NFL Draft 2011: Top 23 Best Small School Prospects

Brian MurtaughAnalyst IApril 18, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: Top 23 Best Small School Prospects

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 18:  Jerrel Jernigan #3 of the Troy University Trojans scores a touchdown over Donovan Fletcher #29 of the Ohio University Bobcats during the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on December 18, 2010 in New O
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The 2011 NFL Draft is only two short weeks away and it is time to take a look at some of the best draft prospects coming from the smaller football schools around the nation.

    This slideshow breaks down the top 25 players from schools that fans may never heard of before and takes a look at how their football experience will translate into the professional game. The slides will also display career statistics and give draft projections so fans can see where their most interesting prospects may be taken on draft day.

    Mario Harvey from Marshall begins the list at number 25...

No. 23: Mario Harvey, ILB, Marshall

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    Mario Harvey was an absolute monster for the Marshall Thundering Herd as he piled up over 400 tackles over his four-year career. Harvey was a consistent starter every season and even managed to complete three consecutive seasons of 100 or more tackles from 2008-2010.

    Harvey is very good at pursuing the run and also rushing the passer. In his four seasons, Harvey totaled 21 sacks and also intercepted one pass while forcing two fumbles.

    Unfortunately for Harvey, he was the lone defensive talent on a Marshall team that was simply not very good in 2010. Marshall lost six of their first seven games en route to a 5-7 overall record and did not make make an appearance in a bowl game.

No. 22: Cecil Shorts, WR, Mount Union

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    Cecil Shorts put up some of the best numbers out of any receiver in the college game last season. However, Mount Union isn't exactly on the national radar as far as football is concerned, so his accomplishments went widely unnoticed.

    Shorts collected 62 touchdown receptions over his four years at Mount Union and also had some experience at the quarterback position his freshman year.

    Shorts has very good speed off the line and also has a great ability to make tacklers miss in the open field. He could be a quality addition to any team running a West Coast style of offense next season.

No. 21: Dwayne Harris, WR, East Carolina

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    Dwayne Harris was a bit of a forgotten piece of the East Carolina Pirates until his junior season in 2009-10. Since that season, Harris has pieced together a nice body of work to show to professional scouts as he compiled over 2,000 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.

    Harris may have been a high draft pick this year if his numbers weren't so low during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Harris only caught three touchdowns in his first two years and failed to reach the 1,000 yard mark until his senior year.

No. 20: Cedric Thornton, DE, Southern Arkansas

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    Cedric Thornton is a player that is very underrated because of the school he played for. Southern Arkansas does not usually see the type of competition that can be measured against today's teams of the NFL, but Thornton's game film is impressive to say the least.

    One of Thornton's best plays of the 2010 season is highlighted in the video posted. Thornton laid a powerful hit on an unsuspecting running back that ended up putting the runner out of the game. The play begins at the 34 second mark.

No. 19: Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego State

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    Vincent Brown had a breakout season in 2010 as he burst onto the professional radar despite having a mediocre college career. Brown scored 10 touchdowns in 2010 but was more impressive in the open field as he displayed incredible vertical speed and catching ability.

    In most of Brown's highlights, it is easy to see that he specializes in deep and post routes which can easily turn him into a Mike Wallace-type player at the NFL level.

No. 18: Cheta Ozougwu, DE, Rice

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    Cheta Ozougwu's name may be hard to pronounce but may also become synonymous with a quality NFL defense in the coming seasons. Ozougwu is very quick off the ball and causes problems in opponents backfields on a regular basis.

    He is currently ranked as the 24th overall prospect at his position by CBS Sports, but should still be a fourth-fifth round selection due to the need for defensive talent.

No. 17: Stephen Burton, WR, West Texas A&M

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    Stephen Burton is one of the few players in this slideshow that has managed to elude the watchful eyes of YouTube highlight films. However, statistics can speak for themselves as far as his college career is concerned as he was a solid production player at West Texas for two seasons.

    Burton attended West Texas after two seasons of junior college and posted 132 receptions to go along with 13 touchdowns while with the Buffaloes.

    Burton is a large receiver weighing in at 221 pounds and could be a very useful weapon in traffic for teams looking to improve their slot receivers.

