Small-school prospects high on the list of NFL draft decision makers
Success of players like Joe Flacco boost small-college players
WR Ramses Barden of Cal-Poly has size, but needs to prove speed
A pair of Tennessee State offensive linemen are showing promise
The NFL Draft is not just about players from big-time college programs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Tennessee State), Joe Flacco (Delaware) and Danieal Manning (Abilene Christian) are just some of the recent small-school prospects who were selected early in the draft then went on to make positive impacts at the next level. Broken down by position, here's a list of the small-school players many will be speaking about as we move towards the 2009 draft.
Rhett Bomar/Sam Houston State: Bomar began his career at Oklahoma before circumstances forced him out. He's a well-sized passer with an NFL arm yet a need to improve his mechanics. Bomar offers development potential for a team willing to invest a late-round pick.
Mike Reilly/Central Washington: Reilly played lights out as a senior and looks brilliant on tape. He throws a nice ball and has a great feel for the position. Reilly was disappointing during the East-West Shrine Game and his combine workout is critical in determining his final draft ranking.
Rashad Jennings/Liberty: Jennings proved he could play with the best in the nation at last month's Senior Bowl. He's a good size at 234 pounds and runs with both speed and power. Jennings is also effective as a blocker and pass catcher out of the backfield. He has all the makings of an NFL feature runner.
Bernard Scott/Abilene Christian: Scott is considered a better NFL prospect than Dominic Rhodes, the former Midwestern State product whose been a vital piece to the Indianapolis Colts offense. Like Rhodes, Scott is a smaller back who can be used in a variety of ball-handling roles.
Wide Receivers-Tight Ends
Ramses Barden/WR/Cal-Poly: Barden is an imposing 6-foot-6, 227-pound pass catcher with reliable hands. He presents himself as a terrific red zone threat who out-muscles defenders for the reception. The faster Barden runs at the combine, the earlier he'll be drafted.
Dominique Edison/WR/Stephen F. Austin: Edison is a sleeper to draft outsiders but NFL decision makers are well aware of his talents. He's a reliable pass catcher with a complete game and has been the go-to guy at SFA the past two seasons. Like Barden, good 40 times at the combine will determine where Edison lands in the draft.
Brian Mandeville/TE/Northeastern: Mandeville is a terrific pass catcher who moves his 6-6, 260-pound body around the field like a graceful wide receiver. He offers a great amount of upside potential and has starting abilities for the NFL.
Joel Bell/OT/Furman: Bell is a large (6-7) left tackle who projects to the right side in the NFL. He's a competitive lineman that blocks with a nasty attitude and is a prospect who should just get better as he physically matures and adds bulk to his frame.
Cornelius Lewis/OG/Tennessee State: The Florida State transfer is a stout college tackle best in confined quarters. Lewis is a terrific run blocker who opens up lanes for ball carriers. He has the size and strength to play guard at the next level.
Cecil Newton/C/Tennessee State: Scouts were surprised Newton did not receive a combine invitation as he is graded as one of the better centers in April's draft. He's a strong, explosive lineman with zone blocking ability.
Chris Baker/DL/Hampton: Baker made an immediate impact upon his arrival at Hampton after transferring from Penn State. He's a forceful lineman who combines size and athleticism to overwhelm opponents and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Hampton offers potential as a conventional defensive tackle or as a two-gap end.
Lawrence Sidbury Jr./DE/Richmond: Sidbury was a dominant pass rusher on the FCS level and unstoppable the past two seasons. He capped off his Richmond career by registering four sacks in the Spiders' national championship victory over Montana. Sidbury's game is based on speed and quickness. Look for him to put up great workout numbers during the combine.
Lee Robinson/Alcorn State: Robinson is a sensational athlete who combines size (250 pounds) and speed (4.68 seconds in the 40) to make plays all over the field. He's a stout run defender who posted 111 tackles as a senior and also shows skill in pass coverage. Robinson is expected to light it up at the combine.
Jovan Belcher/Maine: Belcher was a pass rushing terror at Maine from his defensive end position yet possesses the size which necessitates a move to outside linebacker in the NFL. He's a bit of a work in progress yet has shown the underlying skills to develop into a productive starter at the next level.
Domonique Johnson/DB/Jackson State: Johnson has been one of the best cornerbacks in FCS since transferring to Jackson State from Missouri. He offers terrific size and has the potential to be used at corner or safety.
Ladarius Webb/DB/Nicholls State: Webb is another multi-dimensional defensive back with potential at several positions in the secondary. He's a tough run defender with a nice feel for coverage and also shows ability as a special teams player.
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