Small-school prospects are starting to not only gain more attention by the casual draft fan as well as all NFL teams, but are starting to be more and more prevalent early and often in the draft.
However, scouting those small school players hasn't gotten much easier. Evaluating how smaller-school prospects will translate, what their production really means in terms of future NFL success and how quickly they can make an impact in the NFL are all reasons why teams still may be hesitate to select a small-school player.
Still, with the combination of great talent in the lower levels now (especially at the FCS level) as well as many prospects feeling that transferring down is their best option, here are the top 10 small-school senior prospects to watch out for this year as we start scouting for the 2012 NFL Draft.
A former Ole Miss top recruit, Johnson started the first game of the year for the Rebels in 2010 before being suspended for the rest of the season. He decided to transfer down to California PA, consistently one of the best D2 programs in the country.
Johnson is an outstanding physical specimen who is already on NFL radars despite not being a starter all last year, and he'll be featured on a very good offensive line (compared to most Division II programs). Johnson needs to be impressive this year at the lower level, but if he can play at an SEC level, he shouldn't have much trouble getting NFL attention.
The lone Division III prospect on this list, Tanney is generally known for his trick-passing ability (see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxDJb03a0yo), but he has the size at 6'4" and the arm strength to at least pique the interest of NFL scouts.
Very few prospects from the Division III level ever get a chance in the NFL (outside of Mount Union), so it'll be an uphill battle, but with the fact that Tanney is already a trendy favorite to those who follow the NFL Draft closely, he could have a chance to at least get a few workouts come NFL Draft season.
An excellent athlete with quick feet, Asa Jackson may be a prospect who works out well enough to vault himself into Top 150 discussion. Hailing from the same program that produced Ramses Barden at receiver (now on the New York Giants), Jackson may be a more pro-ready prospect than the project receiver before him.
Having quick feet and hip fluidity as a cornerback are extremely important if one hopes to play at the NFL level, so even though Jackson hasn't faced great receivers and isn't a dominating corner, he has the potential to develop into something more down the road if (and when) an NFL team gives him a chance.
First off, I apologize for the picture—not easy finding a Division II prospect's picture.
A transfer from Concord University, Mayo was already a preseason All-American before he transferred to maybe the most talented Division II team in the country. After a good start to his season statistically, Mayo will continue to try and impress NFL scouts.
The well-built, explosive receiver is on a team loaded (at least in perspective to the rest of the D2 level) with talent and is the best of the bunch for this year at least. Mayo will need to continue his outstanding production from last year and so far in 2011, but he should be one of the handful of small school receivers to get a shot to be drafted come April.
If Tyler Holmes was a few inches taller, he'd be one of the better linebacker prospects in this draft class.
While height isn't a huge factor when it comes to evaluating linebackers, being as short as Holmes is really reduces his chances of convincing an NFL team that his worth on the field in college will be equal when he goes to the pros, where every offensive and defensive player has the size to play in the NFL.
Still, based on his range, quickness, ability to dip in coverage decently and his production, Holmes will likely get a mid-to-late-round shot to play in the NFL. The CAA is loaded with talent every year, and Holmes is one of the best prospects in maybe one of the Top 10 conferences in all of college football.
Small-school quarterbacks are always the sexy, under-the-radar guys to follow, and the former USC transfer Aaron Corp may be one who gets fans and teams excited. While Corp doesn't have the big targets he needs to really be successful long-term, Corp has shown great touch, poise, in-pocket mobility and ball placement to be a next-level quarterback.
In a tough CAA conference, it won't be easy for Corp to really dominate at the FCS this season, but if he can continue to make smart decisions and showcase his accuracy, he should be in the mix for a Senior Bowl or Shrine Game invite and get a chance to impress against top FBS talents as well.
An outstanding athlete at the FCS level, Chris Summers has a very good chance of being one of the top two or three selected small-school players in the 2012 NFL Draft. Summers has the size, length, body control, speed and now somewhat developed routes to get past most average college defenders easily.
While small-school receivers generally have a big learning curve before they can be successful at the NFL level, Summers may be able to be solid early thanks to his body type and style of play. Either way, based on past drafts, we know that teams get very excited about big-bodied, athletic receivers and Summers fits that mold all too well.
One of the more well-known and talked about small-school receivers in NFL circles is Brian Quick, who has been productive, dynamic and tough to defend at Appalachian State. Already securely on NFL radars as a potential Top 100 pick, Quick needs to prove he can consistently dominate lower competition before a team gives him a shot there.
He's done a great job thus far the past two seasons in making big plays when he needs to and being a reliable target for the sometimes sporadic DeAndre Pressely. Quick has already made a name for himself in scouting circles, and is actually more about not lowering his stock than needing to drastically raise it—rare for a small school prospect.
I don't want to say, "Watch out for another Joe-Flacco-type small-school quarterback prospect," but if any quarterback since has a chance to be at that level, it's BJ Coleman. Coleman has an outstanding arm and has the big tall frame, but what's ultra impressive about Coleman is his development as a passer.
He doesn't rush throws, he checks down well, doesn't seem to panic in the pocket, has great ball placement and isn't fazed all that much by more talented teams or by pressure/blitzing in general.
Coleman has a very high ceiling as a prospect, and while he likely won't get much attention until the end of the season, based on preseason reports by NFL teams combined with what I've seen over the past year and a half, Coleman isn't only an NFL quarterback prospect, he's one who could be fighting for a rather high selection.
It's rare that non-FBS players are selected in the first round, but Janoris Jenkins could be the next Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in that sense.
Jenkins, however, has something drastically over DRC: exposure. A former Florida Gator stud, Jenkins was forced to transfer after a third marijuana charge against him in under two years.
Jenkins is a rare physical specimen, and if he didn't have these major character red flags, he'd probably be in the Top 10 mix as a prospect. Now, he'll have to battle concerns by teams to be a first-round player and worth the risk. He should be able to breeze through the Division II level, but his real test will come after the season in passing the pre-draft process.