Over the years, there have been a large number of small-school standouts who have moved on to have great success in the NFL.
To name a few: Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Pierre Garcon, Miles Austin, Walter Payton, Kurt Warner, Brian Westbrook, Matt Birk, Jahri Evans, Jared Allen, Joe Flacco, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. That list looks like an all-star team, but it doesn’t end there. The list goes on and on.
Because of this, NFL scouts have started paying a lot more attention to non-FBS players. Here are my top nine in the class of 2010 (in no particular order).
John Skelton, QB, Fordam
Skelton was a high school QB in El Paso that was ignored by most colleges, mainly because Matthew Stafford and Jevan Snead were getting all the attention from Texas. He decided to take his college ball to Fordham, where he had a great 4 year career.
Scouts love John Skelton’s size. Skelton has a big arm and throws a very nice deep ball. He has good velocity on his passes and throws well on the move. Scouts are worried about his accuracy and footwork though. He tends to aim passes and sometimes throws a wobbly ball. He has the upside of Joe Flacco, but he will be a project.
2006: 74/167, 44.3 Cmp%, 960 Yds, 6 TDs, 8 INTs, 5.75 YPA
2007: 216/383, 56.4 Cmp%, 2650 Yds, 22 TDs, 11 INTs, 6.92 YPA
2008: 228/372, 61.3 Cmp%, 2605 Yds, 15 TDs, 7 INTs, 7.00 YPA
2009: 284/481, 64.4 Cmp%, 3713 Yds, 26 TDs, 10 INTs, 8.42 YPA
Joique Bell, RB, Wayne State
Joique Bell tore up Division II football, winning the Harlon Hill Trophy for the best player in Division II in 2009. He was redshirted for his freshman year, but is set to graduate this year. His total all-purpose yardage (ninth) and scoring (fifth) at Wayne St. both rank in the top 10 in Division II football history.
There is a lot to like about Bell. He’s a strong runner who fights for yards after contact. He has great vision and balance, with enough speed to accelerate through holes. He’s a patient runner and breaks a very good amount of tackles. He’s also above average in pass catching.
There are a few knocks on Bell though. He lacks break away speed and scouts believe he may have some trouble getting to the edge against NFL defenders. He had some trouble holding onto the football (4 fumbles in 2009), and will have to improve his pass protection.
2006: 348 rushes, 2065 Yds, 5.9 YPC, 22 TDs
2007: 289 rushes, 1427 Yds, 4.9 YPC, 25 TDs
2008: 218 rushes, 1152 Yds, 5.3 YPC, 12 TDs
2009: 326 rushes, 2084 Yds, 6.4 YPC, 29 TDs
Fifth or Sixth Round
Andre Roberts, WR, The Citadel
Andre Roberts was a former football and track star in high school in South Carolina, and was an All-Southern Conference sprinter at The Citadel. Roberts caught the attention of NFL scouts in his junior campaign. Although his numbers dropped off a bit in 2009, he is an intriguing prospect.
Roberts has a quick first step off the line of scrimmage, and has the ability to separate himself from defenders with his track speed. He has solid hands and consistently makes difficult catches. Roberts is also elusive both after the catch and in punt returning, as he was a major playmaker at the college level.
He needs to work on his route-running and run-blocking to succeed at the next level, and his lack of height could limit his potential.
2006: 36 receptions, 557 Yds, 15.5 Avg, 5 TDs
2007: 78 receptions, 1060 Yds, 13.6 Avg, 10 TDs
2008: 95 receptions, 1334 Yds, 14.0 Avg, 14 TDs
2009: 77 receptions, 792 Yds, 10.3 Avg, 7 TDs
Jared Veldheer, OT, Hillsdale
Veldheer was a monster at Hillsdale, dominating lesser opponents. He was recognized as the best offensive lineman in Division II, but it was his performance in the Texas vs. The Nation bowl game that has scouts talking about him. His stock is skyrocketing because of his combine results.
Scouts love Veldheer’s size. He’s a massive tackle, but he is also one of the most athletic in this year’s class. He has great footwork and strength to match his long arms. He is unpolished, but many scouts believe that he could be a successful project with a couple years of coaching.
He has a tremendous amount of talent and upside and could prove to be a great draft pick.
40 Yd Dash: 5.09
Second or Third Round
Vladimir Ducasse, OG, UMass
Vlad Ducasse came to the United States from Haiti in 2002. This was his first exposure football, and he has learned quickly. He improved with experience in college. He was an offensive tackle at UMass, but many scouts believe that his game translates to guard at the next level.
Ducasse is very athletic for his size. He has good strength and power, and his foot agility is above average. He plays with good leverage, and exhibits good initial quickness out of his stance.
