Every year, over 250 collegiate players are selected in the NFL draft. Some from school most fans have never heard of.
The benefit of attending a Division II school is that you have the rare opportunity to see many of these players—before they declare for the draft.
All of these prospects were excellent Division II players.
But many people might wonder how their skills will translate to the NFL, where the competition is light years ahead of what they saw in college.
Few Division II players have the skills to succeed at the next level, but here are five that you might hear called from the podium on draft weekend.
1. Amini Silatolu — G/T Midwestern State — 6'3", 312 lbs.
Most people who follow the draft have heard of Silatolu by now. He was an absolute beast at Midwestern State.
Midwestern State is a small college located in Wichita Falls, Texas, and every year they rank at the top of their conference in offensive production.
Silatolu anchored the left tackle spot for an offense that averaged nearly seven yards per rush and 323 yards per game. Silatolu is one of the best in the draft at finishing his blocks, especially in the run game.
He is very raw technically but has the motor and mean streak coaches love to see in their offensive linemen. His footwork will have to improve and his ability to read defenses and blitzes.
While Silatolu played tackle in college, at just 6’3” he will most likely move inside. It remains to be seen how well and how quickly he can pick up complicated blocking schemes at the next level.
Projection: Pittsburg Steelers 24th pick, Round 1
When you watch Silatolu on tape, he looks like a Pittsburgh Steelers lineman.
His mean streak and his motor are the kind of gritty qualifications you need to be successful in a grind-it-out offense, which is what Pittsburgh looks like they are returning to.\
2. Janoris Jenkins CB — North Alabama — 5'9", 176 lbs.
Everyone knows Janoris Jenkens.
He was a Florida standout, before being booted for repetitive drug use. And after being dismissed, he ended up with Division II powerhouse North Alabama.
His stats don’t blow you away— just two interceptions and four pass breakups. But what the stats don’t show is that Jenkins was hardly challenged by opposing offenses during his time with UNA.
What he did in the return game was impressive, though. Jenkins averaged just under 22 yards per return and had three scores, which was the most in the division.
What concerns teams is the off-the-field issues. Jenkins was dismissed from Florida for repeated drug use, and speculation was he had not changed his ways while at North Alabama.
While he may drop as low as the third round because of his character questions, the NFL is all about second and third chances. Someone will recognize his talent in the first three rounds and scoop him up.
Projection: Cincinnati Bengals 53rd pick, Round 2
Cincinnati needs cornerbacks bad.
Terrance Newman was a nice addition, but injury concerns have haunted him for the last few years. Owner Mike Brown has shown numerous times he is not afraid to take a chance on a guy with character flaws.
It seems like a match made in football heaven.
3. Rishaw Johnson — G California-PA — 6'3", 306 lbs.
Rishaw Johnson is another one-year Division II player, after being dismissed from Ole Miss in 2010 for a “violation of team rules.”
Johnson transferred to California-PA and wallowed in relative anonymity, until he started turning heads at the East-West Shrine game. Johnson dispelled a lot of questions about whether he had the chops to go up against NFL caliber players and succeed.
One concern for teams will be his question marks in pass protection. The complicated schemes in the NFL might trip him up, and he showed, at times, a lack of recognition with what defenses were doing.
Johnson has all the skills to be a top-flight offensive lineman in the NFL, but he is still pretty raw.
On talent alone, you could see him go as high as the third round. But questions about his character issues at Ole Miss and whether he can consistently take on NFL players could drop him as low as the sixth round.
Nevertheless, Johnson is a very good athlete, and although he is a developmental project, he should find a home in the middle rounds with a team looking to add depth at the position.
Projection: New Orleans Saints 162nd pick, Round 5
New Orleans could use some depth behind Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans. Johnson has huge upside and needs to go to a place where that can be developed without having to start right away.
4. Thomas Mayo WR — California- PA — 6'1", 200
Thomas Mayo is an interesting prospect because he has the prototypical frame you are looking for in a receiver. But he is surprisingly an average athlete.
He put up big numbers in his senior year, pulling down 79 catches for 1,359 yards and 16 touchdowns.
However, when he had the chance at the East-West Shrine Game to show scouts he could compete with top-level competition, he failed to get consistent separation from defenders.
That has raised some questions about his ability to transition to the NFL. While his ability to accelerate and his speed aren't concerns, his ability to get in and out of breaks quickly are.
Mayo will need to find a place where he can develop as a receiver, maybe even on the practice squad.
All-in-all, Mayo has potential to become a solid contributor to an NFL offense—just not in his first year.
Projection: Dallas Cowboys 222nd pick, Round 7
The Cowboys lost Laurent Robinson to the Jaguars in the off-season and that leaves Dallas with a huge hole in their wide receiver depth.
With bigger needs, Dallas may not go after a wide-out early, but Mayo provides a good value pick in the seventh round.
5. Jeremy Jones S — Wayne State — 5'10", 197 lbs.
Jeremy Jones is going to provide someone with great value in the late seventh or as a priority free agent.
He doesn’t have elite speed—which is why he's projected to move over to safety at the next level and part of the reason why he might end up un-drafted.
Jones is a slid cover defender and an aggressive run supporter. And he isn’t afraid to hit people—a quality coaches and fans appreciate from defensive backs.
With nine interceptions as a senior, Jones displays good ball-hawking skills, but the question is if he can do it against NFL competition.
Aside from his physical talent, Jones is an incredibly smart player who understands the concepts behind what he does in coverage.
The question remains if Jones can play in the NFL, but if he can make the physical transition, Jones could be one of the late-round steals we talk about in the next few years.
Projection: Green Bay Packers 224th pick, Round 7
I am a big Packers fan, so I am going to use my homer card and take Jones for the Cheeseheads.
Green Bay has a huge hole to fill with the uncertainty of Nick Collins and where his career goes after his neck injury.
The Packers will probably spend an earlier pick on a safety, but in the seventh round with three picks, Green Bay can take value, and Jones provides that in the 224th spot.