2014 NFL Draft: FCS (and below) Prospects To Watch

Jimmy Garoppolo hails from Eastern Illinois, which also produced Tony Romo. Can he also become a franchise level QB? (Photo: US Presswire)

By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer

Most fans, and even some scouts, think that NFL talent can only come from big, traditional schools like Alabama, Texas or Ohio St. What about those that aren’t even FBS schools? No way right? Tony Romo, Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson, Jared Allen, Jahri Evans, Victor Cruz and Joe Flacco are all current players who will tell you something different. Want to include former NFL stars? The list expands to names like Walter Payton, Terrell Owens, Larry Allen, Michael Strahan and someone named Jery Rice.

Not bad right? Here is a working list of prospects from FCS and below level schools that deserve a look.

 

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
6’2 225

After riding a strong week at the East-West Shrine Game Garoppolo turned in another strong effort at the Senior Bowl. Scouts were raving about his compact and quick release. We all know about him going to the same school as Tony Romo as his smooth gun slinging style is in some ways similar. We are sure he’ll get drafted (something Romo did not have happen) but the question now is whether he can push his way into round one. It’s not out of the question, which is remarkable the school’s lack of notoriety, but he seems to have secured a day two selection at this point.

Projected: 2-3 Round

 

TE A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State
6’4 245

A former top recruit for the Gators of Florida Leonard faced some legal issues that caused him to head north for Tenn St. The receiving ability is still there and his soft hands and athletic ability will get him a long look. Whether or not its enough to get him drafted is another question as teams are always leery of transfers with character issues.

Projected: 6-7

 

WR Matt Hazel, Coastal Carolina
6’2 195

Hazel didn’t blow up the East-West Shrine Game but he did help himself with his week in St. Pete. He moves well for a taller wide out and shows great balance and technique in his route running, traits that are not sexy but at the core of getting open. At the moment he looks like a late round pick at best, but there is little doubt he’ll get a real shot to make an NFL roster.

Projected: 7

 

CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
6’1 197

When length became the “it” factor for NFL corners, guys like Desir instantly became that much more valuable. A native of Haiti, Desir has a great side story but also the work ethic to develop that raw athleticism and ideal frame into something special. In fact he had the longest arms of any East-West Shrine Game corner and sparked this adoring tweet from CBS’ Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler):

“Who will be the highest drafted @Shrine_Game prospect this year? It’s between CB Pierre Desir and QB Jimmy Garoppolo IMO. I’m leaning Desir”

Projected: 2-3

 

DT Caraun Reid, Princeton
6’2 301

Reid proved during the Senior Bowl he belongs among the big boys of college football showcasing BCS level strength, mobility and burst. As an attacking 3 tech in a 4-3 Reid’s skills will be ideally suited to get after the passer.

Project: 3-4

 

RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina
6’0 231

As Mike Loyko mentioned in an earlier post Taliaferro might be hard to say but it’s even harder to get past him as a pass rusher. That big 231 pound frame effectively walls off defenders in pass protection and also helps him churn out tough yards up the middle. When you add in some decent footwork from such a big guy we could have a nice sleeper prospect here.

Projected: UDFA

 

CB Walt Aikens, Liberty
6’0 (1/2) 205

One name that is as hot as any right now is Walt Aikens. You might not know the transfer from Illinois and YouTube dunking sensation but Aikens is a crazy athlete who can stick with even the shiftiest receivers.

Projected: 4-5

 

TE Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State
6’2 264

Duncan is a strong athlete with the mobility and coordination to get separation against the poor linebackers and safeties that tried to guard him at the DII level. It will be quite a test to suddenly go against top level NFL safeties and corners, but teams like his soft hands and hope he provide a reliable target and help draw the focus of defenders away from their top receiver outside.

Projected: 5-6

 

DE Larry Webster, Bloomsburg
6’6 249

Most basketball studs turned football prospects gravitate towards the tight end position (Tony Gonzales, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Jordan Cameron) but Webster uses his wiry frame and explosive lower body to rush the passer off the edge. He is still very, very raw but his father was a solid NFL player who can give him some pointers.

