Small-School Gems Who Will Go Early in the 2013 NFL Draft

Ryan Riddle@@Ryan_RiddleCorrespondent IApril 15, 2013

Small-School Gems Who Will Go Early in the 2013 NFL Draft

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    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 offrom some school we either forgot about or never knew existedis 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.  

Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International

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    Height: 6'0"

    Weight: 217 pounds

    40-yard dash: 4.6 seconds

    3-cone drill: 7.01 seconds

    Short shuttle:  4.44 seconds

    Cyprien is an explosive safety prospect who has made a significant climb up draft boards over the last three months. His ability to make plays, either in the box or in the air, has demonstrated the competitiveness and versatility that NFL scouts covet.

    Cyprien does, however, lack experience against top-level competition, which is an issue he shares with every prospect listed throughout this slideshow on some level.

    His closing speed is enticing, though he lacks some long speed needed to match up against top-level NFL receivers. He’ll also need to add some bulk to his frame if he plans to make a career as a box safety.

    Overall, Cyprien is a capable cover-man who flashes ideal toughness and the instincts of a true playmaker. He should be drafted somewhere in the second round and has starting NFL potential from Day 1. 

Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

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    Height: 6'8"

    Weight: 277 pounds

    40-yard dash: 4.6 seconds

    3-cone drill: 7.07 seconds

    Short shuttle: 4.51 seconds

    Margus Hunt might be one of the rawest prospects in the draft. At 25 years old, this Estonia native is not your average first-round draft prospect, but he may have the most impressive physical gifts of anyone in this class.

    Men of his size are not supposed to run and move like him. In addition, his unique functional strength is a major asset which stands out on tape. Hunt can and should have a productive NFL career as he learns technique and becomes accustomed to the speed of game. If all else fails, he should be able to make a living exclusively as a kick blocker. During his college career, Hunt has blocked an astonishing 17 kicks.

    Hunt could hear his name called on Day 1, and he will definitely be gone by the second round. 

Quanterus Smith, DE, Western Kentucky

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    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 250 pounds

    40-yard dash: N/A

    3-cone drill: N/A

    Short shuttle:  N/A

    Most evaluations on pass-rushers will emphasize a quick get-off or the power to bull-rush the lineman all the way back into the quarterback’s lap. Although those elements are valuable tools for any rusher to have, they do not generate very many sacks.

    One of the main things you should look for in an elite pass-rusher is the often overlooked ability to keep an offensive lineman’s hands away from your chest. This requires a special talent akin to martial arts. This hand battle that takes place play after play for an entire game can happen within a few blinks of the eye, but the value of every move with lightning quickness could be the difference between a sack and being stale-mated.

    Quanterus Smith is one of the true masters at this rarely practiced art. His ability to get around blockers by using hand techniques makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire draft. This skill, coupled with shifty feet and a long reach, gives Smith a well-rounded arsenal of pass-rush moves which have kept opposing blockers off balance and scrambling to keep up.

    Basically, most NFL offensive linemen possess both the physical strength and speed to shut down any pass-rusher who proves too predictable. The elite rushers at the professional level must figure out how to keep their opponents guessing.

    This is why Smith translates so well into the NFL.  He’s equipped with the prerequisite physical tools, and he has demonstrated rare cunning and instinct when it comes to getting around blocks, which is what makes him one of my favorite prospects in this draft.

    His main concerns will be coming off of a recent ACL tear which had to be surgically repaired and did not allow him to participate in pre-draft events. Injury or not, Smith should be gone before the third round of this year’s draft.   

Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

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    Height: 6'7"

    Weight: 306 pounds

    40-yard dash: 5.05 seconds

    3-cone drill: 7.59 seconds

    Short shuttle: 4.44 seconds

    Eric Fisher has done everything right during this pre-draft process. His ascension into the top 10 has been quite the impressive journey. In fact, Fisher has some evaluators wondering whether or not Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel is really the best tackle available.

    Fisher has good leg drive, quick feet and finishes his blocks fairly well. He’s also a very good athlete for an offensive lineman. One of the big concerns that shows up on tape is his core strength. Often times, he gets bent back in the lower back by a basic bull-rush.

    Nevertheless, Fisher is destined to be swooped up early in the first round and will provide a team with 10-plus years of solid play at left tackle.

Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern

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    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 335 pounds

    40-yard dash: 5.37 seconds

    3-cone drill: 8.09 seconds

    Short shuttle:  4.91 seconds

    Though many have yet to hear the name Brandon Williams, they will likely hear it on Day 2 of the draft. Williams has one of the stronger upper bodies in this class, and he also flashes impressive ability as a penetrator from in between the tackles. 

    During his collegiate career at Missouri Southern, Williams wrecked havoc on opposing offenses, proving to be nearly unstoppable against marginal competition. He was truly a man amongst boys, which is exactly how it should be for a small-school prospect looking to thrive in the NFL. 

Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech

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    Height: 6'0"

    Weight: 204 pounds

    40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds

    3-cone drill: 6.91 seconds

    Short shuttle:  4.01 seconds

    Quinton Patton may not impress NFL teams with his size, strength or speed, but he does have just enough of all three of those to project as a late second- to early third-round pick. Patton has proven himself to be a highly productive receiver who is more than willing to compete and fight for the ball.

    His reliable hands and crisp route-running highlight his skills as a receiver. Patton can also make the first defender miss and turn a short pass play into something big. He likely will never end up being a true No.1 receiver, but Patton surely has value on an NFL roster. Expect him to be gone sometime in the third round.

    In a draft that is deep at the wide receiver position, it speaks volumes that this small-school prospect has made such a significant push in the months leading up to the draft, thanks in large part to his ability to make plays. 

Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State

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    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 254 pounds

    40-yard dash: 4.84 seconds

    3-cone drill: 7.07 seconds

    Short shuttle:  4.31 seconds

    There are reasons why this San Diego State tight end is considered to be one of the best at his position in this year's draft. He is a solid, capable blocker who also has the athleticism and coordination to make plays downfield in the passing game.

    Escobar has never missed a game during his college career, which is a testament to his durability and toughness. This kid has great hands and the willingness to go up and compete when the ball is in the air.

    One of the things that NFL teams love the most about Escobar is the potential growth and development his body will have in an NFL offseason. Currently, it appears as if Gavin has yet to grow out of his puppy stage in terms of body development, which only enhances his overall potential. 

Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana

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    Height: 5'10"

    Weight: 188 pounds

    40-yard dash: 4.39 seconds

    3-cone drill: 6.89 seconds

    Short shuttle: 4.23 seconds

    Robert Alford possesses the skills necessary for dominating in man-to-man coverage, such as breaking on the ball with anticipation and fluidity in his motions. He sheds blocks well for a corner, and he is willing to stick his head in to make a few tackles.

    Athletically, Alford is capable of starting in the NFL, and he definitely has the technical skills to match, which is why he’ll at least be a mid-second round draft pick and a valuable asset to any team that is willing to take a chance on this small-school gem with big-time potential. 

Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech

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    Height: 6'2"

    Weight: 217 pounds

    40-yard dash: 4.52 seconds

    3-cone drill: 6.71 seconds

    Short shuttle: 4.06 seconds

    There was a time in Da’Rick Rogers’ career when he would never be on a list like this. He was originally a member of the Tennessee Volunteers football program before being suspended for failing three drug tests.

    He then enrolled at Tennessee Tech, where he proceeded to make the most of his second opportunity in football by racking up over 800 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in his lone season there. Rogers is one of the fastest players in this draft, as evidenced by his inclusion on this list, which ranks a player’s total speed, pound-for-pound.