Slaton has been projected by some sources, including draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr., to go in the first three rounds. Kiper, Jr. did, however, confirm that he does not think Slaton will go in thye first round, writing "Slaton did not have a strong finish to the regular season. He has great speed, but Slaton is (not) a guaranteed first-round pick because he's not an everydown back, but more of a situational-type player. There are plenty of incentives for going back to Morgantown for his senior season — he will have a chance to win the Heisman Trophy and the Mountaineers should be in the national title picture once again."
But simply a top three-round projection would likely be enough to convince the junior to enter the NFL draft. Slaton rushed for 1,053 yards on 210 carries this season, an average of five yards per tote. He scored 17 rushing touchdowns. It is the fewest yards recorded by the back in his three seasons. Slaton ran for 1,128 yards in 2005 and a school-record 1,733 yards in 2006, when his NFL stock was considered at its highest. Slaton was projected as a first or second round pick following that season, with most experts believing he would be chosen in the opening round.
"There are a lot of reasons," offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said of Slaton's diminished numbers. "Less carries. Noel Devine getting 500 of Steve's yards. The biggest thing, everybody says Steve isn't playing well. The kid is probably the most unselfish kid I have ever been around in my life. He carried the ball less, never complained. We had a good freshman come in took some yards. From the tailback slot, the numbers are not all that different."
That statistics back Magee's argument. Devine rushed for 519 yards, while no other back tallied more than 380 and 351 yards in the previous two seasons, that coming from fullback Owen Schmitt. Slaton rushed 248 times last season, averaging seven yards per carry. He ran 205 times for 1,128 yards as a freshman in 2005, an average of 5.5. The 248 carries last year were viewed as too much for Slaton, who was beat-up in a late game against South Florida and in the Gator Bowl versus Georgia Tech. A deep thigh bruise limited him to just three carries. West Virginia ranked in the nation's top five each season in rushing.
"Last year he had to carry every time and this year he didn't, which was one of the goals entering the season," Magee said. "(Against Pitt, Devine and Slaton) were just two parts of about 50 things that went wrong."
Slaton rushed seven times for 11 yards in the 13-9 upset loss that kept the No. 9 Mountaineers (10-2) out of the BCS national chyampionship. Slaton said he was trying to ignore his draft status until after the Fiesta Bowl, and would not consider making any further moves until Jan. 3 at the earliest.
"I am trying to put all that out of the way and concentrate on my last game," Slaton said. "I think it has been a good season for me. I have some more versatility. I think I have shown a lot of character this year in having some of the seasons I have had, then having this one. I have had less carries and not complained. As long as we win, that's the big thing. The biggest thing is where I would be (in the draft). I have not sat down and though about it. I have time after this to think about it. I don't want to have any bad feelings thinking I was worrying about something else other than this game. I'd like to be in the first round, but I don't know."
West Virginia could lose both Slaton and Magee. Magee said that it was likely he could follow former WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez to Michigan. Magee, who accompanied Rodriguez during his introductory press conference to show his support – though nothing else – has not yet decided. He is waiting for the West Virginia coaching vacancy to be filled. It was his decision, he said, to coach in the bowl game. That statement would lead one to believe Magee, who would like to be interviewed for the WVU opening, does indeed have an offer to go to Michigan with Rodriguez. Former WVU defensive backs coach Tony Gibson resigned Dec. 19 at 12:01 a.m., as did Rodriguez, and has agreed to become a coach for the Wolverines. Unlike Gibson, a native, Magee has no ties to the state of West Virginia. He has, however, turned down a job offer from LSU, among others, during his WVU tenure. Magee is a Louisiana native.