Sports Illustrated has been unveiling its top 100 college football players of 2018 throughout the week, and the West Virginia Mountaineers are getting some love. After star wide receiver David Sills V was picked at No. 38, linebacker David Long Jr. and quarterback Will Grier were both listed in the top 30 on Wednesday.
Grier came in at No. 22 with Long close behind at No. 24. While Grier’s status as a top player is no surprise — he was named a First Team Preseason All-American by Athlon Sports on Tuesday — Long’s appearance is more of a surprise. He has flown under the radar for most of his career.
SI’s Chris Johnson and Eric Single praised Long’s playmaking ability, while calling West Virginia a “playoff sleeper”:
“Long is the defensive ace of a playoff sleeper with an offense-first identity. […] Assuming there are no setbacks following a shoulder surgery that kept Long out of spring workouts, his pass rushing and run support in West Virginia’s 3-3-5 scheme will help the Mountaineers tame the high-octane offenses around the Big 12.”
As West Virginia’s starting weakside linebacker, Long is the most dynamic playmaker on West Virginia’s defense. Limited to nine games due to injury last season, Long still led West Virginia with 15 ½ tackles for loss, which ranked fifth in the Big 12.
Johnson and Single called Grier a potential Heisman Trophy front-runner heading into his senior season. Grier topped 3,400 passing yards and tossed 34 touchdowns in 10 full games in 2017, and he is expected to be a top Heisman contender.