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Small school draft prospects poised to make a big NFL impact


NFL prospects from big schools get most of the press, but the league is littered with successful players from smaller college programs. These players from small schools entering the 2021 draft could make a big future impact.

 

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Josh Ball, OT, Marshall

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A transfer from Florida State, Ball has the size to stick at tackle. Off-field issues could drop him in the draft, but Ball has the talent to be an impact player if given an opportunity.

 

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Tommy Doyle, OT, Miami (OH)

Tommy Doyle, OT, Miami (OH)

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Doyle has optimal size at 6-foot-6 and has the potential to be a solid Day 3 pick for a team looking for an experienced player who can step in. He played both tackle spots in college.

 

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D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan

D'Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan

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Eskridge is undersized at 5-foot-9, but his speed and route-running ability could still make him a Day 3 pick in a deep wideout class. He capped off his career with 33 catches for 768 yards and eight touchdowns in only six games last season.

 

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Darren Hall, CB, San Diego State

Darren Hall, CB, San Diego State

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Hall had a very productive three seasons for the Aztecs, with six picks. He’s slightly undersized at 5-foot-11, and lack of top competition might push him to the third day of the draft.

 

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JaQuan Hard, RB, Tiffin

JaQuan Hard, RB, Tiffin

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Smaller school running backs have found success in the NFL in recent years, and Hard could be the next one on the list, His D-II season was canceled in 2020, but Hard showed enough earlier in his career to get NFL attention as a change of pace back.

 

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Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina

Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina

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A highly productive player at Coastal Carolina, Jackson had a combined 18 sacks over the last two seasons and also had three consecutive years with over 50 tackles. He isn’t very tall at 6-foot-2 but could play as a solid 3-4 defensive end.

 

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Shemar Jean-Charles, CB, Appalachian State

Shemar Jean-Charles, CB, Appalachian State

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App State continues to churn out NFL talent, with Jean-Charles potentially the next on the list. The cornerback is undersized at 5-foot-10 but has a chance to be a solid press slot corner from the later rounds.

 

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Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State

Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State

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It’s saying something when a small school wide receiver can stand out in this year’s outstanding wide receiver class. Johnson had over 1,200 yards receiving in 2019 and also excelled as a return man. His multi-dimensional upside could move him as early as the second day of the draft.

 

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Malcom Koonce, EDGE, Buffalo

Malcom Koonce, EDGE, Buffalo

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Koonce had an up and down college career, finishing with 17 sacks, including five in his senior season. He stands out physically and could as high as the third round.

 

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Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

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Lance will likely join fellow North Dakota State alum Carson Wentz as a first-round pick. He’s seen as a project, especially after playing sparingly in 2020, but has the potential to be a uniform for a quarterback-needy team.

 

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Quinn Meinerz, OC, Wisconsin-Whitewater

Quinn Meinerz, OC, Wisconsin-Whitewater

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Meinerz’s program didn’t play in 2020, but he made up for lost time in the Senior Bowl. He can play either center or guard and has a good shot to be drafted on the second day.

 

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Eli Mitchell, RB, Louisiana

Eli Mitchell, RB, Louisiana

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Mitchell was very productive over the last three seasons for Louisiana and averaged 6.2 yards per carry for his career. He’s seen as a possible pick in the later rounds.

 

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Dave Moore, OG, Grambling State

Dave Moore, OG, Grambling State

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Moore didn’t play college ball in 2020 after Grambling’s season was delayed, but he did get looks in the Senior Bowl. He has a chance to be a Day 3 pick.

 

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Jaylon Moore, OT, Western Michigan

Jaylon Moore, OT, Western Michigan

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Moore is undersized for a tackle at 6-foot-4, but he was productive after playing left tackle for most of his college career. He’s still raw, and there’s a possibility he will move to guard at the next level.

 

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Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo

Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo

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A very undersized back at just 5-foot-7, Patterson had a whopping 3,884 yards rushing and 52 touchdowns in only three seasons at Buffalo. He’s very difficult to take down despite his size, but limitations as a receiver should push him to later rounds in the draft.

 

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Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State

Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State

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Radunz is a top prospect who could be pushed to guard due to his lack of height at 6-foot-4, but he has a solid shot to be a Day 2 pick after an excellent Senior Bowl week.

 

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Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas

Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas

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Rochell is a plus athlete who got a chance to show off his talent at the Senior Bowl. He could be called on Day 2 or 3.

 

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D’Ante Smith, OT, East Carolina

D'Ante Smith, OT, East Carolina

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Multiple college injuries could drop Smith in the draft, but he’s still a fair bet to see his name called on Day 3. He has experience at tackle, but at 6-foot-5, could move to guard.

 

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Elerson Smith, EDGE, Northern Iowa

Elerson Smith, EDGE, Northern Iowa

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Smith’s stock was hurt after Northern Iowa didn’t play in the fall, but he did get his shot at the Senior Bowl. He has plus size and produced big stats in college, though Smith’s poor college competition will likely push him to the later rounds.

 

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Jordan Smith, EDGE, UAB

Jordan Smith, EDGE, UAB

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Smith started his college career at Florida before eventually ending up at UAB. He has off-field concerns after legal troubles early in his career, but his plus size and excellent production (12.5 sacks in 21 games at UAB) should get Smith a shot in the middle rounds.

 

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Christian Uphoff, S, Illinois State

Christian Uphoff, S, Illinois State

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Uphoff plus size and athleticism will allow him major draft consideration despite playing ball at a small school and missing the 2020 year due to the COVID-19 delay. He was a great producer in 2019 and got an invite to the Senior Bowl.

 

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Austin Watkins Jr., WR, UAB

Austin Watkins Jr., WR, UAB

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Watkins put himself on the radar after gaining 1,092 yards and averaging 19.2 yards per carry in 14 games during 2019. The 6-foot-2 wide receiver proved to be a major deep threat, though his stats fell to 468 yards and only 13.8 yards per catch in seven games last season.

 

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Milton Williams, DL, Louisiana Tech

Milton Williams, DL, Louisiana Tech

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Williams not only plugs the middle but has some pass-rush skills with a combined 10 sacks over the last two seasons for Louisiana Tech. He has an excellent shot to go on the second day of the draft since he’s not a one-dimensional run stuffer.





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