 yards and no touchdowns.
When healthy, White will prove Bears GM Ryan Pace right by becoming one of the teams best pass catchers. He is a freak athlete with some of the best hands on Chicago’s roster. Many have already written him off as a bust, but until he can stay healthy and show what he can or can’t do, it’s tough to accurately label him as anything.
Assuming he can stay healthy, White is primed for a huge 2018 season. He may not eclipse 1,000 yards, but he should make more than a few spectacular plays.
No. 3: DB Rasul Douglas, Philadelphia Eagles
In all honesty, Douglas would probably be No. 1 on this list if it weren’t for the depth the Eagles have at corner.
As a rookie, Douglas registered 22 tackles and two interceptions in a reserve role. He is currently battling for a starting spot with Ronald Darby on the right side of the defense.
Rasul Douglas led the nation in interceptions his senior year at West Virginia and has been praised for his ball hawking skills since entering the league.
This fall, Douglas has a serious chance of cementing himself as a fixture in Philadelphia’s defense.
No. 2: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, Chicago Bears
This guy right here is the exact prototype of what West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson wants in a linebacker. Kwiatkoski displays a high football IQ, leadership qualities and sure tackling. As a rookie, Kwiatkoski bull rushed through Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Tyrone Smith and it caught the attention of NBC color analyst Chris Collinsworth.
Through two seasons in Chicago, “Kwiat” has totaled 66 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Entering his third season, he has earned the starting role at left inside linebacker, holding off rookie top-10 pick Roquan Smith from Georgia.
Kwiatkoski may end up being the most sound player the Mountaineers have to offer at the moment, which is saying a lot, considering guys like Karl Joseph and Bruce Irvin are pretty damn good.
No. 1: WR Tavon Austin, Dallas Cowboys
Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. Tavon Austin is one of the flashiest players you’ll ever see, and good luck trying to tackle him in the open field. We all know what Tavon is capable of — his success is more about playing for an organization that will utilize his strengths, instead of forcing him into a set role. As a receiver, he’s more of a complementary piece than a go-to guy.
This past off-season, the Los Angeles Rams traded Austin to the Dallas Cowboys for a future sixth-round pick. Cowboys president Jerry Jones called Tavon “Michael Irvin-ish.” Jones loves the energy he brings to the table and thinks he’ll fit in nicely with the young Dallas offense.
Austin will be getting some looks at running back this season, too. Outside of Ezekiel Elliott, Austin has the most home run ability of any offensive player on the roster, so the Cowboys coaching staff will find as many ways as possible to get him the ball.