2012 NFL Draft: 10 Small-School Prospects Who Could Have a Huge Impact
DeMarcus Ware and James Harrison are two of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, and neither of them went to a BCS school. Ware went to Troy, while Harrison went to little old Kent State. Small schools.
Then there's Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Neither are All-Pros, but both of them are serviceable starting quarterbacks, and neither of them even went to an FBS program.
Small-school prospects often get overlooked because they play weak competition or just because they don't get the exposure that Big Ten and SEC teams do, but that doesn't mean that there aren't good players to be had from small schools.
Here are 10 small school players to watch for in the senior bowl, the combine and the draft.
Case Keenum, QB, Houston
Case Keenum, like Kellen Moore, has been far from under the radar this season. Also like Moore, he holds a few college records that may never be broken. Unlike Moore, he might have the potential to be an NFL quarterback.
Keenum has thrown for a career 18,685 yards and 152 touchdowns, and he hasn't even played his bowl game yet. In comparison, Kellen Moore only threw 142, and even that number is amazing. Keenum also completed just under 72 percent of his passes for the season.
Keenum looks like a system quarterback, especially after the loss to Southern Miss, where he threw as many interceptions as touchdowns. However, if he has a strong showing in the Senior Bowl and the combine, it might cause people to take a second look at him.
After all, Kevin Kolb went to Houston, and the Cardinals traded away a Pro Bowl corner and a second-round draft pick for him. Keenum could be an early pick as well.
Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentcuky
Bobby Rainey holds pretty much every record he can at Western Kentucky. That said, it's still Western Kentucky that he holds all those records in. He hasn't faced top-notch competition. He's also pretty small, at 5'8" and just over 200 lbs.
Now for the good. He rushed for over 1600 yards in both 2010 and 2011, with 28 touchdowns in that time. He faced the defenses of LSU and Kentucky this season (nearly broke 100 rushing yards against LSU) and he played in a much-improved Sun Belt and managed to still put up great numbers.
Rainey is quick and shifty, but he doesn't appear to have flat-out speed. However, a good 40 time at the combine could drastically raise his stock.
He's roughly the same size and weight as Maurice Jones-Drew, after all. If his strength or speed have been underestimated, he could be snatched up as early as the early fourth round.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU
T.Y. Hilton stood out from the very beginning this season, and the praise he gets is deserved. He caught 72 passes for over 1000 yards and seven touchdowns.
Another area he really shines is as a returner. He returned 23 punts and 18 kicks for 186 and 548 yards, respectively. He also had one touchdown from a punt return.
He even has some decent rushing numbers. He's carried the ball 19 times for 124 yards and a touchdown.
He has a high average in everything he does for FIU, and if it weren't for his height (5'10") and the strong receiver class, he'd be a second-rounder. As it is, he's a third-round prospect.
Nate Potter, OT, Boise State
Boise State has been under the spotlight for a few years now, but they still play in a lesser conference and are considered a "small school." Everyone talks about Kellen Moore, but a Boise State player they really ought to be talking about is the guy protecting his blind side: Nate Potter.
Potter has been excellent as a pass-blocker for Moore, giving him plenty of time to throw the whole time he's been a starter. Potter is the right size for a tackle, standing 6'6" and weighing in at 300 lbs. (at least according to Boise).
If his size and strength aren't a problem, then he could be a second-round selection as a tackle or guard, depending on his performance in the Senior Bowl and the combine.
Scott Wedige, C, NIU
I keep wanting to say "wedgie" when I see his name. Seriously though, Wedige looks like a top center. He is big enough (6'4", 314 lbs.) to start immediately and is very fast for his size.
He was All-MAC in 2010, then this season he took a step up and was named a Second-Team All-American. Not bad by any means.
Offensive linemen coming from small schools is nothing new, so Wedige could be taken as early as Day 2 of the draft without anyone being shocked. He has great tape and is plenty fast.
As long as he doesn't melt down at the combine, he'll make a center-hungry team very happy.
Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall
Vinny Curry had 11 sacks this season; good enough for sixth in the nation. In 2010, he had 12, so he's no flash in the pan.
He also had a whopping 22 tackles for loss, up from 18 the season before. That's pretty great.
Add to that the increasing prevalence of the 3-4 defense and the fact that Curry has prototypical size for a rush linebacker and you have a prospect that could end up in the first round with a good combine.
Curry is projected as a second-rounder right now, but if he slipped into the first round, no one would be surprised.
Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
Dontari Poe is giving Alameda Ta'amu a run for his money as the highest-ranked nose tackle in the draft class, and for good reason.
First of all, Poe is enormous. And I mean 6'5" 350 lbs. enormous. Most teams like their nose tackles big. Second of all, Poe has racked up eight tackles for loss and a sack, and that's while getting double-teamed on every down. He also got 33 total tackles (18 of them solo).
Poe has had little help with Memphis' defense, so if he puts up a good number of reps on the bench and isn't incredibly slow, he'll be a sure-fire first-rounder.
Kendall Reyes, DE/DT, Connecticut
Kendall Reyes has had a solid season for the Huskies. He's gotten 46 total tackles, a monstrous 13.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks for the season.
With his production and size (6'4", 295 lbs.), he'd be a better fit in a 3-4 defense than a a 4-3. However, if he loses a little weight and gains some speed, he could work as a defensive end in a 4-3 system. Alternatively, if he hit the weight room, he could do just fine as a 4-3 defensive tackle as well.
All will be known when the combine staff make their measurements. That's what it's there for after all.
Tank Carder, ILB, TCU
Starting next year, TCU will no longer be a "small school," since they'll be new members of the Big 12.
But as of right now, they're members of the Mountain West Conference, making them a small school. One of the staples of the TCU teams of the past few years has been a great defense, and a big part of that was 2010's Rose Bowl MVP Tank Carder.
Carder has been the leader of TCU's defense for the last two years and he's had good production. He had 70 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions, which were both returned for touchdowns. Pretty good for a small-school guy.
He's also the right size for the part in the NFL, and with Manti Te'o returning to Notre Dame for another year, Carder could be off the board quickly.
Trumaine Johnson, CB/FS, Montana
Johnson is projected as a free safety, but with the way he played in the FCS playoffs, a team might grab him as a cornerback, which is where he plays now.
He has done well blanket-covering most receivers he's paired up against, even doing a pretty good job against Tennessee's outstanding receivers in the season opener (he broke up one pass and forced a fumble).
Johnson is more than tall enough to play corner at 6'2" (tall corners are in right now), and in his limited time against tough competition, he hasn't been overlooked.
He had a run-in with police earlier this year which caused a stir, but some teams might let that slide because of his talent as a ball hawk.
Even in this strong cornerback class, he's a third-round prospect right now. Good interviews could bump him up substantially.