Projected: 6-7

 

RB Isaiah Crowell, Alabama St.
5’11 215

Most SEC fans are familiar with “Gurshell” but there was another top running back recruit playing for the Bulldogs recently. Crowell has the talent to go much higher but teams will need to be blown away in the interview process for him to get selected as high as his talent would dictate. That’s more an indication of his talent than a condemnation of his maturity because let’s face it, young college kids make mistakes.

Projected: 7th-UDFA

 

CB Lavelle Westbrooks, Georgia Southern
6’0 192

Westbrooks got the nod to go to the Senior Bowl and held his own maintaining a solid late round grade. His height is something teams will like and he actually falls just below a much bigger name, Aaron Colvin, on CBS’ rankings, which might surprise some people. To be fair to Colvin he would be a full three rounds higher if not for an injury.

Projected: 6-7

 

QB Jeff Mathews, Cornell
6’3 225

Back in August I was ready to start the Jeff Mathews Bandwagon after seeing him fire bullets all over the field against Yale. That arm strength is still present but the Ivy Leaguer had an up and down year and will be lucky to get drafted. Then again he meets the mythical 6’3 QB threshold and more than meets the required arm strength needed to push the ball down the field and drive it with pace to the deep sideline.

Projected: 7-UDFA

 

OLB Jordan Tripp, Montana
6’3 237

Tripp started the pre-draft process as another average linebacker prospect from an FCS school and has already worked himself into a probable 4th round pick. He missed most of the 2011 season injured but is a ferocious and energetic player with nice athleticism and the speed to more than hold his own in the 40 yard dash in Indy.

Projected: 3-4

 

OLB Howard Jones, Shepherd
6’2 229

After years of playing in a three point stance he’ll have to transition to a stand up role as an edge rusher or 4-3 outside backer. Jones is currently projected to go in the 6th round range and CBS ranks him as the 19th best OLB, which is much better than it sounds given the liberal interpretation of the OLB role.

Projected: 6

 

QB Dustin Vaughn, West Texas A&M
6’5 235

You only need to watch a few clips from Vaughn’s tape to understand his strengths and weaknesses. His tall, thick frame is impressive as is his arm but his accuracy is spotty. Vaughn seems like the type of prospect who won’t garner much attention during draft day, but will be among the top undrafted free agent targets. A big frame and big arm are a powerful combination.

Projected: UDFA

 

WR Seantavious Jones, Valdosta State
6’3 198

For a small schooler the 6’3 200 lb Jones certainly looks the part. He has a long build with seemingly huge hands and appears to be a potential stud outside receiver. Unfortunately he really fails to impress in terms of catching the ball. Several times on the West Alabama tape he struggled locating and bringing in balls you would expect him to reel in. That lack of hand-eye coordination is troubling and is something that is hard, if not impossible to correct. If he does though, he could be really, really good.

Projected: UDFA

 

OG Dakota Dozier, Furman
6’4 312

Maybe the best overall prospect of the bunch, Dozier not only suffers the lack of recognition of playing for an FCS school but also of playing the guard position. Although I don’t think he’ll mind when he gets that first NFL paycheck. Dozier is a well built 312 lb with nice feet and drive.

Projected: 3rd

 

CB Qua Cox, Jackson State
5’11 185

Cox was a late add to the Senior Bowl roster but as he stands on the borderline of draftable territory he’s glad to get that added exposure to pro scouts. According to AL.com he was playing “Call of Duty” when he got the call to head to Mobile and I’m sure he’ll be even happier if he gets the call on the draft day.

Projected: UDFA

 

OT/OG Billy Turner, North Dakota St.
6’5 312

Turner is a guy I’ve been very impressed with watching his tape. For such a big guy he still looks athletic as opposed to overweight and moves well in space often making his initial block and then demolishing a defensive back as he gets to the second level. The three time FCS Champion will likely project to guard at the next level, but don’t be shocked if he is tested at OT first, and don’t be surprised if he sticks there either.

