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Published: Nov. 16, 2017 at 01:32 p.m.
Updated: Nov. 16, 2017 at 01:43 p.m.

15 non-Power-Five prospects that will be NFL stars

It's easy to get caught up in the prime-time SEC or Big Ten matchups each week when looking for future NFL stars.

Keep this in mind, though: One of the top NFL MVP candidates (Eagles QB Carson Wentz, from North Dakota State), an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate (Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt, Toledo), and the league leaders in receiving (Steelers WR Antonio Brown, Central Michigan), sacks (Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State), and interceptions (Titans S Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee State) all come from schools that aren't members of a Power Five conference.

Who's next in that pipeline?

Here are 15 players from outside the Power Five leagues that fit the bill, ranked from 1-15 based on how I rate them as prospects (15 is lowest, 1 is highest).

15 Photos Total

  • Harris is a physical player. He consistently challenges receivers when uncovered in the nickel spot. Harris had four pass breakups against South Dakota State last weekend, giving him 34 in three seasons. If he doesn't test well in the draft process, though, it's possible he could lose this spot to another well-regarded FCS prospect, Southern's Danny Johnson. 15

    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    15. Davontae Harris, CB, Illinois State

    Harris is a physical player. He consistently challenges receivers when uncovered in the nickel spot. Harris had four pass breakups against South Dakota State last weekend, giving him 34 in three seasons. If he doesn't test well in the draft process, though, it's possible he could lose this spot to another well-regarded FCS prospect, Southern's Danny Johnson.

  • The nation's second-leading rusher averages 160 yards a game and 7.5 yards a rush. His stock took a bit of a dive after he produced just 122 yards in two games against Boise State and Fresno State last month. The past two weeks, however, he's averaged more than 240 yards, powering his way back to being on track for a 2,000-yard season. 14

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    14. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

    The nation's second-leading rusher averages 160 yards a game and 7.5 yards a rush. His stock took a bit of a dive after he produced just 122 yards in two games against Boise State and Fresno State last month. The past two weeks, however, he's averaged more than 240 yards, powering his way back to being on track for a 2,000-yard season.

  • The nation's leader in receiving yards per game (118) has been unstoppable at times. Quarterback Nick Stevens leans on Gallup to make big plays and convert on crucial third downs. Gallup has good strength for the position and is a reliable target. 13

    Marco Garcia/Associated Press

    13. Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

    The nation's leader in receiving yards per game (118) has been unstoppable at times. Quarterback Nick Stevens leans on Gallup to make big plays and convert on crucial third downs. Gallup has good strength for the position and is a reliable target.

  • Just based on his game and measurements (height, weight, speed), Breneman would be a top-75 pick. The former Penn State Nittany Lion dealt with major leg injuries during his time in Happy Valley (as well as in high school), before transferring to work on his MBA at UMass in 2016. His NFL Scouting Combine workout will be impressive, but the medical check might be the more important part of the week for Breneman to maximize his draft status. 12

    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    12. Adam Breneman, TE, UMass

    Just based on his game and measurements (height, weight, speed), Breneman would be a top-75 pick. The former Penn State Nittany Lion dealt with major leg injuries during his time in Happy Valley (as well as in high school), before transferring to work on his MBA at UMass in 2016. His NFL Scouting Combine workout will be impressive, but the medical check might be the more important part of the week for Breneman to maximize his draft status.

  • Parker's a tall, long left tackle with the footwork to be an NFL starter in time. The 2016 second-team Associated Press All-American will be coveted as a second-tier prospect worthy of a top-100 pick due to his upside. He's received an invite to play in the Senior Bowl. 11

    North Carolina A&T State University Athletics

    11. Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T

    Parker's a tall, long left tackle with the footwork to be an NFL starter in time. The 2016 second-team Associated Press All-American will be coveted as a second-tier prospect worthy of a top-100 pick due to his upside. He's received an invite to play in the Senior Bowl.

  • Ferguson has the arm talent and NFL size to be a second-round pick. NFL general managers will have questions about how Ferguson left Tennessee after losing the starting job to Joshua Dobbs a couple years back. If they believe he has matured, though, they might instead focus on the skill set that helped him throw six touchdown passes against UCLA and seven scores at Connecticut. 10

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    10. Riley Ferguson, QB, Memphis

    Ferguson has the arm talent and NFL size to be a second-round pick. NFL general managers will have questions about how Ferguson left Tennessee after losing the starting job to Joshua Dobbs a couple years back. If they believe he has matured, though, they might instead focus on the skill set that helped him throw six touchdown passes against UCLA and seven scores at Connecticut.

