Not every future NFL star is plucked from the fertile grounds of BCS royalty. For example, DeMarcus Ware once sprouted out of Troy, a lesser-known school in Alabama, on his way to becoming one of the most feared defensive players in the league.
In fact, every year, the name of some prospect we've never heard of—from some school we either forgot about or never knew existed—is announced at the podium fairly early in the draft. When this happens, most semi-casual fans who have read a few mock drafts are suddenly left wondering how Mr. SEC could be passed up by a guy who played in front of crowds smaller than some high school stadiums.
What a terrible move by that general manager, right? In the court of public perception, it may seem like that, but not to those who have followed the draft class closely.
Maybe this is the year you can finally impress your buddies and say with pride and confidence that you actually know a thing or two about the kid who everyone in Radio City Music Hall is booing, simply because they have no idea who the heck he is.
All the prospects on this list come from schools that have eluded the spotlight of the national stage. These schools rarely get television time, and their players tend to be disregarded as second-rate talents who couldn't hack it against the big boys. These schools never play in BCS bowl games and don't have the privilege of 15 uniform combinations a season.
Although there are some obvious truths to the commonly held perception that smaller schools have lesser talent, it doesn't mean that elite prospects cannot be found there. This slideshow should give some insight into which smaller school prospects are expected to have their name called early in this year's draft.
Note: Considering that "early" is a relative term, let's define it as being drafted within the first three rounds.