WVU football’s Bryce Ford-Wheaton’s determination and maturity have proven to be the perfect complement to his skill set, as he aims to be drafted.
Despite another underwhelming season on the gridiron, WVU football has some bright spots on the banks of the Monongahela River.
As the annual NFL draft takes place, there’s a less-heralded prospect waiting in the shadows hoping to make his mark as a pro. The inconsistent offensive game plan didn’t help his draft stock. As a result, Bryce Ford-Wheaton’s tenure with the Mountaineers didn’t have the “on paper” headline-grabbing statistics you might see from some of the other names that will be called to the stage this weekend.
That sits just fine with Ford-Wheaton. In an interview with Bob Hertzel (Times West Virginian), the letter winner from North Carolina, Bryce wants to prove that he has the right attitude to grow as a person and an athlete. He credits that as a catalyst to evolve into a better player, always looking to improve.
"“I’m not going in there to an NFL team as a Day 1 starter. Everybody knows that,” Ford-Wheaton said. “But I can be a Day 1 starter on special teams … whatever way I can affect the team, however I can get on the field. It’s hard to get rid of you if you do all that stuff.”"
For context, Ford-Wheaton wasn’t even projected to be drafted at all, destined to end up as an undrafted signee/role player, on the practice squad, or ending up in the great white north (CFL). It wasn’t until the combine, that the Mountaineer wide receiver caught the attention of NFL scouts.
He certainly turned heads when he blazed his way to a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash and registered a 41-inch vertical jump in Indianapolis, tied for fourth and first among all the wide receivers, respectively. Even more amazing is that he joins Seahawks’ receiver DK Metcalf and cornerback Tariq Woolen, as the other players since 2003 who are at least 6-foot-3 that have jumped 40-plus inches or more in the vertical and ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at the Combine.
"“Every time you do what they say you can’t do, they’re going to add something on and you can’t do this now,” Ford-Wheaton said. “I’m still hearing it, but I’m still going to prove them wrong at the end of the day and just keep working.”"
Adding to his draft appeal, was his aforementioned attitude and maturity, especially when it came time for the interview portion of the combine.
"“They try to get a reaction out of you. One coach told me he was trying to get me so mad he wanted me to jump across the table,” he said. “He didn’t, of course not. I started smiling, because I knew what he was trying to do.”"
The culmination of Ford-Wheaton’s diligence to improving has resulted in various media analysts ranking him inside the top 30 wide receiver draft prospects, as well as getting drafted, instead of not having his name called. Lance Zierling (NFL.com) projects him as a fourth-rounder, citing “Big frame with plus wingspan. Good physicality at the top of the route, Uses frame to shield and catch through contact” as some of his best attributes.
Pro Football Network projects the receiver to go in the third round to Jacksonville, saying he is the “big-play specialist the Jaguars’ offense still needs.”
After day one of the draft, four wide receivers were taken off the board. ESPN has Ford-Wheaton ranked as the No. 22 receiver available (204 overall). If their projections are accurate, he should be selected in the mid-to-late sixth round. Now, there are many factors that can come into play, fluctuating his position up or down.
There are five teams that have a clear need to select a wide receiver. The Packers, Texans, Chiefs, Giants, and Titans probably will select one (or have selected one) within their next two picks. You can add the Panthers as taking one with a pick in the fourth round, so that might leave a clear need for the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills on the table. The Falcons can opt to wait until the seventh round to scoop up the Mountaineer or, just maybe, the Bills grab him with their sixth-round pick, which just happens to be No. 205 overall.
Maybe it’s just my own bias, hoping the Buffalo-WVU connection comes to fruition. I’ll leave prognosticating to the experts.
One thing that is certain is that Bryce Ford-Wheaton has proven that his name belongs to be called onto the stage at this year’s draft.