NFL Draft 2014: Small-School Stars Who Will Climb Up Boards After Combine

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

South quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10), of Eastern Illinois, during the first half of the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

While the NFL scouting combine provides a chance for college stars to slightly boost their profile, the event can make a huge difference for prospects from smaller schools around the country.

For some of these players, this will be the first time teams will get an up-close look at what they can do. In order to boost their profile, they better put up some big numbers in each event while also acing the drills for their respective position.

These men have the talent to play and contribute at the next level, and a good showing at the combine will finally give them that chance.

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Although it came against inferior competition, it is hard not to be impressed by Jimmy Garoppolo's numbers during the season. He led all of FCS with 5,050 passing yards and threw for 53 touchdowns with only nine interceptions.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

The good news is the scouts believe this skill will continue at the next level. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller explained why he trailed only Derek Carr at the Senior Bowl:

His quick release and the fact that he went to Eastern Illinois has created comparisons to Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo. Unsurprisingly, Garoppolo is not upset about that, telling Rowan Kavner of DallasCowboys.com:

He set the standard. It’s up to us and the Eastern quarterbacks and all of the guys who go through there to live to that standard, really. That’s what I tried to do when I was there. There’s a benchmark set. 

I want to live up to that. I want to surpass that, really. Every quarterback should have that mindset. You want to be the best. You want to go win Super Bowls.

Combining this confidence with his skill set creates a quarterback who can be very successful at the next level.

While the scouting combine is not usually a chance for quarterbacks to separate themselves, the key thing teams will look for is great mechanics. This is good news for Garoppolo, who will prove he is one of the better players in the class at his position.

Tyler Starr, LB, South Dakota

PAUL BEATY/Associated Press

The positional drills are important, but the thing that truly stands out are the athletic events. Things like the 40-yard dash, bench press and shuttle runs showcase exactly what a person is capable of athletically without bias.

These are the drills that will work out well for Tyler Starr, who is one of the more agile linebackers in the class. Scott Reall of D1 Sports Training has been working with the South Dakota star, and he had this to say about the young player, via Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports:

Tyler's mobility for his size is unbelievable. Once I've been able to teach him proper technique and steps, he's been brushing all-time records in the [three-cone] L-drill. His ability to explode off a change of direction and not lose a lot of time is remarkable. He is just so explosive. The first time everybody saw it here, people were like 'Holy crap!'

Doug Kyed of NESN believes Starr could fit well with the New England Patriots:

The long-haired small-school linebacker appears to be the perfect draft prospect for the Patriots. ...Starr has the right size for a Patriots outside linebacker, too. Belichick typically likes linebackers who are taller than 6-foot-1 and more than 240 pounds (for pass rushers, 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds). Starr is 6-foot-4, 250 pounds and played outside linebacker and defensive end at South Dakota. He has experience rushing the passer and dropping back into coverage.

After he shows off his lateral quickness at the combine, there will be a lot of teams believing Starr could be a perfect fit with them. 

Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

As soon as Pierre Desir gets to Indianapolis, scouts will start drooling about his size and length at the position, which is something he has already shown this offseason:

After the Seattle Seahawks found a lot of success with bigger cornerbacks, everyone will try to replicate this strategy. At 6'1", Desir can at least be able to stick with the taller receivers in the league.

Of course, the Lindenwood star also has plenty of skill in the secondary as well. Louis Riddick of ESPN went into detail about Desir's ability at the Senior Bowl:

The problem is that opposing teams pretty much refused to throw in his direction during the regular season, preventing the cornerback from showing too much on film. This puts a lot of pressure on events like this to show NFL front offices what he can do.

Fortunately, his size and athleticism will see him rise up draft boards and become a likely Day 2 selection at the draft.

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Follow TheRobGoldberg on Twitter


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.