  • Look for teams to sign onto Rolland-Jones in the second or third round. He already has 40 career sacks, and is willing to play the run as well. 9

    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    9. Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, LB, Arkansas State

    Look for teams to sign onto Rolland-Jones in the second or third round. He already has 40 career sacks, and is willing to play the run as well.

  • Miller's speed, strong hands, and crisp routes have earned him fans among NFL scouts over the past couple of seasons. He's likely to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season, and has scored 25 touchdowns in 22 games. While lacking height, Miller plays bigger than the tape measure indicates. 8

    Jessica Hill/Associated Press

    8. Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

    Miller's speed, strong hands, and crisp routes have earned him fans among NFL scouts over the past couple of seasons. He's likely to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season, and has scored 25 touchdowns in 22 games. While lacking height, Miller plays bigger than the tape measure indicates.

  • Phillips, a former receiver, started off the season red hot, grabbing interceptions against USC and Michigan State as well as returning a kickoff for a score in both contests. He's not contact-shy, displaying a willingness to press and keep contact down the sideline. That combination of toughness, athleticism, and ball skills will be tough to ignore in the top-75 overall selections. 7

    Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports

    7. Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan

    Phillips, a former receiver, started off the season red hot, grabbing interceptions against USC and Michigan State as well as returning a kickoff for a score in both contests. He's not contact-shy, displaying a willingness to press and keep contact down the sideline. That combination of toughness, athleticism, and ball skills will be tough to ignore in the top-75 overall selections.

  • While Nichols doesn't have the size most scouts like in a top-flight corner prospect, he is a tough customer. He'll play nickel effectively at the next level, and his ball skills are enticing enough to consider playing him outside. 6

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    6. Deatrick Nichols, CB, South Florida

    While Nichols doesn't have the size most scouts like in a top-flight corner prospect, he is a tough customer. He'll play nickel effectively at the next level, and his ball skills are enticing enough to consider playing him outside.

  • Hernandez is a beast of a guard, capable of moving the line of scrimmage but yet still nimble enough to handle traps and pass-protection duties. He's been invited to compete in the Senior Bowl. I suspect he'll land in the late second or early third round. 5

    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    5. Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

    Hernandez is a beast of a guard, capable of moving the line of scrimmage but yet still nimble enough to handle traps and pass-protection duties. He's been invited to compete in the Senior Bowl. I suspect he'll land in the late second or early third round.

  • Geodert is an incredible athlete who will come into the national spotlight at a postseason all-star game (he's been invited to the Senior Bowl) and the NFL Scouting Combine. I expect him to be selected within the first two rounds, like another top non-FBS TE was in 2017 -- Adam Shaheen (No. 45 overall, Chicago Bears). 4

    Daryl Wilson/Associated Press

    4. Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

    Geodert is an incredible athlete who will come into the national spotlight at a postseason all-star game (he's been invited to the Senior Bowl) and the NFL Scouting Combine. I expect him to be selected within the first two rounds, like another top non-FBS TE was in 2017 -- Adam Shaheen (No. 45 overall, Chicago Bears).

  • A thick but athletic left tackle, Okorafor was considered a better prospect than former teammate Taylor Moton, who went in the second round of the 2017 draft. Even if a slew of underclassmen tackles enter the draft, Okorafor will be among the first off the board. 3

    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    3. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan

    A thick but athletic left tackle, Okorafor was considered a better prospect than former teammate Taylor Moton, who went in the second round of the 2017 draft. Even if a slew of underclassmen tackles enter the draft, Okorafor will be among the first off the board.

  • Sutton is quick and fast despite his tall frame, allowing him to high-point passes and be effective on bubble screens. In a down year for receivers, Sutton could end up at the top of the heap if he decides to forego his final year of eligibility. He is eligible for the Senior Bowl, and received an invitation to participate in the all-star game -- that would be a great stage for him to show off the ability to be an NFL team's top downfield receiving option. 2

    Mike Stone/Associated Press

    2. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

    Sutton is quick and fast despite his tall frame, allowing him to high-point passes and be effective on bubble screens. In a down year for receivers, Sutton could end up at the top of the heap if he decides to forego his final year of eligibility. He is eligible for the Senior Bowl, and received an invitation to participate in the all-star game -- that would be a great stage for him to show off the ability to be an NFL team's top downfield receiving option.

  • Yes, Allen has struggled this season without Tanner Gentry and Brian Hill on his side. NFL general managers still believe in his skill set, however, as he is able to snap off strong throws to either sideline while showing off his movement skills. 1

    Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press

    1. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

    Yes, Allen has struggled this season without Tanner Gentry and Brian Hill on his side. NFL general managers still believe in his skill set, however, as he is able to snap off strong throws to either sideline while showing off his movement skills.

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