2014 NFL Draft: Thirty small school prospects to watch
It probably goes without saying at this point – but the margin between FBS and non-FBS prospects is growing thinner as the seasons wear on. Eric Fisher, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick, came via Central Michigan. While the Chippewa’s are an FBS program, they are anything but a major college powerhouse – more like MAC-middling.
The 2013 class of small school prospects were highlighted by four players taken in the top 100 and a total of 30 non-FBS players taken in the three-days of the draft. The 2014 class could challenge that number, if not exceed it. Nine non-FBS players littered the 2013 Pro Bowl game – furthering the notion that it’s becoming a necessity of NFL talent evaluators to scour these ranks.
It’s important to note that this list serves as a guide. In many cases we haven’t seen much of anything and are going on word of mouth. That said, there’s been many clamoring for more information on ‘small school’ prospects – so we deliver the goods on this one. After the break, check out our thirty small school prospects to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Could Matthews be the best FCS quarterback to enter the draft since Joe Flacco? He sure looked like it in 2012. Another record breaking season on East Hill should continue the meteoric rise of Matthews in the draft community. The level of competition knock will be there and is furthered by the fact that Cornell lost six games last year. That said, Matthews physical tools could outweigh that fact and push him into the discussion of being one of the top senior passers in the 2014 NFL Draft. While I don’t rate Matthews this high, many do and it’s conceivable that he could enter that discussion.
Jeff Matthews gets much of the spotlight in terms of small school prospects but Garoppolo is right on his heels in terms of talent. Garoppolo didn’t play football until his junior year of high school but that hasn’t stopped him from developing NFL tools in short order. I’ve seen two games of Garoppolo and think he’s every bit as good as Matthews and will be on the rise throughout the 2013 season.
Looking for a deep sleeper, look no further than Vaughan. I sat in amazement at Ashland University last year as I watched this monster specimen sling the ball all over the field. Vaughan looks every bit of his listed 6-foot-5 frame. The ball popped out of his hand, clear difference between Ashland’s QB – Taylor Housewright – a record setting AU QB (got a quick look from the Bengals) and Vaughan. Vaughan may be a late round developmental QB prospect at this point but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t jump squarely onto the draft radar this season.
The former Kansas State transfer has been a difference maker for the Bearkats for three seasons – racking up over 4,200 yards and 52 touchdowns on the ground. Flanders is a complete back with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and has the speed and burst to warrant a mid-round selection next May.
With Miguel Maysonet in the NFL, Coker will be SBU’s bell cow back this season. The former Iowa RB has done and said all the right things since falling off track at Iowa. That said, teams will take a deep look into his character. Coker left Iowa after an alleged sexual assault (the victim didn’t press charges). The 5-foot-11, 230 pound back rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore at Iowa and will have plenty of opportunities to dominate at SBU. Coker’s powerful, downhill running style will intrigue teams in the latter rounds of the draft – if his character checks out.
He’s 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and ran in the 4.3’s at his junior pro day. I’ve yet to see him on tape but will see him live at Findlay in September. Janis’ junior numbers were eye-popping – 106 receptions, 1,635 yards, and 17 touchdowns. Don’t expect those numbers to fall off with his signal caller, Jonathon Jennings, returning for his third season as the team’s starter. Janis could be the best of the small school WR prospects and may figure into the mid-rounds of the draft.
Butler doesn’t get the hype of an Erik Lora but could challenge to be the best small school wideout. He’s a guy that I haven’t seen anything on but has the size (6’3, 205) and speed (reportedly ran in the 4.5’s) to intrigue NFL talent evaluators.
They don’t get much more productive than Erik Lora. The Miami native has found success up north – making an immediate impact at Eastern Illinois. At 5-foot-9, 190 pounds Lora possesses marginal physical tools but is a heady receiver with a knack for finding open grass and sure hands. I’m not sure that Lora gets drafted but he’s an intriguing value as an UDFA.
