Unearthing Diamonds: West Virginia University's Top Five Hidden Gem NFL Draft Picks

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In the realm of NFL Draft history, West Virginia University has proven to be a fertile ground for hidden gems in the draft, producing under-scouted talents that often fall to the bottom rounds but shine brightly on the professional gridiron. As the 2024 NFL Draft rapidly approaches -- with the first-round set for this Thursday -- let’s take a look at some of these Mountaineer alumni.

Honorable Mention: Dante Stills (Round 6, Pick 36: 2023 NFL Draft)

Dante Stills
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While former WVU defensive lineman Dante Stills has a long career in front of him and has not yet had the time in the league to make the final top five for this list, we felt it was necessary to give him an honorable mention spot to recognize his rookie season accomplishments.

A Fairmont, W.Va native following in the footsteps of his father, 2003 NFL Pro Bowler Gary Stills, the younger Stills was drafted into the NFL just last season. At West Virginia, he helped anchor for four seasons, and was a multi-time all-conference player. During his senior season, he was a preseason All-American and was named First-Team All-Big 12.

As a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals, Stills emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line at the next level. Stills quickly made an impact, earning eight starts and seeing action in 15 games -- he finished the season with 47 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

1. Marc Bulger (Round 6, Pick 2: 2000 NFL Draft)

Marc Bulger
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For Marc Bulger, there’s not a ton to be said of his college career. He was a multi-year starter for the Mountaineers and saw action in all four seasons with the program, but he was not highly rated coming out of college.

However, Bulger carved out a remarkable NFL career after being drafted as a mere sixth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft -- he was the final of four Mountaineers chosen in the draft, and the fifth quarterback chosen overall. After settling with the St. Louis Rams (nowadays the Los Angeles Rams), he truly made his mark.

With the Rams, Bulger would earn two Pro Bowl selections (2003, 2006) and was twice-named the organization’s MVP (2002, 2004). He spent nine of his eleven seasons in the league with the team and amassed over 22,000 passing yards and 122 touchdowns in his tenure as the Rams' signal-caller, leading them to two playoff appearances.

2. Pat McAfee (Round 7, Pick 13: 2009 NFL Draft)

Pat McAfee
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A standout specialist during his collegiate days, Pat McAfee was a four-year starter for the Mountaineers -- he was a Lou Groza Award finalist his junior season, and both a Ray Guy Award finalist and First-Team All-American his senior season.

Drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, McAfee transitioned seamlessly into the NFL. He was a day-one starter at punter and on kickoffs for the Colts, helping lead the special teams on a unit that captured the AFC South title and the AFC Championship en route to a loss in Super Bowl XLIV. 

He was named to the 2009 NFL All-Rookie Team after that debut season, which was just the first of many accomplishments. Over his eight seasons in the NFL, McAfee helped guide the Colts to five postseason appearances, earned two Pro Bowl selections (2014, 2016) and was named as the First Team All-Pro punter for the 2014 season -- cementing his place as one of the league's premier specialists.

3. Harry Clarke (Round 13, Pick 7: 1940 NFL Draft)

Harry Clarke was a Mountaineer and an NFL star long before the game morphed into college football as we know it today, but he occupies no less a place in the annals of WVU football history because of that.

Nicknamed “Flash”, Clarke was record-setter for the Mountaineers. During the 1938 season, he tallied 921 yards in the ground, which was then a team record. He would later be inducted into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

Drafted in the heyday of the NFL where there were fewer teams and an abundance of rounds, Clarke was selected 117th overall in the 13th of 22 rounds.

During his rookie season with the Chicago Bears, Clarke managed 258 yards and two scores on a championship team -- both touchdowns came in the 1940 NFL Championship Game as the Bears defeated the Washington Redskins 73–0.

Clarke would earn two more NFL Championships in 1941 and 1943, and was twice-named a Pro Bowler (1940, 1941) and was a 1943 First-Team All-Pro. After his fourth season with the Bears, Clarke was drafted into the Navy in 1943. Following his military time, Clarke played in the All-American Football Conference from 1946 to 1948.

4. Ryan Mundy (Round 6, Pick 28: 2008 NFL Draft)

Ryan Mundy
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Ryan Mundy was only at WVU for one season -- he played his first few years of collegiate ball with Michigan -- but he made a big impact in Morgantown. Mundy played on the 2007 squad for WVU, recording 59 tackles, three interceptions, and three fumble recoveries during the season.

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, he would spend four years in Pittsburgh, one with the New York Giants, and one with the Chicago Bears. Throughout his six-year NFL tenure, Mundy started 30 games and appeared in 96, collecting throughout his career 311 tackles, six interceptions, and four fumble recoveries. Mundy would also earn a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII as a practice squad member.

5. Colton McKivitz (Round 5, Pick 7: 2020 NFL Draft)

Colton McKivitz
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A mainstay on the Mountaineers' offensive line for four consecutive years, Colton McKivitz helped bridge the gap during the transition from the Dana Holgorsen era to the Neal Brown era during his senior season -- that year, he was named first-team All-Big 12 Conference and the Big 12 co-Offensive Lineman of the Year while also earning All-American honors from multiple organizations. 

McKivitz was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and has spent all four years of his career thus far with the program. Since then, McKivitz has proven to be a valuable asset, seeing action in 45 games while managing 22 starts with the team. He has also appeared in eight postseason contests with three starts for the 49ers. 

In 2023, McKivitz was a starting lineman in all 17 regular season games for San Francisco, as well three postseason contests. He helped lead an offensive line that set the tone for a rushing attack that averaged the third-best rushing yards per game (140.5) and tied for the most rushing touchdowns (27) in the NFL, as the 49ers advanced to Super Bowl LVII and lost 25-22 to the Kansas City Chiefs.