The NFL Draft has become one of the biggest sporting events of the year. It has become so big, that the NFL has spread it out over three days for the first time this year.
Sophisticated scouting services, thousands of mock drafts and gavel—to—gavel coverage by two networks make it a must watch for millions of NFL fans worldwide.
In past generations, players from smaller schools were called diamonds in the rough or sleepers. It's hard to imagine that with the proliferation of websites, daily shows about the draft and hundreds of draft publications that someone could go unknown in this era.
In spite of all that, the majority of the early rounds are dominated by the six BCS conferences. In the 2009 NFL Draft, only one player from a non-BCS school was picked in the first round when the San Diego Chargers chose Northern Illinois' Larry English with the 16th pick. English finished his rookie season with 33 tackles and two sacks.
In past generations, many Hall of Famers have come from non BCS-schools. Jerry Rice went to Mississippi Valley State, Walter Payton to Jackson State and Charlie Joiner to Grambling.
Will there be any future star players from the smaller schools in the 2010 NFL Draft? It will take a few years for us to learn which players emerged after spending their college careers in relative anonymity.
Here are the top ten players to watch from smaller schools as the draft unfolds Thursday—Saturday.
Veldeer is one of only two Division II players expected to be picked in the first two or three rounds.
His size is perfect for a left tackle and Veldeer's 5.1 second time in the 40 yard dash at the combine ranked ninth among all tackle prospects. Veldheer was one of only three Division II players to play in the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game.
Scouts seem enamored with Owusu—Ansah's athletic ability. After playing safety in college, Owusu-Ansah is projected as a safety in the NFL.
He is one of the best kick returners in the draft. He had five combined kick/punt returns for touchdowns during his collegiate career and averaged 19 yards per return on interceptions. He ran a 4.4 second 40 yard dash at the combine.
Born in Ghana, Owusu—Ansah seems destined for the NFL. In his native language, his first name means "born on Sunday."
Carrington is an intense and highly focused player who already has his degree in Clinical Psychology.
Carrington was the 2008 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year. He finished that season with 53 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and ten sacks.
Carrington followed that up with nine sacks and 36 tackles in 2009. Carrington's combination of size and speed (he runs a sub—5 second 40 yard dash) will allow him to lineup at end in either the 3-4 or the 4-3.
Misi is a fast riser that has a potential to jump into the late first round if there is a run on outside linebackers.
Misi played defensive end at Utah, put projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. He led the Utes with 9.5 tackles for loss and was second on the team with five sacks.
He is a productive player and has been lauded as having the type of personality to become a team leader. He has both strength and speed and can take on blockers as well as chase down ball carriers.
Joseph has been skyrocketing up the draft boards since his surprise announcement that he was foregoing his senior year to enter the draft.
Joseph was overshadowed by his teammates Jay Ross and CJ Wilson throughout his career at East Carolina.
Joseph has a rare combination of exceptional size and athleticism. He had 60 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. Scouts loved Joseph's quickness and ability to shoot the gaps. The criticisms have been that Joseph needs to learn how to take on blockers better.
Washington played inside linebacker at TCU, but projects as an outside LB on the weak side in the NFL.
He will need to bulk up. He ran a 4.6 second 40 yard dash at the combine. He was part of an amazing defense with teammate Jerry Hughes who is also likely to be picked in the first two rounds.
Like Hughes, Washington is a playmaker. He led the team with 109 tackles and also had 11 tackles for loss, two sacks and three interceptions in 2009. Scouts have raved about his ability in pass coverage and he should shine on special teams. Washington had blocked four punts during his tenure in Ft. Worth. Washington's ability as a special team member should enhance his draft status.
Duchasse is likely to be the highest Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) player picked in the 2010 draft.
He has had an interesting path to the draft. He has only lived in the United States for seven years after immigrating from Haiti. He will also have to make it in the NFL from an FCS school, not always the easiest path.
Ducasse will be the first Minuteman selected in the draft since the Bears chose linebacker Khari Samuel in the fifth round in 1999. If he is selected in the first round, Ducasse would be the first UMass player with that distinction since QB Greg Landry was taken by the Lions in the first round of the 1968 draft.
Scouts are enamored by Ducasse's size and strength. His lack of experience playing football has been the knock on him. Ducasse still has a lot of work to do. He will likely start his career at right tackle or guard. As he learns the game, Ducasse is eventually projected at left tackle.
Hughes is a bit undersized to play defensive end in the NFL. The same was said about Elvis Dumervil and Dwight Freeney when they were draft prospects. Dumervil has 43 sacks in four years and led the NFL with 17 in 2009. Freeney has 84 sacks in eight years and is a likely future Hall of Famer.
Hughes was one of the most dominant defensive players in College Football over the last two seasons. He led a defense that finished first in total defense and sixth in scoring defense nationally in 2009.
Hughes combined for 26 sacks and 36 tackles for loss the last two seasons.
The scouts have marveled at how fast he is off the edge. He will be a player that defenses have to plan for. Critics will point to Hughes being undersized. What he lacks in stature, he will make up for with his big play ability.
Matthews is one of the more intriguing players in the 2010 draft. He could become the latest rookie running back to make an impact. Several mock drafts have Matthews becoming the replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.
Matthews is a playmaker with the rare distinction of leading the nation in rushing in both high school and college. His durability has been a question. He missed five games during his sophomore season and a game and a half this past season.
Matthews relies on his ability to cut and he has lower body strength to break tackles. Matthews is an adept pass blocker and some scouts like his hands as a receiver.
In the Bulldogs biggest game of 2009, Matthews rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns against Boise State. He also has deceptive speed. His best time at the combine was a 4.37 seconds in the 40 yard dash.
Kyle Wilson is a fast rising prospect. He capped off an amazing career at Boise State by allowing only one touchdown in 2009 in the pass oriented WAC. He earned all-conference or All-American honors each of his four season for the Broncos. He seems to shine on the big stage. He played a big part in Boise's shocking upset of Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
Wilson is an exceptional return man. He returned three punts for touchdowns and two of his three interceptions ended up in the end zone as a junior.
During his pro-day, Wilson ran two 3.9 second 40 yard dashes. The criticism of Wilson seems to be if he can handle taller, more physical receivers.
After growing up in American Samoa, Iupati and his family moved to Anaheim, CA after Iupati completed middle school.
He helped lead the Vandals to an 8-5 season and a victory in the Humanitarian Bowl in 2009. This marked a remarkable turnaround from a 2-10 2008 season.
Iupati is a powerful and athletic player whose future position is still in question. There has been talk he could move out to tackle or even switch to the defensive side of the ball. He is the only player from a non-BCS school with a chance to be picked in the top 10-15 picks.