Draft sleepers from small schools
Rashad Mendenhall's younger brother, Walter, is an RB prospect
Titans have eye on Zach Miller, a QB-turned-TE from Neb.-Omaha
Canadian sensation Vaughn Martin is an intriguing DT prospect
History has shown not all productive players in the draft come from BCS schools. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (Delaware) and Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Tennessee State) are just two small school players who made big impacts last year. So who are the top small school sleepers in this year's draft? Here are a dozen names to remember.
Walter Mendenhall/RB/Illinois State: Older brother to Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashad Mendenhall, the Illinois State product is just as big and strong carrying the ball. His game film is outstanding as Walter shows power on the inside, speed in the open field and the ability to slip tackles then create yardage. The Cincinnati Bengals have shown a lot of interest in Walter; they brought him into their facility for an official visit.
Quinten Lawrence/WR/McNeese State: Lawrence is a threat to take it the distance anytime he has his hands on the ball. His senior season was cut short by a broken ankle but that has not diminished the interest in him by NFL franchises. Lawrence participated in private workouts for more than a half dozen teams. The Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants have shown the greatest interest to date.
John Nalbone/TE/Monmouth: He is a terrific pass-catching tight end with NFL size and speed. He has the skills necessary to be a number two tight end and could slide into the late part of the draft. He made official visits to see the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars and worked out for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Zach Miller/TE/Nebraska-Omaha: The former college quarterback has looked seamless since transitioning to tight end in January. Miller ran 4.5 in the 40 at his pro-day after tipping the scales at 237 pounds, then caught the ball exceptionally well. The Tennessee Titans have shown interest in Miller, as has Jacksonville, which brought him in for an official visit.
Maurice Manley/TE/Mesa: Manley is one of the best kept secrets at tight end. At 245 pounds, he's a big possession receiver who displays the hands of a wideout, catching everything thrown in his direction. Manley has received a lot of interest from the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns, teams that use their tight end as a downfield, pass-catching weapon.
Cecil Newton/C/Tennessee State: Newton was given high grades entering the '08 season, yet fell out of favor with some scouts for some reason. He's a powerful center with ability in a zone blocking scheme. The Atlanta Falcons seem to be the frontrunners to acquire Newton, though the Jaguars and Titans have also shown interest.
Everette Pedescleaux/DL/Northern Iowa: The former college basketball player has intrigued teams with his size, athleticism and potential. Pedescleaux is a versatile lineman with potential as a tackle in a conventional lineup or as a two-gap end in a 3-4. He's a late bloomer whose best football is ahead of him. Teams will consider drafting him in the middle rounds.
Vaughn Martin/DT/Western University: Only on rare occasions does a college player from Canada catch the fancy of NFL decision makers, and that's exactly what Vaughn Martin has done. Five teams went to London, Ontario, to watch Martin work out on the second Saturday in March. The 327-pound defender put on a show, running as fast as 5.07 in the 40 after completing 31 reps on the bench.
Martin has the size and strength to be used at nose tackle or middle guard. The Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers not only attended Martin's workout, but also brought him to the states for an official visit.
Pierre Walters/DE/Eastern Illinois: Walters was a two-time all-America at EIU, making 23 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks since his junior season. He's likely to slip into the late rounds before being pursued by the San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns, who use a 3-4 alignment and project Walters as a rush linebacker.
Jason Williams/OLB/Western Illinois: Williams has been one of the busiest non-combine participants in the weeks leading up to the draft. He's made official visits to a dozen teams and was forced to turn down requested visits due to his hectic schedule. The 6-1, 235-pound linebacker with 4.57 speed could be selected as early as the third round. Tampa Bay and New England have shown the most interest.
Gregory Toler/CB/Saint Paul's: Toler could be the only player with a busier schedule than Williams. He has visited with a dozen franchises around the league besides working out with another six teams. Several NFL decisions makers feel Toler offers the most complete package of any cornerback in the draft. The Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets have spent an extraordinary amount of time with him the past three weeks.
Peter Ittersagen/CB/Wheaton: Ittersagen could be the best cornerback and return specialist you never heard of. He's broken up 30 passes since his junior campaign while averaging 16.5 yards returning punts. He has the size, speed and skills to make an NFL roster and could end up being tabbed in the late rounds by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers or Houston Texans.
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