When discussing the NFL draft, most of us focus on the usual big names from the top schools. We become enamored with those players who we are able to see every week; those who get the most exposure. It's easy to forget about those prospects that come from the Football Championship Subdivisions.
Even a cursory glance at some of the past drafts would lead us to believe that we need to at least spend some time going through the FCS prospect list to look for players with legitimate star power. In the past, that list has included players like Jerry Rice, Dexter Coakley, Steve McNair, and Brian Westbrook.
This year is no different than most in that there are some interesting small school players that might be drafted to fill out a team's roster. At the very least, look for some of these players to be undrafted free agents and get their opportunity to show coaches that they belong in the NFL.
Here is a quick look at ten FCS players who are on a lot of teams' draft boards.
Villanova OG Ben Ijalana is a quick and athletic 4-year starter for the Wildcats. He measured in at 6'4, 320 lbs at the combine. Ijalana has long arms and huge hands and uses them to his advantage when he locks on to defensive players. His balance and agility are well above average. The Villanova lineman, like most FCS prospects, will wear a question mark on his chest due to facing marginal competition in college but will end up being a starter for the team that takes a chance on him. If not for a hernia, he would be rated higher. As of now he looks like a solid 2nd round draft pick.
Hampton DT Kenrick Ellis is a prospect that has early 2nd round talent, but his past may drop him into the last part of the 2nd round or even into the 3rd round. He is 6'5 and 336 lbs and has the mass and strength to play the coveted 3-4 nose tackle position. He has 37.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks while at Hampton. Unfortunately, teams are going to have to sit down and have a long hard conversation with Ellis due to a history of failed drug tests and battery charges. If a team can get any type of positive out of his character evaluation, he has the chance to be a 2nd-3rd round pick.
Lehigh OG Will Rackley is a 6'4, 307 lb offensive line prospect. He is a three-time first team All-Patriot League selection, was a first team All-American by the Associated Press and was named to the College Sporting News All-American Team. Rackley ended his Lehigh career with 40 consecutive starts on the offensive line and is athletic enough to play every position. His natural position in the pros will be at guard where he will be able to utilize his run blocking skills and incredible strength. He could use a good offensive line coach to tweak his technique, but he does a good job of working for position until the whistle blows. Probably a 3rd round prospect but could sneak into the last part of the 2nd round.
Eastern Washington RB Taiwan Jones is a small school prospect that might be able to transfer his impressive numbers into a draft day selection. He is 6'0, 200 lbs but looks a little frail and thin in the lower body. That being said, he was able to rack up 2,955 yards last year with a 7.7 yards-per-carry average, and 36 TDs. He might be used as a return man early in his career until he bulks up and can be used in a RB tandem. He has elite quickness and elusiveness. Jones is now dealing with an injured foot, but is supposed to work out at California's pro day. There is a possibility that he can slip into the third round.
Delaware QB Pat Devlin is a 6'4, 227 lb prospect who is starting to slide down the draft boards due to shoddy workouts. His accuracy is now being questioned though he showed a year-to-year increase in completion rate while in college that most scouts look for. In fact, his senior year he had a very impressive 68% completion rate with 22 TDs and 3 INTs. Granted, he worked out of the shotgun in a spread offense, so the numbers are misleading. Devlin has a quick delivery but marginal arm strength. I think that a team who is looking for a developmental QB may take a chance on him in the 3rd-5th rounds.
Richmond CB Justin Rogers is 6'0, 183 lbs and ran a 4.40 forty at his pro day. After intercepting seven passes as a sophomore, quarterbacks avoided his side of the field. Rogers was named to the All-CAA Football First Team for the 2010 college football season at both the cornerback and punt return positions. He's a legit shutdown corner with big playmaking ability. This is his third year to make the All-CAA Football First Team. He is better with zone coverage than with man coverage. Most of that has to do with his slight frame, which causes some problems jamming receivers at the line. I predict that in three years a bulked-up Justin Rogers will be a very good starter for some team. Most scouts rate him as a 5th-6th rounder but I would look for him to be drafted as early as the 4th round.
Southern Arkansas DT Cedric Thornton was an invite to the Senior Bowl and showed the coaching staffs there that he could play with the big boys. He measured in at 6'4, 299 lbs and shows the size and versatility to play DT or line up at the 5-technique in a 3-4 defense. The defensive prospect racked up a whopping 50.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks in college against smaller schools. He has a good burst off the snap and shows a powerful hand punch to rock offensive linemen back on their heels. Thornton has long arms and a correct use of leverage that will make some teams consider him on the outside. He will need to upgrade his arsenal and teams may have to figure out if he has the mental ability to soak up a pro playbook. Thornton could be a steal in the 5th or 6th round.
Richmond DT Martin Parker is 6'3, 305 lbs. Originally considered a potential undrafted free agent in the upcoming draft, his designation as the Defensive Player of the Game at the East-West Shrine Game caught the attention of a lot of teams. He is a First Team All-CAA Football selection and a consensus First Team All-America. Parker finished the season with a mind blowing 96 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He has explosive speed off the snap and knows how to maximize his size for correct leverage. A year in a NFL conditioning program may be in order to work on his upper body strength. He is probably a legit 6th rounder, but may crack the bottom of the fifth.
Portland State TE Julius Thomas is yet another college basketball player who is going to be drafted as a TE prospect. He is 6'5, 251 lbs and can create some matchup problems for defensive players. He has decent hands but needs to work on sharpening his route running. He is a pretty good blocker in space but his in-line blocking could be upgraded with some strength conditioning. Thomas looked good at the combine conditioning drills and ran a 4.68 forty. Good developmental player for a team that is willing to spend a 5th-6th round pick on him.
Fort Valley State WR Ricardo Lockette is the 2008 Division II National Champion in the 200 meters. He is 6'2 and weighs 211 lbs. The track star is going to try and convert his speed into playing in the NFL. Lockette is very raw. He has inconsistent hands and poor route running skills. He does however possess 4.3 speed and had a 39-inch vertical at his pro day. Some team will take a gamble on measurables that cannot be taught and hope that they can mold him into a legit deep threat. Look for Lockette to go in the 6th-7th rounds.
Well, there are ten small school prospects that we can all keep an eye on during the draft weekend. You can bet that there will be more FCS players drafted and be sure to keep an eye on the list of UDFAs the following week. It will interesting to see which players can go from small school prospects to legit NFL stars. For some, the end of their football careers have already come and gone. For others, the real journey begins at the draft.
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