Projected: 3

 

WR Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State
6’3 212

Janis isn’t just a rare athlete for the DII level but his size at 6’2 and change paired with 4.4 speed will give him an edge against a lot of NFL corners. He didn’t do much to help himself during Senior Bowl week, which given the fact this is one of our first chances to see him against NFL level competition is disappointing, yet he still stands as a mid round pick with his frame and speed alone. He’ll look to put both those attributes on display at the Combine to buoy his stock.

Projected: 5

 

TE Michael Flacco, New Haven
6’5 245

Yes he’s Joe Flacco’s little brother and yes a prospect from New Haven is on NFL radars. A former baseball prospect he’s very raw but has the frame and coordination of a tight end prospect worthy of taking a flier on late.

Projected: 7-UDFA

Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Small School Prospects, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Hazel, Pierre Desir, Qua Cox, Walt Aikens

20 Responses to “2014 NFL Draft: FCS (and below) Prospects To Watch”

  1. J H TARBORO says:

    It’s january, and i know everyone will have many different scenarios of a mock draft, this mock is based on our current roster, returning players and adding some pieces. This is without a trading down scenarios and trading of players, in which i’ll think they will do.
    1. DT Aaron Donald Pitt
    2. TE Troy Niklas Notre Dame
    3. OC/OG Weston Richburg Colorado St.
    4. CB Keith McGill Utah
    6. OLB Marquis Spruill Syracuse
    6. RB/WR/KR Dri Archer Kent St.
    7. FB/DT JC Copeland LSU

    • YESSIR77 says:

      Now, this I like very, very much! I think Niklas will be a great TE in this league. He can block, catch and very hard to tackle. Plus he has the size you want. I would also look to add Gillmore out of Colo St later on in this draft also!! Love the McGill pick. He can play both CB/SS…Nice mock, love it!

    • J H TARBORO says:

      If the Patriots decide to trade their #1 overall pick ( picks similar to last year 2,3,5,7)
      2. OLB Dee Ford Auburn
      2. DT DaQuan Jones Penn
      3. OC/OG Weston Richburg Colorado St.
      3. DE Josh Mauro Stanford
      4. CB Stanley Jean Baptiste Nebraska
      5. DT Zach Kerr Delaware
      6. RB/WR/KR Dri Archer Kent St.
      6. FB/DT JC Copeland LSU
      7. TE Colt Lyerla Oregon
      7. TE Jordan Najvar Baylor
      Ridley trade for #2 or #3 ( Jeremy Hill LSU, Karlos Williams FSU, Lache Seastrunk Baylor, Andre Williams BC ) candidates only.
      Comp. Picks???

    • acm says:

      Good mocks with one caveat – Mcgill and Jean baptist are unlikely to be there in late 4th as their stock has gone up. Bar any injuries, I expect Mcgill to be the fastest of all the big CBs at the combine and may well not last till late 2nd either … also, how Seattle’s secondary fairs vs the Broncos at the Sb may well play a role in big CBs like Mcgill and Jean Baptiste become and even more valuable comodity in the draft, imo.

      One more thing, Karlos Williams decided to return for his senior year (good decision on his part, imo) so he won’t be in this draft.

      • J H TARBORO says:

        ACM, thanks for your info and feedback, i didn’t know Karlos Williams was going back to school, it’s better for him anyways. Mocks in january are pretty crazy, things are changing all the time. The draft over the next 2-3 years are going to be great, the freshmen and sophmores were the meat of the NCAA this year. thanks again.

  2. Off this list I’m most intrigued by Larry Webster DE Bloomberg. I watched him in the Shrine game and liked what I saw. Green, yes but his upside is high for any team that gives him time to learn and develope. I think he would be a good value pick in the 6th or 7th rd.