I’ve heard from two ‘small school’ guys to take a watch on Reggie Jordan this year and keep a close eye out on him. He’s a bit undersized at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds but both said he’s athletic and can block. His NFL future may be as a flex TE/H-back – as he’s a guy we’ll be monitoring this season.
Dakota Dozier gets my nod to be the small school guy that becomes a household name by garnering a E-W Shrine or Senior Bowl nod. The offensive tackle projects as a guard at the next level and I think he’s got the ability to rise into the early stages of day three, if not higher.
The former Ole Miss transfer has NFL right tackle written all over him. I’ve seen one game of Hall’s but it was impressive enough to think he could be a late day two, early day three project tackle. At 6-foot-9, 325 pounds Hall will be in the mix to be a top 100 player when it’s all said and done and is our top small school OL to begin the season.
Kistler has NFL size (6’7, 317) and feet. While he will need to work on some technique issues, his raw tools are good enough to warrant a selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. Kistler is quick out of his stance and rarely gets beat to the punch – making me think he could potentially be a LT in the NFL. I don’t think he’s a guy that you can plug in early but with time could develop into a solid swing tackle and spot starter.
The Ivy League is fairly loaded with NFL talent – in relative terms. Reid is capable of being an early day three pick if he puts together a solid senior season at Princeton. Reid was expected to be in the 2013 NFL Draft but was granted a fifth-year after tearing his pectoral muscle as a sophomore. Reid would’ve challenged for a draft selection in the 2013 NFL Draft and another season at Princeton could have him rising up draft boards. Reid’s combination of size (6’2, 305) and first-step quickness/burst will intrigue teams in need of a pure three-technique. Reid’s ability to make plays in the backfield will endear him to 4-3 teams and could have him hearing his name called early.
I was forewarned on Kerr by a reader. The reader said he’s the best NT in the 2014 class. I haven’t seen a play from Kerr but he’s someone that we will keep on our radar as he brings size (6’2, 330) and was productive at Maryland early in his career.
The former standout basketball center burst onto the football scene in 2012 with 13.5 sacks. He’s the son of Larry Webster, who played 11 seasons for the Dolphins and Ravens after being selected in the third round. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, Webster passes the eyeball test but will need time to develop from a technique and strength standpoint. That said, he’s a rare physical specimen that could intrigue teams earlier than expected as a high upside project.
There are many that are ‘bullish’ on Westbrooks. I’ve only seen one game but didn’t see the tools that have some calling for a day two selection. There’s no doubt that Westbrooks has the raw athletic skills to go high in the draft but I walked away unimpressed with his understanding and instincts in the run game. Too often, Westbrooks created monster gaps by flying up the field – failing to read the action of the play. At 6-foot-3, 275 pounds and above-average athleticism – Westbrooks will be one to watch this season but he needs to improve against the run if he wants to live up to the current hype.
Every year I fall in love with a small school guy and overrate him. This year that guy is sure to be Colton Underwood. Underwood will be a stand-up linebacker in the NFL and isn’t likely to win over NFL talent evaluators with his shear physical tools. That said, he’s a high motor guy that finds a home in opponents backfield with consistency. Underwood is probably a late-round prospect or UDFA but my bet is he outshines his draft position (or lack thereof).
14 sacks and 20 tackles for loss will put you on the map. While we’ve yet to see Moore play – his stats are certainly impressive enough to put him on the watch list. Moore has 26 sacks in 28 games in his career.
Shepherd HC Monte Carter said Jones may be the fastest player on the team. Jones has spent his career (mostly) with his hand in the dirt but will be viewed as an OLB at the next level. I’ve yet to see Jones on the field but he’s a guy that we will be sure to catch this season.
At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds Starr has proved capable of being a force in the opponent’s backfield. Starr has played on the defensive line and at outside linebacker at South Dakota as they transitioned to a 3-4 base. Starr caught my eye in 2012 against Northwestern as he was all over the field and seemed to be in on every play.
