Mariota, Winston, Fowler, Cooper; just a few of the names the media will focus on over the next twelve hours. But what of the small school players? Those who’ll be selected on Saturday or signed Sunday as free agents. Is there a Victor Cruz to be found this year? Here’s a breakdown of my top small school prospects; the non-combine/non Senior Bowl prospects with a good chance of playing Sunday football.
Chris Bonner/QB/CSU-Pueblo: By this point most are aware of Bonner, the strong armed passer who surprisingly never received a combine invitation. He’s the perfect developmental prospect for a team such as the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens; a franchise looking for a back-up they could use as a trade chip in the future. Pueblo’s local home team, the Denver Broncos have worked out and interviewed Bonner.
Terrell Watson/RB/Azusa Pacific: Watson is a strong, punishing runner with terrific instincts and surprising straight line speed. He’s rushed for nearly 4000-yards and 52 touchdowns the past two years. Watson is a lot more than a product of inferior competition rather a legitimate rotational ball carrier for Sunday. Don’t be surprised if he slips into the very late rounds as the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans have shown draftable interest in Watson.
Beau Gardner/TE/Northern Arizona: Gardner is an interesting story. Graduating high school in 2008, he left for a Mormon mission then arrived at NAU via junior college. He’s very rough around the edges but a terrific athlete with the speed to split the seam. Gardner fits perfectly as a move tight end at the next level and has drawn strong interest from the Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots.
Ricky Collins/WR/Texas A&M Commerce: The tape doesn’t lie and game film proves Collins is a legitimate 5th/slot receiver for Sunday. He’s a dynamic downfield pass catcher that only needs to improve his underneath routes. The Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns are considering Collins in the late rounds.
Jake Kumerow/WR/Wisconsin Whitewater: Kumerow has great bloodlines as his dad Eric was the first round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1987. He’s also a terrific receiver with outstanding size, reliable hands and deceptive speed. Kumerow, who’s been drawing interest as a late round pick from the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and PFA interest by the Baltimore Ravens, is a legitimate fifth receiver with tremendous upside.
Jacob Rodgers/T/Eastern Washington: Rodgers began his college career at Washington State and is one of the best kept secrets on the offensive line. He’s large, relatively athletic and plays intelligent football. At worst Rodgers is a swing tackle that can back up on the left or right side and offers potential as a starter down the road. I’m told the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles will consider selecting Rodgers in the late rounds.
Davon Walls/DL/Lincoln: One can’t help but be awed after watching Walls game film. He’s big, explosive and dominant. Granted it’s on a small school level but Walls overwhelms opponents out of a three point stance as well as the times he stands his 6-foot/5-inch, 295-pound frame over tackle. I expect him to get consideration at tackle in a four man line or as a two gap end. And with that said the New England Patriots have been very focused on Walls the past month.
Tonga Takai/DT/Montana: Takai is another who performs well on the game film then looked incredibly athletic during his pro-day last month. He’s a powerful 307-pound nose tackle prospect who slugs it out in the middle while also displaying the ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. A mobile nose tackle if you will so it should come as no surprise that the Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans have been targeting Takai.
LeBranden Richardson/OLB/Bethune-Cookman: Richardson could well be one of the most under the radar pass rushers in the draft. Primarily lining up at defensive end, he accounted for 8 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. Barely 6-feet/.5-inches, Richardson timed 4.7s during pro-day after tipping the scales at 245lbs. He also posted a vertical jump of 38-inches, highlighting his explosion. I really like Richardson as a 3-4 OLB/designated pass rusher for the next level and not surprisingly the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars have been calling his number.
Tray Walker/DB/Texas Southern: Walker is yet another who stands out on film. He’s an explosive 6-foot/3-inches and overwhelms opponents with brute force. Walker needs to improve his defensive back mechanics but offers potential at corner or safety. He offers potential as a nickel back/special teams player and is receiving heavy interest as a third day pick from the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, who have had a ton of contact with Walker recently.
C.J. Roberts/CB/CSU-Pueblo: The second Pueblo prospect on this list, Roberts is a physical cornerback with terrific size and speed. He’s most effective backed off the line of scrimmage and plays with a special teams mentality. The Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals are both considering Roberts.