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Small-school players drawing inspiration from Bears' Knox, others

M. Spencer Green / Associated Press
Bears rookie WR Johnny Knox had six receptions for 70 yards and a TD against the Steelers in Week 2.


As legions of football players harboring NFL dreams toil in relative anonymity at a host of college football sub-division schools, they should be encouraged by the events that are taking place on Sundays as a number of small-school standouts are making an immediate impact throughout the league. And their surprising success has sent scouts scurrying off the beaten path to find other potential gems in college football's lower divisions.

While scouts have always mined talent from the lower ranks, the path of small-school standouts is littered with obstacles and roadblocks from evaluators. Scouts often question the competition, and the small-school prospect's production is routinely dismissed when compared to big-school stars.

Players from Texas, USC or Ohio State rarely have their output questioned, but stalwarts like the Citadel's Andre Roberts and Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards must justify their stellar numbers. The perennial All-America status as Football Sub-Division stars does little to boost their prospects in the minds of some.

In fact, some teams refuse to entertain the thought of taking a small-school player due to the perceived transition needed to excel in the league. The prevailing thought among some general managers is that the game would be too "big" for players who don't play at the highest level of college football.

However, narrow-minded thinking like that caused some teams to miss out on future Pro Bowl players like Titans tackle Michael Roos (Eastern Washington) and cornerback Cortland Finnegan (Samford) and Packers safety Nick Collins (Bethune Cookman) in recent years.

If that isn't enough to entice more scouts to spend more time on small campuses, the surprising first-year success of Bears receiver Johnny Knox (Abiliene Christian) and Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox (William&Mary) is sure to spark an increase in scouts trekking to small schools this fall.

With more players proving that small schools can produce big talent, expect to see more unheralded prospects hear their name called on draft day in 2010.

Games this week on the radar of NFL scouts
South Florida at Florida State, noon ET Saturday
The Golden Bulls' matchup with the Seminoles gives top-rated pass rusher George Selvie an opportunity to showcase his impressive rush skills on a national stage. The two-time All America excels at creating havoc off the edge, and his explosive initial burst puts offensive tackles on their heels. Selvie will get plenty of chances to show scouts his vast array of moves off the edge against a Seminoles offense that loves to put the ball in the air. The Golden Bulls have a pair of secondary defenders -- Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy -- who have attracted scouts' attention. Allen is one of the best "centerfield" safeties in the draft, and his natural ball skills have many salivating. Murphy is not quite a polished cover corner at this point, but his unique combination of size, speed and athleticism makes him an attractive candidate as a "big" corner. For the Seminoles, cornerback Patrick Robinson and linebacker Dekoda Watson continue to garner attention as early-round possibilities, and strong performances against top competition only cement their status as highly regarded prospects.

Arkansas at Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
All eyes will be firmly affixed to the heated battle in the trenches between Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody and Arkansas guard Mitch Petrus. The Crimson Tide behemoth dominates the line of scrimmage and is seemingly impossible to move off the ball. With Cody serving as a one-man run-stopper, Petrus can enhance his profile by occasionally winning some battles at the point. Scouts are also paying close attention to the performance of Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas. The talented playmaker is revered for his game-changing return skills, but his diminutive size have led some scouts to cast him as strictly a nickel corner on some defenses. When the teams flip sides, scouts will pay close attention to Alabama guard Mike Johnson's play at the point of attack. The hard-nosed guard is one of the top interior blocking prospects, but he will be challenged by the Razorbacks' Malcolm Sheppard. The undersized defensive tackle plays with a great motor and will continue to work to get into the backfield with second and third efforts.

TCU at Clemson, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Scouts from all over circled this date on the calendar as this matchup features two of the top pass rushers in the 2010 draft class. TCU's Jerry Hughes and Clemson's Ricky Sapp share the field on Saturday, and scouts will closely evaluate their games to see which has more potential make an instant impact in the NFL. League observers will closely scrutinize the Tigers' offense to assess the explosive skills of running back C.J. Spiller and receiver Jacoby Ford. The track stars are two of the fastest players in college football, and their penchant for big plays has earned rave reviews within the scouting community.

