NFL teams are consistently finding big-time talent in small-school prospects, and this year is no different, as the 2013 NFL draft will be littered with players from these so called smaller schools. The number of small-school players coming into the NFL gets bigger each and every year as the talent gets spread out in college football.
In today's NFL, it doesn't matter where a player went to college as teams are stocking their cabinet full of players who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. There is room for talent, and simply put, if a player can play, he can play.
With the combine in the rearview mirror and pro days just ahead, let's look at the top small-school prospects coming into the 2013 NFL draft.
In the run up to the draft, small-school offensive tackle Terron Armstead has taken every opportunity he has had, seizing it like no other prospect. He took over the East-West Shrine Game and got invited to the Senior Bowl.
Armstead didn’t look out of place at all against better competition and came away from the week of practices as a rising prospect. He showcased his movement skills all week, and became a player whom everyone wanted to see at the combine.
At the combine, he showed incredible athleticism, running a 4.71-second 40-yard dash. He also dazzled in the other movement drills, and he showed some strength, recording 31 repetitions of 225 pounds. He was clearly one of the combine’s stars, and it’s another test for Armstead to scratch off the list.
Armstead has answered every question he has faced, and he has done it with his play on the field and through an amazing display of athleticism. With long arms (34”) and great footwork, he has driven his stock through the roof, and it should surprise no one when his name is called early in the second day of the 2013 NFL draft.
B.W. Webb is another small-school cornerback who could come into the NFL and surprise with his elite athleticism and agility. Webb is a four-year starter who has the athleticism, ball skills and coverage ability to be this year’s small-school standout selected early in the draft.
Webb’s athleticism was all over the combine. He registered a vertical jump of 40.5” and a broad jump of 11 feet. He ran the fastest 20-yard shuttle of any cornerback at the combine.
Webb was invited to the 2013 Senior Bowl, and he fared well, even against some very strong wide receiver prospects. He certainly didn’t look out of place and needed to impress at the combine, which he clearly did.
He is an explosive athlete who can change directions easily. Webb can explode out of his backpedal to close on the ball, and he looks to be at his best playing in zone coverage where he can read the eyes of the quarterback and jump routes.
He has certainly solidified his stock with his performances at the Senior Bowl and the combine. Webb should start receiving consideration early in Round 3, and he could be an impact defender right away if he finds the right scheme for his set of skills.
Da’Rick Rogers is a small-school standout coming into the draft, but he has played with the big boys in the SEC at Tennessee as recently as a year ago. The former Volunteer wide receiver led the SEC in receiving after his sophomore season, but was dismissed from the football program for failed drug tests.
He immediately transferred to Tennessee Tech, finished his junior season and declared for the 2013 NFL draft. There are questions about his decision-making and character as a football player, and his most important test was in meetings at the combine.
Rogers has legitimate second-round talent, and his ability to play a physical brand of football is certainly intriguing. He will go over the middle and make tough catches and is willing to take the play to the defense, but he lacks elite acceleration and won’t run away from NFL defenses.
He was impressive during agility drills and flashed his athleticism at the combine. We can see that from the numbers, but we don’t know how the meetings with teams went, and that will really tell the tale. Rogers has the football ability to be in the mix as early as the second day, but character issues could slightly nudge push him down the board.
Brandon Williams is a physically impressive football player. He has a huge lower half and is a player who could excel holding up at the point of attack in the NFL. Williams is an interior lineman, but during his time as a college football player, he set the school record for sacks, a unique record for such a big presence inside.
Williams will not necessarily get away with rag-dolling NFL linemen, and he will have to win with technique. There is a saying that in the NFL, the low man wins. That speaks to playing with leverage, and Williams is going to excel in this area, as long as he continues to play low and not stand up on first contact.
It will be interesting to see what defensive scheme a player like Williams ends up playing in. He looks the part of a traditional nose tackle, but his ability to move could put him outside as a 5-technique in a 3-4. He is also strong enough, with enough snap quickness to play either defensive tackle position in a 4-3 defense.
Williams looked good at the Senior Bowl and is certainly set to hear his name called as early as the third round of the upcoming 2013 NFL draft.
Keith Pough was an interesting player to watch at the East-West Shrine Game practices. He talked non-stop and was constantly in the mix of players jawing back and forth at each other.