No. 16: Cortez Allen, CB, Citadel

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 1: Defensive back Cortez Allen #1 of the Citadel goes up for a pass during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Cortez Allen is the second player in this list that has limited film available online but impressed enough scouts while playing for The Citadel to get an invite to the NFL combine this spring.

    Allen only started two seasons at the college level due to a lack of playing experience in high school and an injury that forced him to sit out his sophomore season. However, Allen improved over his final two seasons as he intercepted five passes and wrapped up nearly 100 tackles.

    Allen's level of competition at The Citadel is a flag for concern for some professional scouts as his talents were not challenged on a consistent basis. Allen is still listed at a fourth-fifth round prospect and should be drafted even with the expert's concerns.

No. 15: Derek Newton, OT, Arkansas State

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    Derek Newton is a very large offensive lineman that can disrupt a pass rush clear some significant holes with his size. The video posted was filmed prior to his senior season at Arkansas State and gives a great insight into his college career before 2010.

    Newton remained injury free last season and should be a solid option at the offensive tackle position. The 2011 NFL Draft class at the tackle position is very deep which will push his stock into the later rounds despite his ability and talent.

No. 14: Jaiquawn Jarrett, CB/S, Temple

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    Jaiquawn Jarrett was simply a game changer for the Temple Owls over the course of his career as he gained the reputation of being a hard hitter as wall as a ball-hawking corner.

    Jarret has great athleticism and reminds many scouts of former Oregon Duck's safety, T.J. Ward, in his ability to get low on offensive players and make a big it. Scouts also enjoy the fact that he attended a very prestigious school and has absolutely no character concerns heading into the draft.

No. 13: Buster Skrine, CB, Chattanooga

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    Buster Skrine played in 42 games for Chattanooga and impressed professional scouts all around the nation as he was listed as a two-time first-team All-Southern Conference player during his collegiate career.

    Skrine has great elusiveness in the open field and also had a great ability to seek out the ball and cause interceptions. Many teams will be looking for help in the secondary in the late-rounds which will give Skrine great value heading into the second and third day.

No. 12: Julius Thomas, TE, Portland State

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    Julius Thomas gains much of his professional value due to his blocking abilities but had flashes of receiving brilliance late in his career. Thomas has good size and is comparable to some of the NFL's elite tight ends in his ability to create bump and run offense.

    Thomas' speed will also be a valuable asset to NFL teams as his ability to come off the line quickly can create some significant mismatches with some of the slower NFL linebackers.

No. 11: Rob Housler, TE, Florida Atlantic

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    Rob Housler is different from Julius Thomas of Portland State because of the fact that his NFL Draft stock is based off of his ability to catch and run rather than block effectively.

    Housler has a good ability to catch the ball in traffic and also has played against some of the bigger schools in the nation such as Penn State and Florida State.

No. 10: Brandon Fusco, C/G, Slippery Rock (Pennsylvania)

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    Brandon Fusco played for a smaller division-II school in Pennsylvania but has the ability to become one of the better offensive line talents at the next level.

    Fusco helped lead a Slippery Rock offense that picked apart other schools in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and remained healthy throughout his entire college career.

    Fusco is ranked as a third-fifth round prospect but could be taken early depending on how many offensive linemen come off the board in the first and second rounds.

No. 9: Taiwan Jones, RB, Eastern Washington

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    Taiwan Jones has great horizontal speed and a good ability to eat up large chunks of yardage at the Eastern Washington runner finished his second 1,000 yard season in 2010.

    Jones averaged almost eight yards a carry over his college career and found the end zone seven times despite goal line packages where he was not featured. Eastern Washington did not have a very strong passing attack in 2010 which put much of the offensive emphasis on Jones and his abilities.

    Jones has had a relatively light workload in college despite his impressive numbers and should have fresh legs into the professional game.

No. 8: Curtis Marsh, CB, Utah State

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    Curtis Marsh is a very good cover corner with the ability to make an occasional big play with the game on the line. Marsh is a bit undersized for to play the position but has great vertical reach and also has the ability to stay close in most man-on-man situations.

