Bruce Irvin: NFL draft day surprise

You saw him beat up on Big East quarterbacks the last two years, so you know what West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin can do when he is playing at his best.

And yet, Irvin turned out to be the biggest draft-day surprise Thursday, when Seattle took him with the No. 15 overall pick, eliciting a chorus of "Who?" among the uninitiated. Most experts had pegged another Big East player -- Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones -- to go to the Seahawks.

Jones did eventually go in the first round, at No. 21 to the New England Patriots. They were the only two players with Big East ties selected on the first day of the draft, which turns out to be more than most everybody expected. A few months ago, most wondered whether the Big East would even have one player taken in the first round.

A few months ago, most had Irvin pegged as a second or third-round pick. Scratch that. A mere 24 hours ago, most had Irvin pegged as a second or third-round pick. His measurables are undeniable. He can run like a cheetah, as he proved at the NFL combine with his blazing 4.41 in the 40-yard dash. He can take down quarterbacks like a possessed man-child, as evidence by his 23 sacks in two years with the Mountaineers.

The Seahawks called him the best pure pass-rusher available in the draft, which is why they made him the first defensive end selected Thursday night. So why all the shock? The doubters? The haters?

For one, Irvin is a raw talent, having only played two years on the highest level in college football. He played in a defensive formation that nobody uses in the NFL. He struggled on non-passing downs, so much so that West Virginia took him out of the starting lineup after five games so he could return to his duties as a pass-rush specialist.

Listen to him when he says, "I've heard I'm a one-trick pony. But the crazy thing is I got 23 sacks in two years and I've never been coached. If I get a little coaching, just imagine what I can do."

He has a background that no doubt scared some teams off, when in fact, they probably should have taken a much harder look to see how the adversity he overcame built his character and gave him an unparalleled work ethic. Irvin could very well be homeless in Atlanta today, had he not accepted help and made the conscious decision to change his life. There are many others who have failed given the same opportunities.

Granted, Irvin did not help his situation when he was arrested last month and charged with destruction of property and disorderly conduct. Those charges have since been dropped. Was it a reminder to some teams to throw up a red flag?

That hardly matters now. Seattle coach Pete Carroll is fully aware of what Irvin has gone through, having recruited him out of Mt. San Antonio Junior College while still coaching USC. Most of all, he is fully aware of the incredible potential Irvin has to fill a need that the Seahawks sorely need.

Coaches often say players succeed or fail in the NFL based on the organization that drafts them, and whether or not they have NFL coaches who believe in them. Drafting Irvin so high is a huge risk. But every team takes a risk of some kind in the NFL draft, so that should not make this pick any more shocking than Miami drafting a quarterback who went 7-6 last year at perennial underachiever Texas A&M.

Drafting is all about projecting, same as in recruiting. There is no complete player in the draft. Every pick is a guess. Seattle is guessing Irvin will be worth the risk.

The spotlight is firmly on Irvin and the Seahawks now. He has the potential to be great. Now in addition to learning a new system and accepting the coaching, he will have to deal with expectations that come with being a first-round pick. Folks will want him to live up to some preconceived notion of what first-round picks should do. If Irvin is as ferocious rushing the passer in the NFL as he was in college, I believe he will not only meet those expectations.

He will exceed them.