2017 NFL Draft – Top 10 Small School Prospects

I’ve managed to watch 101 FCS/D2/NAIA/D3 teams this season and many more small school prospects.  NFL rosters contain many former small school athletes, and I think they are underrepresented in the NFL Draft media world.  I’ve thus given as many as I could a mention in my “Notes from…” columns and the best as a top 5 in my top 10 by position series.  This article allows me to present my top 10 small school prospects.  I haven’t watched every single small school prospect, lack of tape being the main obstacle.  As such, Adam Shaheen (Ashland) and Connor Harris (Lindenwood) are not considered, as I couldn’t find enough/any tape to rank them.

  1. Cooper Kupp – WR – Eastern Washington. I loved Kupp from first watch, where it was instantly clear he’s an advanced route runner. The only thing he lacks is an extra gear, which is evident on passes where he needs to turn on the jets and run through a ball.  I heard a podcast saying he’s nothing special, so went back and watched another game – and I still love him.
  1. Brendan Langley – CB – Lamar. Langley isn’t going to fit all systems – he’s got short arms and isn’t a great press guy anyway, but off man or zone teams will like him. His ball skills are excellent, as is his feel for the game.  I heard on a podcast there is a concern with something off the field, but I don’t take that sort of thing into account, so he’s ranked here.
  1. Julie’n Davenport – OT – Bucknell. At 6’6” with 36.5” arms, Davenport’s frame alone gets your attention. He’s not completely there yet, but he has the beginnings of understanding how to use his long arms to his advantage.  I believe he can carry a little more weight, particularly in the lower body, which will help him trust his anchor.  He’s very good at climbing to the second level in the running game, but I think is more of a man scheme fit than zone scheme.  He does need to get stronger, so isn’t a day one starter, but in year two or three I think he can start.
  1. Dylan Cole – LB – Missouri State. The Combine seems to get bigger every year, yet Cole didn’t get an invitation. He made that look silly with a superb all-around pro day workout.  Throw in his production and tape, and you have this ranking.  He’s the ideal modern day LB who is athletic enough to be comfortable in space and coverage, but he’s not just an athlete – he reads the game well.  I was surprised he wasn’t at the Combine and I think he can be productive in the league.
  1. Krishawn Hogan – WR – Marian. Hogan is a perfect example of someone who the NFL knew about, but the media was late to notice. After dominating in the NAIA, he earned an NFLPA Game spot and was also invited to the Combine.  Hogan has excellent hands, and is quick twitch – so he can make highlight catches when passes are tipped in front of him.  He moves well for his size and was head and shoulders above the competition in college.  There is a big jump to the NFL, but I like him to make it.
  1. Brady Gustafson – QB – Montana. This QB class as a whole is full of prospects with tools, but need refinement in a pro system. Gustafson has good tools, but has very little buzz and it’s strange that is the case.  When given a clean pocket, he picked defenses apart – his key area of development being to get the ball out quicker when he has pressure.  He has a good arm and can move despite being 6’7”.  With time, he can be a good number two QB and possibly a starter.
  1. David Jones – FS – Richmond. Jones broke his arm and missed most of the year, but prior to that he was a borderline day two talent. He has that classic wiry FS frame and excellent range.  He has some man coverage experience, but is a little tight in the hips.  He can hit with force, although he will miss the odd tackle.  Durability is the key concern with him, but if he stays healthy, I expect him to start in the NFL.
  1. Tanoh Kpassagnon – DE – Villanova. From his tape, I would say Kpassagnon would be best as an edge rusher. In college, he looked most comfortable flying off the edge, where his size, speed and power made him a tough matchup.  Longer term, his frame suggests he’s the perfect five technique – using his length to two gap or athletic ability to one gap – but he needs technique work for either system, particularly two gapping.  He has huge upside, but as is always the case with such prospects, there is no certainty he will fulfill that potential.
  1. Derek Rivers – DE – Youngstown State. When Rivers is on his game, he would be ranked higher – but it’s not always there. Part of that was that he must have been told not to give up the edge at any cost, so he can’t be like a Charles Harris and just fly up the field all the time.  Rivers is an excellent athlete, with a good closing burst.  Often he’ll attack the OT square on, putting two hands on his chest plate – I think his athletic ability means he’d be better attacking the edge/half the man – so there’s a chance he might be better as a pro.
  1. Jylan Ware – OT – Alabama State. Ware is 6’7”, 317 lbs – so a 40 in the low 4.9’s at his pro day certainly gets your attention. I thought on tape he’s better in pass protection right now.  He doesn’t play “too tall”, showing an ability to sit and mirror comfortably.  As a run blocker, he has “want to”, but perhaps too much in that he’s over aggressive.  His head gets out in front of him too often and he’s then off balance.  With his athletic numbers, he has developmental NFL left tackle potential, so he should be drafted on day three.
Updated: April 23, 2017 — 8:59 am

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