Tripp was out for most of the 2011 season but came back strong in 2012. If not for missing much of the 2011 season, Tripp may be the draft’s top small school LB. He’s a four-year starter for the Grizzlies that has a knack for finding the football in traffic and is a sure tackler. Tripp’s nose for the ball will garner him late round consideration. In addition, he brings underrated athleticism with the ability to play in the middle or on the outside at the next level.
Dreiling is one of the top DII players with a cult-like following among Gorilla faithful. Dreiling’s insatiable motor will make him a favorite in the draft community. He’s the returning DII Defensive Player of the Year and is primed for another great season as the leader of Pitt State’s defense.
Brandon Denmark transferred to Florida A&M after a two-year stint at Illinois. Denmark saw action as a freshman and sophomore for the Fighting Illini but elected to transfer closer to home in 2012. Denmark joined Brandon Hepburn in 2012 to form a solid LB duo for the Rattlers. Denmark’s combination of size, speed, and overall athleticism will make an intriguing late round selection.
Desir is my top rated small school prospect. Obviously, I haven’t watched much of any of these prospects at this point but one that I’ve seen enough of is Desir. He’s big (over 6’1”, 205 pounds) and has the speed to run with the best of them in the backend. Desir’s nose for the ball as a tackler and in the air will have him coming off the board in the top 100 and is a name/player to familiarize yourself with as the season progresses. He’s legit and I wouldn’t be surprised if he came off the board on day two (early).
Marcus Williams gets a lot of the small school CB love – despite not having Desir’s upside. Williams is a solid prospect in his own right but I have Desir on another level. I’ve seen two games of Williams’(one of which was very good, one not so good). Williams should be in that mid-round mix, so he’ll be a guy that I spend a lot more time on this season.
As many of you know, I have some in-roads at Towson and he’s a kid that I’ve been told to keep an eye on. The Georgia transfer started one game in his Bulldogs career before transferring to Towson, where he grew up. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds – Love has NFL size and movement skills to man the corner spot. Many expected him to play safety but I’m told he’s a pure corner with excellent man-to-man cover skills. Love has NFL bloodlines – his father played for the Seahawks and Jerome Mathis is his step-brother.
It was easy to find Washington as team’s had to choose between him and Robert Alford in 2012. Needless to say, Washington was challenged often and held up to the challenge. He doesn’t have the ball skills of some of the others on this list but is physical and shows solid technique. Washington transferred from Memphis, where he made six starts as a true freshman.
Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty
Aikens earned All-Big Ten freshman honors at Illinois by The Sporting News following five games as a starter at safety in 2009. The 6-foot-1, 205 pound boundary corner also played basketball and ran track for Liberty. College three-sport athletes are unheard of but Aikens is the exception to the rule. As an athlete, he has few peers and could be one to watch as the 2013 season progresses.
The only thing Cox is missing is size. At 5-foot-9 and some change teams may make the mistake of passing on Cox because of his lack of prototypical size for the position. That said, he’s as good as they come in terms of man-to-man coverage skills. When I watched the SWAC Championship game, I came away thinking this kid could challenge Desir and Williams as the top small school corner.
In what appears to be a relatively weak safety class, David has a shot at making a name for himself. He throws his body around with reckless abandon and is solid in the backend. With teams looking for versatility in the backend, David could vault himself into the discussion as an early day three prospect with a solid senior season.
Tough leaving these players off the watch list:
Shakir Bell, RB, Indiana State
Walter Powell, WR, Murray St.
Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina
Gavin Ellis, TE, Jacksonville St.
Matt Armstrong, OC, Grand Valley St.
Brian Clarke, OG, Bloomsburg
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT, McGill University
Eric Pike, OT, Towson
Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota St.
Jamie Meder, DT, Ashland
Jake Metz, DE, Shippensburg
Chris Schaudt, DE, Minnesota St.
Deron Furr, OLB, Fort Valley State
LeRon Furr, OLB, Fort Valley State
Carlos Fields, OLB, Winston-Salem
Dashaun Phillips, CB, Tarleton St.
Malcolm Butler, CB, West Alabama