NFL Draft 2011: 11 Small School Players Who Could Be Big in the NFL

Ben GoldsteinContributor IIIMay 6, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: 11 Small School Players Who Could Be Big in the NFL

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    23 Dec 2000:  Jerry Rice #80 of the San Francisco 49ers waves to his fans during the game against the Denver Broncos at the Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the 49ers 38-9.Mandatory Credit: Harry How  /Allsport
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Almost a week after the 2011 NFL Draft rookies are still waiting to sign with their teams because of a lock out looming. 

    But what always interests me are the players that come out of small schools to have big career in the NFL.

    These players didn't have the superstar careers in high school or college and they never got scholarships to big schools like other superstars.

    Throughout their careers they had chips on there shoulders and became some of the best players ever to play in the NFL.

    One of the best examples is the best wide receiver ever out of the NFL Jerry Rice. Rice went to Mississippi Valley State.

    Throughout his career Rice had a chip on his shoulder and that drove him to become a legend in the NFL.

    Here are the top 11 small school players who could make it big in the NFL.

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11. Cortez Allen

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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

    Hailing from The Citadel is cornerback Cortez Allen.

    Allen didn't have the most productive career at The Citadel but has all the potential to become a very solid cornerback in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Allen is about 6'2" and 200 pounds. He is extremely strong for his position but his speed could cause him trouble in the pros.

    He will most likely exceed in press coverage being able to use his strength to deny receivers any space coming off the snap.

    He isn't a great cover corner and is better suited being one on one with safety help. His instincts are off but could be cured by maybe the best defensive coordinator ever Dick LeBeau.

    Allen also has a great mentality coming from a military school and could really excel with one of the best defenses in the NFL.

10. Julius Thomas

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    Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham all played basketball in college and they have all transferred there skills to the NFL very well.

    Julius Thomas could be the next basketball star to become a NFL star. Thomas is from Portland State and was drafted by the Denver Broncos who needed a tight end very badly.

    Thomas is a incredible athlete with a big body at 6'5" 250 pounds. He has very soft hands and fights for extra yards after every catch. 

    The only problem with Thomas is his blocking ability. He has shown some talent blocking but at times lacks the toughness to block through the whistle.

    Even with sub par blocking skills he should be okay and be a playmaker in the NFL with future Bronocos quarterback Tim Tebow.

9. Mark Legree

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    Drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round is Mark Legree, a hard hitting safety from Appalachian State.

    Coming out of a small high school the only scholarship he receiver was from Appalachian state and played every year.

    Towards his junior year he became a vocal leader and what some might call the quarterback of the defense.

    Legree has excellent size for a NFL safety at 6'2" and 210 pounds and his speed is also up there in rookie safeties.

    He would probably start his career off at safety and could easily become a fan favorite because of his big hits.

    A knock on his game would be his open field tackling. Legree has a hard time shedding blocks to reach the running back to make the tackle.

    But with the right coaching Legree could become a very nice safety in the pros.

8. David Arkin

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    He might not be the biggest, strongest, most athletic or fastest lineman in the class but newest Dallas Cowboy David Arkin out of Missouri State might be the toughest.

    Arkin started all 44 games of his college career without any injuries and also succeed off the field with his academics. 

    What I like about Arkin is his nasty streak. He likes to push people around and help protect his fellow teammates.

    His footwork does have to get better but I think a blue collared tough lineman should be able to succeed in the NFL with some good coaching.

    Watch out for David Arkin pancaking defenders in the future.

7. Kenrick Ellis

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    I don't even know where Hampton is to be honest but one of the best defensive tackles Kenrick Ellis is coming out of that school.

    Ellis is quick off the snap of the ball and uses his hands very well to push the blocker back. He has a quick first strike and reads the plays very well.

    If he sees a run then he gives chase after the running back. If he sees pass then he trucks through the blocker to either pressure or sack the quarterback.

    The problem with Ellis is he had major character issues before going to Hampton. He went to South Carolina first and was suspended three games, and then was kicked off the team later.

