Photo Essays  

 

Published: April 1, 2016 at 03:22 p.m.
Updated: April 1, 2016 at 05:04 p.m.

Top 10 small-school prospects in 2016 NFL Draft

A few years ago, I asked an NFL scouting director why WR Marques Colston lasted until the seventh round of the 2006 draft. The rangy pass-catcher exceeded 1,000 yards in 6 of his first 7 seasons with the Saints. So I asked him why a talent like Colston lasted until Round 7.

The answer? “My GM didn’t want to pick a receiver from Hofstra,” he said, mimicking his boss in stating the name of the school, not one known for producing NFL talent, with disdain.

This sort of thinking has become less prevalent through the league in recent years, with success stories like Colston. Mid-round round picks like WR John Brown (Pittsburg State), TE Julius Thomas (Portland State), and CB Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina) have more than proven their NFL worth despite coming through a “small school.”

These 10 2016 NFL Draft prospects should not be judged by the name of their school, but by the content of their draft grade. Each has great promise.

10 Photos Total

  • There isn't much else that needs to be said about Wentz. He has NFL size, arm strength and the intelligence to learn a pro system.  Sure, he only started for a year and a half, and there will be an adjustment to the NFL. But here's a dirty secret: it's an adjustment for all college players, no matter where they've lined up before. History tells us that either Jared Goff or Wentz will fail to meet expectations at the top of the draft, as the success rate for first-round quarterbacks is about 50 percent; Wentz is still worth the gamble.
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b> Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco 10

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    1. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

    There isn't much else that needs to be said about Wentz. He has NFL size, arm strength and the intelligence to learn a pro system. Sure, he only started for a year and a half, and there will be an adjustment to the NFL. But here's a dirty secret: it's an adjustment for all college players, no matter where they've lined up before. History tells us that either Jared Goff or Wentz will fail to meet expectations at the top of the draft, as the success rate for first-round quarterbacks is about 50 percent; Wentz is still worth the gamble.

    Potential fits: Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco

  • Spence is another example of a player who ends up at a small school after starting his career at a major program. Like Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins (Florida/North Alabama), Spence was forced to transfer from Ohio State after he was banned from the Big Ten for failed drug tests. Spence's skill set as a pass rusher is clear, as he's one of the best edge players in a weak class at that spot. The question is whether teams will trust him enough to pick him in the first round, or if he'll have to wait until Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) before hearing his name called.
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b> Arizona, Buffalo, Miami, New York Jets, Seattle 9

    Chuck Cook/Associated Press

    2. Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky

    Spence is another example of a player who ends up at a small school after starting his career at a major program. Like Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins (Florida/North Alabama), Spence was forced to transfer from Ohio State after he was banned from the Big Ten for failed drug tests. Spence's skill set as a pass rusher is clear, as he's one of the best edge players in a weak class at that spot. The question is whether teams will trust him enough to pick him in the first round, or if he'll have to wait until Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) before hearing his name called.

    Potential fits: Arizona, Buffalo, Miami, New York Jets, Seattle

  • Interested in a three-technique that gets upfield? Hargrave's your guy.  Not unlike Geno Atkins coming out of Georgia a few years ago, Hargrave will be seen as a one-trick pony. But that trick -- getting after the quarterback as a penetrator up front -- is pretty important. Expect him to be selected in the third round, like Atkins.
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b> Cincinnati, Detroit, Oakland, Seattle, Tampa Bay 8

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    3. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State

    Interested in a three-technique that gets upfield? Hargrave's your guy. Not unlike Geno Atkins coming out of Georgia a few years ago, Hargrave will be seen as a one-trick pony. But that trick -- getting after the quarterback as a penetrator up front -- is pretty important. Expect him to be selected in the third round, like Atkins.

    Potential fits: Cincinnati, Detroit, Oakland, Seattle, Tampa Bay

  • An explosive 6-foot-3, 275-pound defensive end, Judon's athleticism was as evident at the NFL Scouting Combine as it was on the football field. He plays with strength and leverage on the edge, and should be a starter on the strong side of a four-man front sooner rather than later. Look for him to be picked somewhere in the third or early fourth round by a team looking to replace a veteran scheduled for free agency in 2017.
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b> Carolina, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Seattle 7

    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    4. Matthew Judon, DE, Grand Valley State

    An explosive 6-foot-3, 275-pound defensive end, Judon's athleticism was as evident at the NFL Scouting Combine as it was on the football field. He plays with strength and leverage on the edge, and should be a starter on the strong side of a four-man front sooner rather than later. Look for him to be picked somewhere in the third or early fourth round by a team looking to replace a veteran scheduled for free agency in 2017.

    Potential fits: Carolina, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Seattle

  • One of the most productive players in the history of the Football Championship Subdivision (80 tackles for loss, 43 sacks), Cowser brought terror to quarterbacks or anyone else who dared carry the football in his general vicinity. He's proven himself capable of playing with his hand down or standing up, but his best fit is probably on a base 3-4 team. Cowser also had one of the best combine workouts that few mentioned, finishing among the best in his group in the speed and agility drills. If he isn't picked on Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) of the draft, he won't be around long on Day 3 (Rounds 4-7).
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b> Cleveland, Dallas, Green Bay, New England 6

    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    5. James Cowser, DE/OLB, Southern Utah

    One of the most productive players in the history of the Football Championship Subdivision (80 tackles for loss, 43 sacks), Cowser brought terror to quarterbacks or anyone else who dared carry the football in his general vicinity. He's proven himself capable of playing with his hand down or standing up, but his best fit is probably on a base 3-4 team. Cowser also had one of the best combine workouts that few mentioned, finishing among the best in his group in the speed and agility drills. If he isn't picked on Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) of the draft, he won't be around long on Day 3 (Rounds 4-7).

