Non-Division-One Players Make a Splash in the NFL

Ryan CallahanAnalyst INovember 30, 2008

Many people assume that you need to come from a big football factory school to have success in the NFL. But many of today's best went to college at a FBS (formerly known as Division I-AA) or Division II schools.

The most famous example is one of the greatest wide receivers of all time, Jerry Rice. He attended Mississippi Valley State, a Division I-AA school. Adam Vinatieri, the most clutch kicker of all time, attended South Dakota State. Vinatieri has won Super Bowls with the New England Patriots on last second field goals and the 13-year NFL veteran now plays for the Indianapolis Colts.

There are 220 non-Division-I players currently on NFL rosters. A few of these players have stood out this year.

Tyler Thigpen, Coastal Carolina University– In his second season in the NFL, the former third stringer for the Chiefs was forced into the starting role due to injuries to Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard. In nine games, he has 13 touchdowns and 1,577 yards.

He also has one rushing touchdown and a 37-yard touchdown reception thrown by his wide receiver. Although the Chiefs have the second worst record in the NFL, more of the blame can be put on the defense which ranks as one of the worst in the league.

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Kevin Boss, Western Oregon – In his second season out of Division II Western Oregon, Boss has been one of Eli Manning’s favorite targets near the goal line this season. Although more of a blocking tight end than a receiving tight end, Boss has 265 yards and five touchdowns through 11 games. His best game of the year came against division rival Philadelphia Eagles where he had six catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.

Vincent Jackson, Northern Colorado – In his fourth season at wide receiver for the Chargers, Jackson has really broken out this year as a No. 1 receiving threat. Injuries to Chris Chambers and Antonio Gates helped him get more catches and now he appears to be one of Phillip Rivers’ favorite options.

Through 11 games, he has 703 yards and five touchdowns. His best game of the year came against the New England Patriots when he had 134 yards and a touchdown. Jackson is a big wide receiver (6’5"), and Rivers commonly throws it deep downfield counting on Jackson using his size to come up with the football.

Tim Hightower, Richmond– Hightower was lightly recruited out of high school and his only official offer was from FBS school Richmond. Hightower enjoyed much success at Richmond, leaving the school as its all-time leader in rushing yards, touchdowns, and all-purpose yards.

Despite Hightower’s great success at Richmond, he was not even invited to attend the NFL combine. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Arizona Cardinals. Although it appeared that Edgerrin James was the starter in Arizona, Hightower made his presence known.

He eventually won the starting job and in his first game as a starter against the Rams he had 109 yards and a touchdown. Through 12 games, he has 327 yards and nine touchdowns. Hightower has already been tagged by some as the "steal" of the draft.

Joe Flacco, Delaware– Usually rookie quarterbacks do not get to play much in the NFL. But Joe Flacco was put right into the starting job from a FBS school, Delaware. He has turned the Ravens around from the team that the 1-15 Dolphins beat last year to a 7-4 contender in the AFC.

Through 11 games, he has 10 touchdowns and 1,996 yards. He also has two rushing touchdowns. Flacco joins Matt Ryan as two rookie quarterbacks who have started since day one this year and have enjoyed success.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State– A first-round pick by the Cardinals this year, Rodgers-Cromartie elevated his draft stock through great play in the college All-Star games and a great combine performance. Now a starting cornerback for the Cardinals, he has 28 tackles and two interceptions. The cousin of Chargers’ cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Rodgers-Cromartie was the first non-Division-I player drafted in this last draft.

Who's Next?

Ramses Barden, Cal Poly- This big wide receiver is a game changer for Cal Poly. At 6'6", Barden can take over games, which is rare for a wide receiver. Last season against Weber State, he 219 yards and four touchdowns. Then next month against Idaho State, he had 268 yards and three touchdowns.

Although not the fastest wide receiver (projected 4.55 in the 40), Barden has shown the ability to get open and make plays. At the end of last season he had 1,467 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. He has been compared to Marques Colston by NFL scouts, and you know how Colston's rookie season went.

Rhett Bomar, Sam Houston State- The senior from Sam Houston State has had a great final college season. He has thrown for 3,355 yards and 27 touchdowns. He has eight over-300-yards passing games, including a 506-yard day against Southeastern Louisiana.

Bomar also has five rushing touchdowns on the season. Bomar played his freshman year at Oklahoma but off field issues forced him to transfer to Sam Houston State. He has a strong arm and good mobility, but will need to work on his accuracy.

Rashad Jennings, Liberty- Originally signed on to play at Pittsburgh, Jennings transferred to Liberty to be closer to his father who suffers from diabetes. Jennings was named the Big South Offensive Player of the Year this season and broke the Big South rushing record running for 1,500 yards and 19 total touchdowns.

He is also a good receiver out of the backfield, demonstrated by his 190 yards and two touchdowns receiving. Jennings was named a finalist for the Walter Payton award, which is awarded to the best player in the FBS.

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