    Marsh is not as flashy as some of the other small-school corners on this list but may be the most productive at the next level as his playing style results in more deflections and tackles than interceptions or big plays.

No. 7: Kenrick Ellis, NT, Hampton

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    According to NFL Draft Scout, Kenrick Ellis is the ninth ranked defensive tackle prospect heading into the 2011 NFL Draft .Ellis recorded 94 tackles his senior season at Hampton and was also named to the All-MEAC team.

    Ellis has good size to play in the NFL 346 pounds, but lacks the speed and agility needed to be an effective option in a 4-3 defense. He will be best suited as a nose tackle at the next level and will likely be called upon to make a pile in the middle of the line instead of a significant pass rush.

    Ellis will likely come to camp this fall significantly lighter on his feet as he will more than likely struggle to pass certain NFL conditioning drills at his size. However, Ellis did put up decent numbers at the NFL Combine as he recorded 26 repetitions on the bench press and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.19 seconds.

No. 6: Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian

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    Edmond Gates solidified his place in Abilene Christian University's history last season as he led the Wildcats in receiving while the team climbed to a perfect 11-0 regular season record.

    Gates scored 13 touchdowns last season and became only the seventh receiver in school history to break the 1,000 yard mark in a season. Gates is also tied for first place in school history with 27 touchdown receptions for his career.

No. 5: Davon House, CB, New Mexico State

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    Davon House can best be described as a menace to opposing receivers as his reputation of being a strong coverage corner grew over his final seasons at New Mexico State.

    House recorded 11 interceptions over the course of his career and left the Aggies as the school's record holder in interception yardage. House also recorded over 40 pass deflections and 198 tackles as his numbers continued to climb with every passing season.

No. 4: Will Rackley, OL, Lehigh

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    Will Rackley may not come from a well-known football program but he has all the tools to become a successful lineman at the professional level.

    Rackley is a versatile lineman that has played both tackle and guard and even spent time at center during his high school career. Rackley was originally projected as a third round selection but has crept up into the late-second in come mock drafts.

No. 3: Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy

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    Jerrel Jernigan may be the best wide receiver to come out of all the small schools in this entire draft class as he has displayed all the skills necessary to be successful at the next level. There is simply nothing this player doesn't do well and all of his talent has translated nicely onto the field on game day.

    Jernigan graduated from Troy as the holder of multiple receiving records but has fallen down the boards of some experts and scouts due to his size. Jernigan only stands at 5-foot-9 and may have trouble against some of the bigger cornerbacks in the NFL.

No. 2: Benjamin Ijalana, OT/G, Villanova

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    Benjamin Ijalana and Danny Watkins are very similar in not only their playing ability, but their draft stock as well.

    Both players are projected to be selected less than 10 picks from each other with seemingly every draft questioning who the top player should be. Ijalana has slightly better pass protection skills than Watkins but has been said that he lacks the footwork that scouts like to see during individual workouts.

    Luckily for Ijalana, those types of issues are fixable with coaching and he gets the top spot for the offensive linemen from small schools.

No. 1: Muhammed Wilkerson, DE/DT Temple

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    Muhammed Wilkerson is the second Temple superstar on this list that will likely have a bright future at the NFL level. Wilkerson was a dominant force throughout his entire career with the Owls and is projected to be a top 20 pick in every mock draft currently available.

    Wilkerson recorded 17 sacks throughout his college career and simply dominated his opponents as he tallied over 100 tackles and two forced fumbles.

    Wilkerson could fit in nicely with any system but may be suited better in a 4-3 where he does not have to focus too much on run containment.

Who Did We Forget?

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    SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 20:  Wide receiver Dominique Sandifer #18 of the San Diego State Aztecs carries the ball against cornerback Brandon Burton #27 of the Utah Utes at Qualcomm Stadium on November 20, 2010 in San Diego, California.  Utah won 38-34.  (Phot
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Are there more players from small schools that were not included on this list? Let your opinion known below and tell the B/R community who would be on your list of the top 25 small school talents.

    Brian Murtaugh is a Cleveland Browns featured columnist for Bleacher Report as well as the columnist for Browns Central. Brian is also the fan voice of the Browns on NFL Touchdown.