    It was reported he failed numerous drug tests and he was also arrested assault in 2010.

    If he can get past his issues and focus on football he should exceed expectations on a stellar New York Jets defense.

6. Buster Skrine

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    One of the fastest players in the draft is cornerback Buster Skrine from Chattanooga. Skrine ran a 4.37 40 yard dash at the NFL combine.

    He isn't the biggest of corners only standing at about 5'10" and weighing about 185 pounds but he plays a lot stronger than he is.

    Skrine does not back down from larger receivers or running backs and makes sure to make the tackle in the open field.

    Skrine might have trouble with shedding blocks from bigger defenders but with his speed he will be able to do a lot in the NFL. He doesn't get all the interceptions but is good at tracking the ball.

    The Cleveland Browns might have gotten a steal with by drafting the speedy Skrine. 

5. Will Rackley

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    Out of Lehigh University is guard William Rackley. He started 45 games in his career at Lehigh and played the left tackle position and the right guard.

    Rackley moves his feet very well for his 6'5" 300 pound body.

    He excels in both pass blocking and run blocking. In the NFL he looks to be more of a guard because of his ability to execute pull blocks because of his quickness.

    He will have a hard time adjusting to making more pull blocks because of how much tackle he played in college.

    He also might have trouble comprehending more complex blitzes then he saw in college.

    But I think in the end the Jacksonville Jaguars selected one of the best lineman in the draft who could be a force in the league for years to come. 

4. Edmond Gates

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    Edmond Gates is a explosive wide receiver from Abilene Christian university.

    During the NFL combine he ran the fastest 40 time in 4.31 seconds and some experts say he is even faster than that.

    Even though Gates isn't one of the biggest wide receivers in this class at 6'0" and 192 pounds he gets it done with speed. Gates also has very good hands considering only playing one year in high school.

    He is a very good open field playmaker that can put the moves on defensive backs and other defensive players.

    Gates was brought up in a rough childhood and at times needs guidance. He also struggles with more physical corners who press him at line.

    If Gates can stay away from the bad he could experience a great career as a playmaker on the Miami Dolphins.

3. Taiwan Jones

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    Taiwan Jones out of Eastern Washington is hands down the fastest player coming out of the draft.

    Jones is a 5'11" 195-pound running back that ran a 4.32 40 at his pro day and is said to have ran below a 4.3 on other 40 yard dash occasions.

    Jones might be on the smaller side of the running back spectrum but he is still able to bounce off tacklers and make big runs.

    He is also an above average catching running back and is able to catch almost anything thrown his way from the backfield.

    One issues with Jones is that he has had an injury riddled past and that could catch up to him in the NFL with stronger and faster players laying hits on him.

    But with him as a back up to Darren McFadden on the Oakland Raiders he could be a nice number two punch in the backfield and could make huge plays.

2. Cecil Shorts

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    Wide receiver Cecil Shorts out of Mount Union has some of the best hands out of all the drafted receivers.

    He isn't the fastest or strongest but has a nice build at 5'11" and 205 pounds. He also runs a 4.5 40-yard dash but his hands are what makes him great.

    Shorts catches almost anything thrown his way and runs his routes very well. He is also an above average blocker. 

    He doesn't make huge plays but he his a very dependable receiver with sure hands.

    Shorts comes from the same college as Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon and could be better than him.

    One thing to worry about is his injury past. He seems to get injured a lot and hopefully it doesn't catch up to him in the NFL.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars got a nice steal drafting Cecil Shorts.

1. Benjamin Ijalana

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    Benjamin Ijalana is huge offensive tackle out of Villanova. 

    Standing at 6'4" and 320 pounds Ijalana is a great pass blocker who could help Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning receive more time in the pocket.

    His run blocking game is also not too bad and his awareness is excellent. He recognizes blitzes very quickly and gets to the second level assignment quickly.

    Ijalana isn't the most ferocious lineman but he gives great effort and doesn't stop until the whistle.