    • J H TARBORO says:

      Steve E. I was watching that guy also, he could play DE or TE. I think he played basketball at one point. Good eye for detail Steve. Are we receiving comp. picks? This is a good comp. player.

      • Right JH he was a basketball player so I think the kid could start with ST’s and play in spots either side of the ball. Which way he is developed probably would depend on the coaches and team needs with whoever he lands with. Be interesting to see how he does.

  3. J H TARBORO says:

    Marc Sluis, i was thinking long and hard about our backfield, realizing how vital it was during the latter part of the season and in the playoffs. In not thinking like a fan, here are some of my thoughts. This is based on the roster, adding balance, explosion, blocking and protection in the running and passing game, and players that can move the chains period. They’re some smaller backs on this list but don’t sleep on size of some these guys, they have toughness, durability, and lots of heart. I would not place them on this list, if I doubted their skills.
    Steven Ridley: trade him! Possible replacements ( Jeremy Hill LSU, Andre Williams BC , Karlos Williams FSU )
    Shane Vereen: keeper!
    LeGarrett Blount: 1yr. Contract only
    Brandon Bolden: bring in competition for his position ( UDFA Franklyn Quiteh Bloomburg Roy Finch jr. Okla.etc.
    FB James Devlin: replacement ( JC Copeland LSU ) 6-7th round pick
    Leon Washinton: he was cut, but came as a KR/PR and would be in a D. Woodhead like role. Replacement ( Dri Archer Kent St.) 6-7th round pick. ( he might go higher after Pro day or combine.

    • Very good list JH, I like it.

    • MarcSluis says:

      Very nice assessment. I really like Hill and Karlos Williams talent level. Both are somewhat risky but very very talented

    • MaineMan says:

      Blount (153/772, 5.0 ypa, 7 TDs) is well worth keeping and he’s highly unlikely to stay for a 1-yr deal after already cutting his previously-contracted payday in half to play for the Pats in 2013. He just turned 27 without a lot of mileage on his tires (only 579 rushing attempts in 4 seasons), so a back-loaded, incentive-laden 4-yr deal with a fairly rewarding signing bonus doesn’t seem unreasonable. The Pats can probably pull that off for a 2014 cap hit of +/- $2 million. Cutting Sopoaga covers that with some change left over.

      Ridley (178/773, 4.3 ypa, 7 TDs) is going into his contract year (as is Vereen) and could stay or go, as far as I’m concerned – IF Blount is retained. Not that there’s any guarantee that a rookie would immediately replace his production, but a 2014 Blount/Bolden combo could probably about cover the 2013 Blount/Ridley combo (and with expanded receiving possibilities) while any new kid is brought up to speed.

      Develin (25) quietly became one of the top blocking backs in the league in 2013, but was also one of the cheapest at $570k. He’s an RFA, so he’ll likely be working relatively cheap again in 2014. Not sure what the point would be in replacing him with a rookie this year.

      Bolden (24) is RFA in 2015. In 2013, he carried 55/271 (4.9 ypa) with 3 TDs and caught 21/152 at a 76% catch rate. He’s also one of the Pats’ top special-teamers. Overall, he was outstanding for a #4 RB, especially for a mere $575k and, again, as an RFA, he’ll be reasonably cheap for 2015, too.

      Overall, even with Ridley’s fumbilitis, the 2013 RB corps was, top-to-bottom, the most solid that Pats have fielded in awhile. I don’t see any overwhelming reason to make radical changes for 2014. Probably better to devote attention and draft-weekend resources to other units.

  4. Jim R says:

    Crowell late with a Comp pick. Low risk high reward

  5. J H TARBORO says:

    Marc Sluis, I’m glad you put this article out there. 2RBs that should be on the list.
    Terrance West Towson. NCAA rushing leader.
    Franklyn Quiteh Bloomburg NCAA 2nd leading rusher.

    • J H TARBORO says:

      Also noted that QB Dustin Vaughan was the NCAA passing leader throwing for over 5,000yds this season.



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