During practice, he looked incredibly athletic and showed the range to go sideline-to-sideline to make plays. He was willing to attack the line of scrimmage, but he didn’t always locate the ball and could get caught up in the wash, away from the ball.
Pough measured in at 6’2” and 239 pounds at the combine. These are good numbers for an outside linebacker, but he ran a sluggish 40-yard dash. However, Pough plays much faster than his 40-yard dash time indicates, as he is constantly around the ball and making plays in the backfield.
Pough’s relentless pursuit is a bigger reason to draft him than anything else. He is a player who can play the WILL or SAM linebacker position in the NFL, and his stock is rising through the process. Pough is a middle-of-the-draft player, a candidate for a team looking for depth at the linebacker position.
Southeastern Louisiana’s Robert Alford is a very intriguing prospect at the cornerback position. He is a ball hawk, and that jumps out when watching him play. He has great hands, along with the ability to close on the throw, and it has him in position to make plays on the ball.
Alford is another small-school cornerback with great coverage skills, but the level of competition has some evaluators asking questions. At the 2013 Senior Bowl, he answered those questions and more, as he didn’t look out of place and had an impressive week of practices.
He backed that up with a truly impressive showing at the combine. He ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and followed that up with a 40” vertical jump and an 11’ broad jump. Alford’s athletic ability is not in doubt.
Alford is a great athlete who can play the game, and he is another in the long line of small-school cornerbacks who will get drafted in the middle of the draft.
Mike Catapano really helped himself during the East-West Shrine Game practices, as he showed a non-stop motor and the ability to drive up the field while splitting gaps in the offensive line. He displayed the skills to beat a tackle outside with speed, or inside with strength, and he consistently showed that he could get pressure on the quarterback throughout the week.
He was also relentless against the run, defeating blockers and running to the ball. Catapano was a very bright spot as he definitely helped his draft stock with a strong week in Tampa Bay.
Catapano has very active hands and is a handful for offensive linemen because of his physical tools combined with his all-out effort. Catapano has solidified his stock and should get drafted in Round 4. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see him making plays as a rotational defensive lineman early in his career.
David Bass is a small-school standout who came to the East-West Shrine Game as a bit of an unknown. He had a good week of practices, showing the ability to dip his shoulder around the edge and get to the quarterback. He showed good hand placement and speed throughout the week and consistently pressured the quarterback more than anyone else in Tampa Bay.
Bass showed well at the combine, posting good numbers all the way around. He showed that he can put up similar numbers to those from big conferences, and it isn’t a stretch to think about him as a rotational defensive lineman in year one in the NFL.
Bass has the talent to come off the board in Round 4 because of his ability to turn the corner and get to the quarterback. He has enough talent to warrant that pick because of this edge speed and his ability to pressure the quarterback.
At this point in the draft process, Armonty Bryant is a gem waiting to be mined. He has the talent to be drafted in the second or third round, but he's an unknown because he plays at a small school and wasn’t at a premium all-star game after his senior season.
Bryant played in the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game, and he stood out as the best player on the field throughout practices. At 6’4” and 262 pounds, he was difficult to block all week, consistently beating tackles around the corner or running through them.
Bryant had a respectable workout at the combine, and with it, he showed the ability to hang with the big boys from the big conferences. Bryant’s work in Indianapolis will get done in meetings with teams, as he has to dispel any character issues stemming from issues that took place off the field.
Bryant is another small-school defensive lineman who should come off the board in the middle rounds. He should have a shot to be a part of a defensive line rotation early in his career.
Richmond safety Cooper Taylor is a very mobile, rangy safety who can cover some ground. Throw in the fact that he is 6’4” and 229 pounds, and he is a prospect who should excite football fans going forward.
Taylor is the size of a small linebacker, and he looks that big on the field, but Taylor shows impressive change-of-direction ability, and it will be a critical skill for him as he enters the NFL. Taller defensive backs have a hard time changing directions and staying with the shiftier receivers they have to cover.
Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor has excelled playing center field, and Taylor and Chancellor will draw comparisons as they are both 6’4”. Taylor could find some success in the NFL playing a similar role to Chancellor as an in-the-box type of safety who can defend the pass with his height and long arms.
Taylor has the range and movement skills to be considered in the middle part of the draft, perhaps as early as Round 4.