He doesn’t have great instincts because of his limited football background. He must work on finishing his blocks and taking better angles to defenders.
Arms: 34 3/4
Hands: 9 5/8
40 Yd Dash: 5.21
Second or Third Round
Austen Lane, DE, Murray State
Austen Lane was one of the most dominant pass rushers in Division I FCS throughout his four-year career at Murray State. He arrived weighing 220 pounds, and has added 50 pounds.
He broke out in his junior year and proved it was no fluke during his senior season, despite constant double teams. Lane was invited to the Senior Bowl, where he had a successful performance, highlighted by a fumble recovery for a TD.
Lane has a good initial burst off the edge and a great motor. He’s a sure-handed tackler with the ability to chase down running backs and quarterbacks. He has a rare combination of height, long arms and agility that helped him to succeed in college.
But he lacks the upper-body strength to be able to bull-rush tackles and the explosiveness to accelerate past the tackle untouched. He must also improve his run defense to succeed in the NFL.
2006: 34 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks
2007: 48 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks
2008: 68 tackles, 22 for loss, 12.0 sacks
2009: 64 tackles, 19.5 for loss, 11.0 sacks
Adrian Tracy, OLB, William & Mary
Adrian Tracy didn’t get many offers to play college football. He was set to take his game to Davidson, which was his best offer, when an assistant coach from FCS powerhouse William & Mary offered him a scholarship.
He went there, and was the most dominant defender at William & Mary since Darren Sharper. He’s considered a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, and he will likely be an OLB in the NFL.
Adrian Tracy has a terrific combination of speed, quickness, and strength. He has a great initial burst off the edge and has the quickness to get by tight ends and tackles. He also delivers hard hits and has a knack for forcing turnovers.
He needs to do a better job in block recognition and with his hand placement and footwork. He’ll also need to prove that he can mix it up on the inside, not just off the perimeter.
2006: 70 tackles, 15.5 for loss, 6.0 sacks
2007: 63 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 3.0 sacks
2008: 72 tackles, 15.5 for loss, 10.0 sacks
2009: 78 tackles, 22.0 for loss, 12.0 sacks
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, CB/KR, IUP
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is a playmaking cornerback from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, an FCS school. He’s drawing comparisons to another corner who was an FCS prospect a few years ago, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He had a dominant career at IUP both as a CB and a return man.
Owusu-Ansah has ideal size for a cover corner.
He is a master at reading the receiver and QB and baiting the quarterback into thinking his WR is open. He plays with good aggression at the line of scrimmage, and shows good technique in man coverage. His size and speed give him good range for zone coverage, and he is always a threat to return an interception for a touchdown.
He has long arms, which allows him to close in on wide receivers in a hurry. There aren’t many weaknesses in his game. Scouts say that his physicality needs to improve and he needs to do a better job in run support, but at IUP he was almost never run at or thrown at.
Oh, did I mention he is a danger to take a punt/kick back every time he touches the ball?
2006: 20 tackles, 3 passes broken up, 0 INTs
2007: 12 tackles, 2 passes broken up, 0 INTs
2008: 14 tackles, 10 passes broken up, 8 INTs
2009: 27 tackles, 4 passes broken up, 2 INTs
Second or Third Round
Patrick Stoudamire, CB, Western Illinois
Patrick Stoudamire was a four-year starter at Western Illinois. He was voted to the All-Missouri Valley Conference team three times. He had a great career for the Leathernecks and is an intriguing mid-round NFL prospect because of his talent.
Stoudamire is an athletic corner. He has good speed and agility. He’s both quick and alert in coverage. He’s good at reading receivers routes and reading the quarterback. But he tends to give receivers too much cushion. He has to spend some more time in the weight room to get stronger and he must work on his run support.
He also has a tendency to get a bit grabby in coverage, leading to pass-interference calls.
2006: 24 tackles, 5 passes broken up, 1 INT
2007: 41 tackles, 6 passes broken up, 3 INTs
2008: 32 tackles, 8 passes broken up, 1 INT
2009: 37 tackles, 10 passes broken up, 1 INT
4-5 Round Pick
Some of these players will turn out to have successful NFL careers. Some of them will even have an impact next year, as Julian Edelman, Bernard Scott, and Johnny Knox did in their rookie seasons out of an FCS school last year.
And you may never hear some of their names again. But these are some key players that no one is talking about, and I think each of them will make an impact in the NFL. Here are some others to look out for:
- Armanti Edwards (A Julian Edelman type player. College QB turned WR)
- Derek Hardman
- Nathan Overbay
- Pat Paschall
Thanks for reading. Thoughts?