10 Under-the-Radar Small School Studs Who Will Surprise on NFL Draft Day
Meanwhile, many other prospects are looking to stand out amidst an always-crowded field of talent from small schools that don't get the exposure larger programs do.
Some become part of the buzz, mentioned in the same breath as their counterparts at powerhouse programs, to end up as first round picks, such as Joe Flacco. But those are few and far between. With a draft so deep in the trenches and lacking those top-tier skill players, there are many under the radar prospects who will surprise.
Here are 10 of them.
10. A.J. Klein, ILB, Iowa State
The inside linebacker crop is very thin, with Manti Te'o still being the first one possibly taken in spite of recent concerns. That may just make it easier for A.J. Klein to rise up the ranks.
The linebacker corps was the strength of Iowa State thanks to Klein, who had 99 tackles last year. He has great awareness and intensity and, even if he is not necessarily elite, he really knows how to get to the ball.
With slim pickens this year at linebacker, his intangibles may separate him for other prospects. He's a Day 3 projection now, but could easily slide into Day 2 with a great Combine.
9. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
Defensive end is so deep in this year's draft class that, despite being projected as a day two guys, Margus Hunt is a virtual unknown and barely cracks the top ten ends on big boards.
The 6'8" Estonian has consistency issues that have kept him from being highly looked at, but he has the physicality and power to be a huge playmaker in the NFL.
Someone with his upside could end up off the board a lot sooner than anticipated as a high-risk, high reward pick. He would be a project, but one that has at least shown flashes of playing at a high level.
8. Brian Winters, G, Kent State
CBS Sports does not even have his own profile page yet on Brian Winters. That's how under-the-radar he's been despite being one of the best small school offensive linemen out there, and easily the second-best to come out of the MAC (Eric Fisher is first).
Winters is likely to be a solid Day 2 pick, thanks to anchoring a great rushing attack at Kent State. He was the left tackle there, but he fits better as a guard with his build and seems to be one that can easily make the transition.
7. Kerwynn Williams, RB, Utah State
Starting off the list is a guy who isn't going to be a featured running back in the league, but Kerwynn Williams could easily be the next big change-of-pace special teams man.
He's projected at the end of the draft and is only 5'8", but he did have 1,500 yards for Utah State this past season, capped by an 18-carry, 235-yard, 3 touchdown performance in the Potato Bowl. He was a top-tier returner in the WAC throughout his collegiate career, averaging 27.2 yards on kick returns with one touchdown last season.
Even if those stats are less meaningful in the NFL since the rule change on the kickoff, Williams' skill set will certainly not leave him undrafted. In fact, he could slide into round four or five.
6. Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana
When you can find a shutdown cornerback late in the draft, it's huge for any team, and that may be what they're getting in Robert Alford.
SE Louisiana hasn't had a draft pick since their return to football in 2003, but when you have a guy that teams go out of their way not to throw to, no matter what level it's at, then that's worth noting.
Unlike others further up on the list, he was not a giant standout at the Senior Bowl, but he was the FCS defensive player of the year, and he seems to be a solid day two selection.
5. Keith Pough, OLB, Howard
When you're an all-time leader in a stat, scouts have to take notice. In Keith Pough's case, he leads the FCS in tackles for loss with 71. He knows how to get to the backfield, which is impressive even in the MEAC.
After participating in the East-West Shrine Game, Dane Brugler noticed, first and foremost, his intensity and motor to go along with his leadership.
He doesn't have the best numbers out there, and is a guy who may not fare well at the combine. Despite this, he has shown enough when he is on the field that he could rise up the board quickly despite this draft being very deep on rushing OLBs.
4. Jasper Collins, WR, Mount Union
Mount Union has had a great track record recently with those drafted, especially when you consider that they are a Division III School. Both Cecil Shorts and Pierre Garcon have turned into quality players.
Jasper Collins has shown the talent to follow suit. He is projected late so far, but if you look just at talent and not where he went to school, he has shown a lot, and will be great value when he is drafted, which may be earlier than Shorts due to Mount Union's track record.
Dane Brugler noted that in the East-West Shrine game, "Collins was the most polished route runner and consistent receiver on the roster," and that's can carry over into his NFL career, he'll be a keeper.
3. Zac Dysert, QB, Miami (Ohio)
This year, there are no bona fide quarterback prospects and those at the top have major question marks. Despite that, Zac Dysert has been mostly overlooked in favor of Mike Glennon and Ryan Nassib, among others.
Despite early day three projections, he has raised eyebrows with his performance so far at the Senior Bowl; Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post calls him this year's QB dark horse, and I agree with that sentiment entirely.
He put up nice numbers all year despite playing on a bad team in 4-8 Miami and he's got the size and arm to be in intriguing project.
That's exactly what he is, as he isn't a player who a team can immediately toss into the mix on day one, but he has the physical traits to make a splash at the combine and possibly slip up to round two, especially with the draft value of quarterbacks.
2. Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
I almost left Patton out of this list after originally having him in. Why? He was so good at the Senior Bowl that he may no longer be under the radar.
Originally a third-round projection, Patton finished fifth in the nation in receiving yards (1,392 on 104 catches) thanks both to his ability and a great offensive system at Louisiana Tech.
He's an athletic wide receiver who can make the tough catches and, if he has a great Combine to go with the great Senior Bowl, who knows? Maybe he's a first-round pick when it's all said and done.
1. Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International
Jonathan Cyprien is projected as an early Day 3 selection, and was not even on my radar at all until I read Matt Miller's high praise of him at the Senior Bowl.
Needless to say, I had to take a look myself. The depth drops off after Matt Elam at strong safety, and despite being mired in the Sun Belt, Cyprien's athleticism and hitting ability has been on full display.
Watching the film back combined with what we're seeing now, the question is when, not if, he'll be drafted on day two; a good combine could potentially push him into the second round.