Last year, Jacksonville general manager Gene Smith called on prospects from under-the-radar schools William & Mary, Liberty, and Nebraska-Omaha—cornerback Derek Cox, running back Rashad Jennings, and tight end Zach Miller, respectively.
All of them made the Jaguars' 53-man roster and saw significant playing time. Cox led the team in interceptions; Jennings and Miller each scored touchdowns.
With four picks on the third day of this year's draft, Smith clearly has looked to Jacksonville's scouting department to repeat that 2009 success rate.
Trades involving the 108th and 158th overall picks landed the Jaguars a starting middle linebacker (former Oakland Raider Kirk Morrison) and a fourth-round pick in next year's draft. Then, Jacksonville went to work with two fifth-rounders and two sixth-rounders, investing in a lineup of all-stars from the second tier of college football.
Central Arkansas pass rusher Larry Hart impressed the Jaguars at the "Texas vs. the Nation" All-Star game in February. With Smith and Director of Player Personnel Terry McDonough in attendance, Hart demonstrated impressive athleticism to underline his stellar production as a two-time FCS All-American.
Jacksonville's second fifth-round pick brought in Murray State's Austen Lane, another athletic defensive end. At 6'6" and 270 pounds, Lane's frame and explosiveness caught scouts' attention enough to earn him an invite to February's NFL Combine, where his 4.8-second 40-yard dash disappointed those expecting a sub-4.6 time.
Lane's 34.5" vertical leap, though, is considered more indicative of the playing speed that helped him rack up 29 sacks in college, including 23 in the past two years.
In the sixth round, the Jaguars added speedsters Deji Karim (Southern Illinois) and Scotty McGee (James Madison) as their only attention to the offensive side of the ball this week.
Karim, a finalist for the Walter Payton Award—the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy—and an All-American, fell lower than his 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash would have dictated due to a knee injury that cost him the entire 2008 season. His 5'9", 209-pound frame will invite comparisons to Pro Bowl back Maurice Jones-Drew.
As he competes for playing time with fellow small-schooler Jennings, Jacksonville will hope to see the resemblance in training camp.
McGee, the Jaguars' final pick of the 2010 draft, averaged over 30 yards per kick return in his senior season, earning FCS Special Teams Player of the Year honors.
Fans of small-school college football know all four of these names well. Obviously, Jacksonville's scouts know them, too. The success or failure of this draft class, though, will depend on whether they become household names in Jacksonville.
Remember Cox, Jennings, and Miller, and don't bet against these new guys.