    Potential fits: Cleveland, Dallas, Green Bay, New England

  • Every year, at least one or two corners from a non-FBS team make it into the top four rounds of the draft. Smith's athleticism, closing speed and ball skills (seven interceptions, 24 pass breakups as a four-year starter) caught the eye of scouts. The ability Smith displayed as a kickoff returner in his senior year only increases his value to teams that were already looking at him as a third- or early fourth-round pick.
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b> Arizona, Baltimore, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Seattle 5

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    6. Ryan Smith, CB, North Carolina Central

    Every year, at least one or two corners from a non-FBS team make it into the top four rounds of the draft. Smith's athleticism, closing speed and ball skills (seven interceptions, 24 pass breakups as a four-year starter) caught the eye of scouts. The ability Smith displayed as a kickoff returner in his senior year only increases his value to teams that were already looking at him as a third- or early fourth-round pick.

    Potential fits: Arizona, Baltimore, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Seattle

  • Killebrew joins Cowser as likely mid-round picks from the Thunderbirds. NFL teams will be split in their projections of the 6-2, 217-pound defender. Some will consider him a fit as a safety in their scheme, others as a weakside linebacker. Either way, he comes downhill in a hurry to hit ball carriers.
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b> Arizona, Carolina, Cincinnati, Houston 4

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    7. Miles Killebrew, S/OLB, Southern Utah

    Killebrew joins Cowser as likely mid-round picks from the Thunderbirds. NFL teams will be split in their projections of the 6-2, 217-pound defender. Some will consider him a fit as a safety in their scheme, others as a weakside linebacker. Either way, he comes downhill in a hurry to hit ball carriers.

    Potential fits: Arizona, Carolina, Cincinnati, Houston

  • Wentz was not the only Bison on NFL scouts' radars in 2015. Haeg's lean, athletic frame (6-6, 304) helped him become a four-year starter for NDSU, the first two years on the right side and his final two as an All-American left tackle.  Teams will want him to get stronger as a rookie, but the agility he showed blocking on the move on film was confirmed in Indianapolis as he put up a great showing in the jumps and short shuttles. Expect him to be picked in the late third or fourth round.
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b> Detroit, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Seattle 3

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    8. Joe Haeg, OT, North Dakota State

    Wentz was not the only Bison on NFL scouts' radars in 2015. Haeg's lean, athletic frame (6-6, 304) helped him become a four-year starter for NDSU, the first two years on the right side and his final two as an All-American left tackle. Teams will want him to get stronger as a rookie, but the agility he showed blocking on the move on film was confirmed in Indianapolis as he put up a great showing in the jumps and short shuttles. Expect him to be picked in the late third or fourth round.

    Potential fits: Detroit, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Seattle

  • A former junior college performer and short-term Texas Tech Red Raider, Robertson has the look of an NFL lineman, even if he doesn't have the ideal college resume. He might get a chance to play tackle at the next level, using his 36-inch arms to ward off pass rushers, but his strength and bulk makes him a candidate to play inside as well. A power-blocking team will value him in the fourth round.
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b> Arizona, Baltimore, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Francisco 2

    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    9. Dominique Robertson, OG/OT, West Georgia

    A former junior college performer and short-term Texas Tech Red Raider, Robertson has the look of an NFL lineman, even if he doesn't have the ideal college resume. He might get a chance to play tackle at the next level, using his 36-inch arms to ward off pass rushers, but his strength and bulk makes him a candidate to play inside as well. A power-blocking team will value him in the fourth round.

    Potential fits: Arizona, Baltimore, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Francisco

  • Houston-Carson is exactly the type of versatile secondary leader that teams need in today's NFL. Experienced as a press corner and free safety, he can line up all over the field to neutralize receivers.  "DHC" will be graded as a Cortez Allen-type corner by some, a safety by others and a 'tweener by doubters. I compare him to Green Bay Packers hybrid defender Micah Hyde, who plays an integral role on the Packers' defense. Like Hyde, Houston-Carson will likely end up a fourth- or fifth-round pick (Hyde went in the fifth round in the 2013 draft) unless a team sees him as a sure-fire starter at corner.
<br><br><b>Potential fits:</b>  Carolina, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Washington 1

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    10. DeAndre Houston-Carson, CB/S, William & Mary

    Houston-Carson is exactly the type of versatile secondary leader that teams need in today's NFL. Experienced as a press corner and free safety, he can line up all over the field to neutralize receivers. "DHC" will be graded as a Cortez Allen-type corner by some, a safety by others and a 'tweener by doubters. I compare him to Green Bay Packers hybrid defender Micah Hyde, who plays an integral role on the Packers' defense. Like Hyde, Houston-Carson will likely end up a fourth- or fifth-round pick (Hyde went in the fifth round in the 2013 draft) unless a team sees him as a sure-fire starter at corner.

    Potential fits: Carolina, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Washington