NFL Draft 2014: Small-School Prospects Playing Their Way to Early Round Status
Small-school prospects are tough to project. However, there are a couple of them who have played their way into an early round status. Whether it's an offensive weapon or a talented linebacker, NFL teams should love the best small-school prospects available.
There are three men who have stood out this year among all the talent that is available. Dri Archer, offensive weapon for the Kent State Golden Flashes, has been a lightning bolt on the field. Buffalo's Khalil Mack is looking like the next great linebacker. And Brett Smith may be the most underrated quarterback out there.
RB/WR Dri Archer, Kent State
Projected Range: Late 1st round to Early 2nd round
2013: 4 Games Played, 13 Carries, 96 Yards; 9 Catches, 135 Yards, 2 Touchdowns; 1 Kick Return, 100 Yards, 1 Touchdown
2012: 14 Games Played, 159 Carries, 1,429 Yards, 16 Touchdowns; 39 Catches, 561 Yards, 4 Touchdowns; 1 Punt Return, -4 Yards; 17 Kick Returns, 591 Yards, 3 Touchdowns
2011: Ineligible due to academic requirements not being met
2010: 12 Games Played, 40 Carries, 140 Yards, 1 Touchdown; 16 Catches, 75 Yards, 1 Touchdown; 5 Punt Returns, 12 Yards; 22 Kick Returns, 451 Yards
2009: 11 Games Played, 58 Carries, 246 Yards, 1 Touchdown; 19 Catches, 231 Yards, 3 Touchdowns; 11 Kick Returns, 266 Yards
Want an offensive weapon who's going to be a great fit in any scheme?
Look no further than Dri Archer. He's been fighting injuries this year, but when he's on the field, he makes plays and is the fastest man out there. He's similar to Darren Sproles in his size—only 5'8", 175 pounds—and speed.
However, he's used in a much more special way. Archer has been used in the backfield, in the slot, out wide and even as a return specialist. The Flashes use him all over the field and get the ball in his hands because they know he will make plays.
He's the kind of player who will add explosion to a team that needs it. However, injury and academic issues could be seen as red flags and could possibly drop him. But there's no arguing that his play on the field makes him worthy of a first-round pick. It's just who will want to take him.
LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Projected Range: Top 15
2013: 5 Games Played, 35 Tackles, 6.5 Tackles for Loss, 4.0 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 2 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown
2012: 11 Games Played, 94 Tackles, 20.0 Tackles for Loss, 8.0 Sacks, 4 QB Hurries, 4 Fumbles Forced, 2 Pass Deflections, 1 Blocked Kick
2011: 12 Games Played, 65 Tackles, 20.5 Tackles for Loss, 5.5 Sacks, 13 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 5 Fumbles Forced, 2 Pass Deflections, 1 Blocked Kick
2010: 12 Games Played, 68 Tackles, 14.5 Tackles for Loss, 4.5 Sacks, 8 QB Hurries, 2 Fumbles Forced, 10 Pass Deflections
Everyone needs a good linebacker. But there are few that are as good as Khalil Mack in the college ranks. He's been flying around football fields every single season since he started at Buffalo and will only continue to get better.
The 6'3", 248-pound linebacker can play inside or outside in any NFL scheme. He's reminiscent of Von Miller of the Denver Broncos on the field. Off the field, he's a leader and is one of the team captains for a Buffalo team that is trying to compete for a MAC championship this year.
And despite the Bulls being 3-2, their losses are to Baylor's insanely unstoppable offense and a national title contender in Ohio State. Should Buffalo play to its potential, it will be because of Mack's leadership on defense and his play on the field.
The leader of a MAC champion's defense could be the most underrated player in all of college football right now. If a team is lucky enough to take Mack in the 10-15 range in May, it will be thanking itself a year from now.
QB Brett Smith, Wyoming
Projected Range: Top 20
2013: 5 Games Played, 141-of-217 (65.0 percent), 1,607 Yards, 14 Touchdowns, 4 Interceptions; 45 Carries, 282 Yards, 1 Touchdowns
2012: 10 Games Played, 205-of-330 (62.1 percent), 2,832 Yards, 27 Touchdowns, 6 Interceptions; 114 Carries, 248 Yards, 6 Touchdowns; 1 Catch, 10 Yards
2011: 13 Games Played, 253-of-415 (61.0 percent), 2,622 Yards, 20 Touchdowns, 11 Interceptions; 139 Carries, 710 Yards, 10 Touchdowns; 2 Catches, 17 Yards, 1 Touchdown
Quarterbacks are always at a premium, but Brett Smith from Wyoming could be a true shocker at the top of the 2014 draft. He has all the tools NFL teams look for in a quarterback. He's got the arm strength, the ball placement, the mobility and, most of all, the leadership needed to be great.
Unfortunately, he's playing for Wyoming and not an SEC school. Smith is one of the few guys who would have had the potential to be a Heisman candidate had he decided to go to a school in a big conference. The Salem, Oregon product decided against going to a BCS school, though.
Either way, NFL teams will fall in love with his intangibles and his arm. His size isn't going to hurt him either, as he's 6'3", 206 pounds and has room to add muscle mass. An NFL team in need of a quarterback will get a real gem here. The question is just how high he goes.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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