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
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
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.
WR Matt Hazel, Coastal Carolina
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.
CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
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”
DT Caraun Reid, Princeton
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.
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina
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.
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.
TE Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State
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.
DE Larry Webster, Bloomsburg
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.
RB Isaiah Crowell, Alabama St.
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.
CB Lavelle Westbrooks, Georgia Southern
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.
QB Jeff Mathews, Cornell
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.
OLB Jordan Tripp, Montana
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.
OLB Howard Jones, Shepherd
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.
QB Dustin Vaughn, West Texas A&M
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.
WR Seantavious Jones, Valdosta State
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.
OG Dakota Dozier, Furman
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.
CB Qua Cox, Jackson State
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.
OT/OG Billy Turner, North Dakota St.
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.
WR Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State
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.
TE Michael Flacco, New Haven
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.