The NFL draft is as much about finding good depth and starters in the late rounds as it is about bringing home a blue-chip player in the first round every year.
One of the key elements of acing the late draft is being up to speed on the small-school prospects, players from Division I FCS (formerly 1-AA), Division II and Division III schools. Even the NAIA and junior college ranks have an occasion player that the pros take interest in.
When it comes to small-school draft prospect information, no one is better than Josh Buchanan, owner and director of scouting at JB Scouting. Buchanan scouts and keeps in contact with small-school prospect all year and he took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for our benefit:
Q: Who are your top-five small-school draft prospects and about when should we expect them to go off the board?
A: My personal top five are Brian Quick (WR-Appalachian State), Amini Silatolu (OG-Midwestern State), Janoris Jenkins (CB-North Alabama), Josh Norman (CB-Coastal Carolina) and Ryan Steed (CB-Furman). I think Quick and Silatolu go in the 40-65 range. I have Jenkins in the second round, Steed in the fourth round and Norman in the third/fourth round.
Q: Dale Moss (South Dakota State) and Cory Pearcy (Huntingdon) put up pro day numbers that would have been the top two wide receiver performances of the combine. Do you trust their numbers? When do you see them going in the draft, if at all?
A: I trust them for the most part. They are great athletes, but one is very raw and the other is very small. I would not be shocked if either are drafted but I have them as PFA prospects.
Q: Who are your personal favorite small-school prospects this year?
A: I personally love Quick, Steed, Tom Compton (OL-South Dakota), Chris Greenwood (CB-Albion), Asa Jackson (CB-Cal-Poly) and Justin Bethel (CB-Presbyterian).
Q: Which NFL teams tend to do the best job scouting small-school prospects?A: I think the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants have done a pretty good job.
Q: Are there any small-school prospects that are being overrated in the draftnik community?
A: I think people are giving Jenkins too much credit for two years ago, but the one I think is being way overrated is DB Janzen Jackson. He didn’t start at McNeese State and has a lot of issues. He has tools but has a lot of red flags that concern me. If he can overcome the flags, he does have talent though.
Q: Which current NFL players are the best small-school success stories?
A: Pierre Garcon. He came from D3 and went in the sixth round. He was a transfer who had to go through adversity. I also love where Mike Tolbert came from. Coastal Carolina had draft picks who never did what he has and he became the best of the group as an undrafted guy.
Q: Why do you think so many small-school players are having success and getting more attention from the NFL?
A: Players are realizing that they can be found no matter where they come from and I believe that many small schools are upgrading facilities, getting more exposure, etc., and thus more quality players are going to those type schools.
Q: Which positions are the hardest to adjust from small schools to the pros? Which are the easiest? Why?
A: QB, unless they are a transfer. FBS programs look for strong arms so there aren’t as many in the small schools. LB for some reason has not done well at all. I think DB and OL have been the best ones. WR is another good one. I’m not sure why.
I think maybe it’s because those positions have so many athletes that some who are more marginal in terms of skill out of high school get passed up and improve with all the reps they get because they start from day one at a small school, rather than ride the bench for two to three years in the FBS.