2014 NFL Draft: Evaluating the Top 25 Small School Prospects

Isaiah CrowellThey don’t get much, if any, love throughout the regular season and are generally thought of as after-thoughts at All-Star games, but small school prospects have emerged as a key part of the scouting process. Having a keen eye for small schoolers who can make a big impact has guided teams like the Ravens to consistently successful drafts.

To view our full small school board (Top 70), check here. But to provide some scouting context, here’s the quick report on the top 25 non-FBS prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft.

1. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois – 2nd Round

Our third-ranked quarterback, Garoppolo possesses a remarkably quick release, ample arm strength across the field and experience handling NFL-level responsibilities pre and post-snap. His hand size, need for further footwork/mechanical development and adjustment from FCS level are all concerning, but his intangibles as a leader on and off-the-field make him a future NFL starter with the right team.

2. Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood – 2nd Round

Despite hailing from a division two program, NFL evaluators are very excited for Pierre Desir’s upside. With plus length, body type and physicality across the field, he has the skill set to fit into the new NFL mold at cornerback. Add in that he’s very coachable, has strong character and has already developed by leaps and bounds since his final college game, and it’s clear why teams like him. I’d expect him to land in the top-50 on draft day.

3. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State – 3rd Round

Character concerns, not on-field ability, are why Crowell in the top running back discussion. With great body control, leverage through traffic and composed and explosive feet up and through the hole, Crowell has NFL starter written all over him. But evaluators are now more than ever cautious about character issues, and after getting kicked out of Georgia as a freshman and negative feedback from his time there, team’s will need to be firm in their character evaluations before they select him in the top-100.

4. Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State – 3rd Round
Turner struggled at the Senior Bowl out at tackle, but many of his issues there and on-film seem coachable, especially in pass protection. Initially, he might be better suited at guard, but his mauling style and strength once engaged could make him a dominant right tackle.

5. Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton – 3rd Round

A versatile, active interior rusher, Reid’s ability to generate pressure from nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end in college has lured teams from multiple schemes to consider him as a 2nd-3rd rounder. He’s a solid athlete with a decisive rush repertoire and plays with consistent quickness and active hands upfield.

6. Walt Aikins, CB, Liberty – 4th Round
One of the biggest NFL Combine snubs this year, Aikens showcased his plus-hip fluidity, athleticism vertically and quick hands on inside reactions. His timing and initial hand use needs some work before he can be a starter, but he has the skill set to be a fringe-top 100 prospect.

7. Howard Jones, OLB, Shephard – 4th Round

An explosive rusher who can fit as a 4-3 or 3-4 outside linebacker, Howard Jones’s stock is on the rise after a strong NFL Combine and Pro Day performance. Don’t be surprised to see the moldable-athlete Jones in the second round mix.

8. AC Leonard, TE, Tennessee State – 4th Round
A former Florida transfer , Leonard was used in a variety of spots for Tennessee State this past season. He has the ability to get separation in the slot, is an adequate blocker and short-area route runner from the tight end spot and got work at the H-Back position as well. Leonard reminds of Aaron Hernandez in his style of play, and could be a late-Day 2 pick based on that upside.

9. Terrence West, RB, Towson – 4th Round

A runner who’s built well and is light on his feet, West has a chance to emerge as one of the top running backs in this class by draft day. He’s not as physicality dominant as his size might suggest, but he routinely breaks arm tackles, maintains his balance and finishes runs at the second level.

10. Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Coastal Carolina – 4th Round

A think, well-built runner, Taliaferro has the versatility to play full back, H-Back or be a team’s third down running back. Teams love his blocking, powerful running style and surprisingly soft hands out of the backfield.

11. Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina – 4th Round

A stronger receiver who finishes catches at a high level and has great value in the 10-15 yard range, Hazel should be a West Coast offense target in the middle rounds.

12. Zach Kerr, DT, Delaware – 5th Round

There’s not many nose tackles with NFL starter potential in this draft, but Kerr is one of them. He’s not good enough in one-on-one situations to be in my top-100, but nose tackle-needy teams may reach early.

13. Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana – 5th Round

As an outside linebacker who doesn’t thrive rushing the passer, it’s tough to expect Tripp to go high on draft day. But plus-athleticism and a strong Shrine game could make him a versatile early contributor.

14. Jeff Matthews, QB, Cornell – 5th Round

Despite a lackluster college record and concerns over his footwork, Jeff Mathews provides ample arm strength and intriguing upside potential that should make him a late-round project passer.

15. Dakota Dozier, OG, Furman – 6th Round
The former college right tackle, Dozier is best slated inside at guard which should best utilized his strong hands, physicality in the short area and balance as he works upfield. He could be a dark-horse top-100 selection.

16. Kerry Wynn, DE, Richmond – 6th Round

After an impressive week at the Shrine Game, Wynn’s powerful capabilities on the edge put him onto the draftable category. Well-built with strong hands and a thick frame throughout, Wynn fits 4-3 defenses best.

17. John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State – 6th Round

Thanks to being undersized, having less-than-ideal hand size and hailing from a division two school, Brown won’t get much attention. But after displaying quickness, route polish and consistency against all types of cornerbacks in college and at the Shrine Game, he’s firmly in the late round mix.

18. Brandon Dixon, CB, NW Missouri State – 6th Round

Another talented small school cornerback, Brandon is the better of the brothers for Northwest Missouri State. He can sink and drop in Cover-3 well, extends away from his frame and finishes plays at the catch-point.

19. Tyler Starr, OLB, South Dakota – 7th Round

A strong-side, pass-rushing linebacker, Starr likely fits best in a situational 4-3 linebacker role. A bit of a limited skill set and hailing from a small school hurts, but he has a special teams/situational place in the NFL.

20. Joe Don Duncan, TE, Dixie State – 7th Round

Injuries kept him out of the Senior Bowl, but NFL teams have had Duncan on their radar for three years now. Duncan will enter the league as a plus pass catcher and adequate upfield blocker, and has an NFL home.

21. Larry Webster, TE/DE, Bloomsburg – 7th Round

The former basketball player turned defensive end, Webster provides ample intrigue on how to maximize his athleticism, but question marks as to how teams can do that. He’s a bit stiff as an edge rusher for me to be confident in his ability to play end, so maybe an offensive shift is the ideal move.

22. Tim Flanders, RB, Sam Houston State – 7th Round

A productive runner at the FCS level for the past three seasons, Flanders is an explosive, balanced interior runner who utilizes his shorter stature and burst well. He fits the mold of a rotational runner in a running back-by-committee roster.

23. Dustin Vaughn, QB, West Texas A&M – 7th Round

Productive and possessing a rocket arm, Vaughn is a project passer that has value as a long-term developmental quarterback. While he may not get drafted, he’ll get a chance in camp and likely land on a practice squad.

24. Eric Lora, WR, Eastern Illinois – 7th Round

The featured receiver for Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois, Lora’s best when working vertically, as he has decisive footwork and plus-separation on his double moves. A lack of size and not being an elite athlete is what pushes him to the tail-end of the draft.

25. Jeremy Butler, WR, UT-Martin – Undrafted
Physical, well-built receiver who also offers value as a returner, Butler has strong hands and finishes plays at the catch-point. If he can show teams he can get NFL-level separation, he’ll have a long-career in the NFL, potentially as a possession slot receiver.


Next Five:

26. Walter Powell, WR, Murray State – Undrafted
27. Kadeem Edwards, OG, Georgia Southern
28. Zach Moore, DE, Concordia St. Paul
29. Jerrick McKinnion, RB, Georgia Southern
30. Tony Washington, WR, Appalachian State

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