Several small-school stars are ready to impact 2011 NFL draft
A few small-school stars from last year have already impacted the league
South Dakota State's Colin Cochart may be the draft's most complete tight end
Walsh's Joe Morgan piqued NFL scouts' interest at Ohio State's pro day
With the NFL draft less than a week away, conversations have centered on the top prospects expected to be selected in the early rounds. Yet every year, unknown players chosen in the middle and late parts of the draft make rosters around the league and positively impact NFL squads.
Players from last year's draft such as offensive linemen Jared Veldheer (Raiders) and Ramon Harewood (Ravens) were unknown to those outside of the scouting community and considered draft-day surprises. Here's a look at some underrrated prospects -- with only one who was invited to the combine -- who are presently creating a buzz in NFL draft rooms.
Justin Roper/QB/Montana: Roper transferred from Oregon to Montana and was the No. 2 signal caller in the program until last season. He gained a lot of attention as the practice quarterback for A.J. Green during Georgia's pro-day. He possesses the size and arm strength to make an NFL roster. The quarterback-needy Vikings have heavily concentrated on Roper, as have the Cardinals.
Shane Bannon/FB-TE/Yale: His offensive statistics won't impress anyone as Bannon never carried the ball as a senior and accumulated just 13 receptions. His blocking skills, however, are another story. Bannon is built like a tank, measuring 6-1½, 268 and plays to that size. He's lined up at fullback and tight end with one simple mission -- annihilate opponents, which he does with regularity. Bannon is getting serious consideration from the Ravens and Giants to perform these skills at the next level.
Colin Cochart/TE/South Dakota State: Cochart is one of the few complete prospects at the tight end position in this draft, adept as both a blocker and pass catcher. The 255-pounder timed 4.71 in the 40 during his pro-day and touched 35 inches in the vertical jump. He's made official visits to see the Packers and Jaguars.
Joe Morgan/WR/Walsh: Morgan bounced around between a couple of schools before settling at Walsh and making a major contribution the past two seasons. He's one of the true deep threats at the receiver position and posted a 4.36 40 as a participant at Ohio State's pro day. In 2009-10, Morgan averaged just under 17 yards per catch from 70 total receptions. He's a solid fit in the fifth round area and is getting long looks from the Texans and Chiefs.
David Mims/OT/Virginia Union: Mims has a tremendous combination of size (6-9, 331), athleticism and strength. He plays to his measurables and stands out while blocking on film. Mims offers the skill set to see action in the NFL and is getting long looks from the Lions and Chiefs.
Cameron Bradfield/OL/Grand Valley State: Bradfield, a three-year starter at tackle, allowed just two sacks during his college career. He's a physical specimen that's getting looks at both guard and tackle. During his pro-day workout last month, the 6-4, 304-pound lineman ran 4.82 in the 40 and also completed 30 bench reps. Bradford recently returned from an official visit with the Jaguars.
Blaine Sumner/NT/Colorado School of Mines: Affectionately known as the "Vanilla Gorrilla," Sumner is one of the best-kept secrets on the defensive line. He's an all-conference player that posted 32 tackles and blocked three kicks as a senior. He completed 52 reps on the bench press during his pro-day workout, while squatting 905 pounds and benching 625. Sumner is also on pace to receive a master's degree in Engineering and Technology Management. He's lined up at fullback and was also used as a short-yardage runner. Sumner has drawn interest from a number of teams with the Raiders and 49ers leading the way.
Marc Schiechl/DE-OLB/Colorado School of Mines: Schiechl is another Oredigger teams have shown great interest in. Posting 46 sacks in college, an NCAA record for Division II football, Schiechl was a constant presence in the opponents' backfield and a disruptive force for three full years. He's similar to Kansas City's Andy Studebaker, another small school star that has lined up at several spots along the defensive front seven. Schiechl was recently brought in by the Packers and Jaguars for official visits.
Tom McCarthy/DE/Yale: McCarthy's computer numbers stack up with most of the top prospects. The 6-6 McCarthy tips the scales at 268 and posted a swift 4.66 40 during his pro day. He was marginally productive in college, yet teams love his athleticism and upside. During recent workouts McCarthy has been put through defensive line and tight end drills besides long snapping for NFL teams. The Giants and Falcons have shown increasing interest in the Yale product.
Jabara Williams/OLB/Stephen F Austin: The All-American linebacker was a four year starter in college and accumulated just under 350 tackles since his sophomore campaign. He's a terrific athlete with potential at weak side linebacker for a conventional line-up. Williams turned heads during his pro-day workout posting forty times in the mid 4.5 second range besides posting a vertical jump of 36.5 inches. The Cincinnati Bengals and Chicago Bears are considering Williams in the later rounds.
Ryan Jones/CB/Northwest Missouri St: Jones was incredibly productive the past two seasons, intercepting 11 passes and breaking up 24 more. He has NFL starter's size (5-11, 190) with the speed to match (4.4 in the 40). The Bears have shown a lot of interest in Jones.
M.D. Jennings/S/Arkansas State: In a year void of talent at safety, Jennings is the top sleeper at the position. He's a rangy defensive back that effortlessly makes plays sideline-to-sideline in centerfield. His cover skills are good enough that Jennings can play over the slot receiver and shut 'em down. More than a half-dozen teams are considering Jennings in the late rounds -- including the safety-needy Rams and Panthers.