Kam Chancellor can really make an impression with a good performance against Miami.
Miami at Virginia Tech, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
The 'Canes have made a return to national prominence, and the spectacular play of their young quarterback Jacory Harris has given their offense a pro-style feel. With Miami showcasing an offense that closely resembles the units that play on Sundays, scouts are curious to see how Hokies free safety Kam Chancellor fares against a diverse passing game. Chancellor has the prototypical size that scouts crave, but his cover skills have been rated as suspect and must prove that he can play in the middle of the field. Scouts will also keep an eye on Hokies guard Sergio Render and tackle Ed Wang to see how they hold up against the Hurricanes' speedy front line.

Sleeper to Watch: Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse
The Orange's leading pass catcher is squarely on scouts' radars after his impressive showing against Northwestern last week. The imposing playmaker tallied 11 receptions for 209 yards with two scores in a game that signaled his return as big-time playmaker. Williams, who was suspended for the 2008 season due to academic issues, was a sensational All Big East player who amassed 61 receptions for 837 yards with 10 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2007. With few pass catchers possessing Williams' size, athleticism and playmaking ability, it is not surprising that he is quietly shooting up draft boards this fall.
 
Bucky Brooks' top 5 small-school stars
Andre Roberts Andre Roberts, WR, The Citadel
The prolific playmaker has shattered all of the school's receiving records and ranks as one of the top all-purpose threats in college football. With a game tailor-made for the pros, Roberts is one of the top small-school prospects on many draft boards.

Armanti Edwards, QB, Appalachian State
The ultra-athletic triggerman has led the Mountaineers to 38-6 record and two Football Championships Subdivision national championships in three seasons while amassing eye-popping numbers as a runner/thrower (he entered 2008 with 3,682 rushing yards and 7,101 passing yards). Edwards' dynamic skills have scouts salivating about the possibility of using him as a Wildcat weapon in the NFL.

LeRoy Vann, CB/KR, Florida A&M
The mercurial return specialist has dazzled scouts with exceptional skills. Vann has 10 kick returns for touchdowns, including seven punt return scores, which ties the career mark for FCS. He has taken two punts back for scores in the same game in consecutive weeks, and ranks as one of the most electrifying returners in college football.

James Ruffin, DE, Northern Iowa
The pass-rushing phenom has terrorized Missouri Valley Football Conference foes throughout his career (18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2008), and continues to rack up gaudy numbers during his senior season (3.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in two games). With the league on a persistent hunt for pass rushers, Ruffin will continue to climb up the charts this fall.

Ryan Perrilloux, QB, Jacksonville State
The former LSU castoff resurfaced in the lower college ranks after a series of off-field issues led to his dismissal in Baton Rouge. However, he is displaying the electrifying talent that made him a highly coveted prospect coming out of high school, and scouts are still intrigued by his big arm.
The Sweet 16
Bucky Brooks has his list of the top 16 senior NFL prospects for the 2010 draft class, in order of when they might get drafted:

Russell Okung 1. Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State: Okung is a dominating tackle prospect with exceptional size and nimble feet. He is equally adept as a run or pass blocker, and has all of the requisite tools to be a franchise-caliber left tackle.

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska: Suh is a disruptive interior player with exceptional strength, power and athleticism. He is not only a dominant run defender, but also is an excellent pass rusher with natural instincts.

3. Taylor Mays, FS, USC: Mays is a hard-hitting safety with outstanding athleticism and movement skills. He shows natural instincts in coverage, and is the kind of teeth-rattling enforcer that defensive coordinators crave in the middle of the field.

4. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma: As a big, athletic tight end with exceptional hands and ball skills, Gresham is the ultimate weapon in the passing game.

5. Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama: Though Cody's weight is a concern, his ability to single-handedly suffocate running games will make him a highly coveted prospect next spring.
Complete "Sweet 16" ...


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