Small School Preview: Qb And Rb

Discussion in 'Draft Zone' started by Nors, Jan 27, 2008.

  1. Nors

    Nors Benched

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    last updated: 01/25/08

    In my first report on small school players it seems only fitting to start with the most important position, the quarterback. This year is a great class for finding quarterback gems among the small school elite. There are 5 or 6 who could make it in the N.F.L. from this class alone. Two are top four round talents with 3 or 4 more worthy of bringing into camp as developmental players. Here is a look at the top 5, along with a list of a few noteworthy names to remember


    1. Joe Flacco, Delaware, 6'6, 237lbs, 4.84 40

    Flacco originally attended Pittsburgh before transferring to Delaware after his redshirt year. Flacco was scheduled to compete in the East-West Shrine game but received a late invite to the Under Armour Senior Bowl and opted out. This will be a huge step in determining his final grade. For those who love the stats his numbers his completion percentage dropped as the season went on and he struggled heavily against Appalachian State's speed in the first half of the F.C.S. title game. He then settled down and showed his pocket presence, strong arm, accuracy, toughness, and even some touch on his passes. If he can learn to put touch on his passes and continue to work on reading defenses, he could be a sleeper out of this year's class. He rates anywhere from the 2nd-5th round by most N.F.L. scouts. Some see only his upside while others see many mistakes and a player who will take time to develop. Expect someone to fall in love with this pocket passer and pull the trigger on him in the late 2nd or early 3rd round.

    2. Josh Johnson, San Diego, 6'3, 200lbs, 4.56 40:

    Johnson is one of the more intriguing prospects as he comes from non-scholarship F.C.S. San Diego. Johnson didn't face the best competition but he torched them in his career. Perhaps the most impressive stat from this year is that he led the F.C.S. in pass efficiency with a rating of 198.3. He threw for 2,988 yards, 43 touchdowns, and just one interception. A two-time Walter Payton Award Finalist, Johnson became one of the most decorated players in recent F.C.S. history. He has attracted the attention of all 32 teams with his quick release, mobility, arm strength, and athletic ability. Johnson has great upside but will need to gain weight and work on refining his passing skills. One thing to note is that he was tutored by current Stanford Head Coach and former N.F.L. quarterback Jim Harbaugh. Johnson is currently at the East-West Shrine game where he has impressed in his workouts. Some say his stock has moved up to the first day. Right now he is a 3rd to 4th round projection.

    3. Mark Nicolet, Hillsdale, 6'1, 220lbs, 4.73 40:

    Nicolet has been a late riser after his offensive M.V.P. performance at the Cactus Bowl where he passed for 103 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was no surprise since he has been named a 2nd team All-America selection by the AP, Daktronics, and after earning the GLIAC Offensive Player of the Year award. He finished his senior campaign with 31 touchdown passes and 3,335 yards passing. The big knock on him will be his level of competition, pure quickness, and the fact that he has only been highly productive for one season. He has adequate arm strength to make the throws needed at the next level and reads defenses well. One intangible he has shown is leadership over his career. He has immensely improved each of the last two years. His late rise has moved him into the priority free agent category with an outside of chance of a 7th round selection, with a good pro day performance.

    4. Nick Hill, Southern Illinois, 6'3, 215lbs, 4.78 40

    Hill, a two-year starter, came from Western Kentucky where he played basketball for the Hilltoppers. Many didn't know what to expect from the heir apparent of All-American Joel Sambursky, but realized they found another gem. He is a mobile left handed quarterback who completed nearly 72 percent of his passes this year to go along with 28 touchdowns. He showed good arm strength and mobility in the F.C.S. playoffs and earned an invite to the Texas vs. Nation All-Star Challenge in February. He has a smooth release, good short route accuracy, and the arm to make most throws needed. One knock besides level of play is that he will lock on a receiver instead of reading the defense at times. He could move up the board substantially after a good showing in Texas. He is currently a priority free agent by most with a few teams giving him a late round draft grade.

    5. Ricky Santos, New Hampshire, 6'1, 218lbs, 4.83 40

    Santos has been one of the most productive players ever to take the field in the F.C.S. ranks. In his four years as starter he has defeated three F.B.S. opponents, including over 350 yards and 5 touchdowns against Rutgers as a freshman. Santos finished his career as the all-time leader in C.A.A. history for passing touchdowns, pass completions, and yards gained, among many more. The four-time Walter Payton Award Finalist has a gun slinging approach to the game that many question how it will translate to the N.F.L. One knock on his game is that he played his entire career in the shot-gun formation so he will have to show he can go under center and become a drop back passer. Most had him as a late rounder but he has dropped somewhat after an average performance at the Hula Bowl. Right now he carries a priority free agent grade.

    Notables: Kyle Spotts, Kutztown; Brad Roach, Catawba; Luke Drone, Illinois State; Blake Barmore, Trinity; Daniel Polk, Midwestern State (WR).


    There are no elite running backs from the small school ranks this draft, but, there is one elite fullback and perhaps several sleepers. There are several talented running backs to be taken in the late rounds or free agency that could provide a solid backup or role player as a rookie. This year's class of running backs is headlined by a duo of bigger backs in Montana's Lex Hilliard and Northwest Missouri State's Xavier Omon. Furman's Jerome Felton is an elite fullback who could be a longtime starter in the N.F.L.

    Below is a look at the top 5 running backs and top 3 fullbacks from the small school ranks to watch in the coming months as the N.F.L. Draftboards start to unfold.


    1. Xavier Omon, Northwest Missouri State, 5111, 219lbs, 4.55 40:

    Omon is four-time All-America selection who ran for over 1,500 yards all four years in school, proving to be an every down back. He has deceptive speed as many feel he is a 4.6 type but has 4.5 speed. When you talk to Omon you can tell he is a high character kid who works hard and is focused. His downhill running style has teams buzzing, especially after his dominating performance against Division II dynasty Grand Valley State in the D2 playoffs. Omon will be at the N.F.L. Scouting Combine in February. He should land in the 6th-7th round range of the N.F.L. Draft.

    2. Lex Hilliard, Montana, 5111, 233lbs, 4.64 40:

    Hilliard has been through ups and downs over his career. He was a 1st team All-Big Sky selection in 2004 and 2005 but missed the '06 season with a left Achilles tendon tear. He missed several games in '07 but still ran for 1,132 yards. He is tough to bring down in one on one a situation and has the leg drive and power to gain the extra yards that coaches look for in their backs. He has shown decent ability as a receiver and blocker, improving a good bit while in college. The big knock is his injury history and the fact that he does not flash blazing speed. He has also been invited to the N.F.L. Scouting Combine. If his medical reports reveal he is 100%, expect him to be a late round pick.

    3. Chad Simpson, Morgan State, 5092, 198, 4.48 40:

    Simpson, a former South Florida transfer, has flown under the radar of the media but has the attention of N.F.L. teams. He is so much on the N.F.L.'s radar that he has an invite to the N.F.L. Scouting Combine next month. He finished his career as a two-time All-M.E.A.C. selection and earned A.F.C.A. All-America honors as a senior. The knock on him is his lack of bulk and there are questions about him taking the pounding the N.F.L. brings on a back. If he can run in the 4.4 range at the combine at 205 plus, he should land in the late rounds of the N.F.L. Draft and worst case will be a priority free agent signing.

    4. Tim Hightower, Richmond, 6001, 218lbs, 4.65 40:

    Hightower finished his senior season with 1,829 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing. He earned All-America honors by Walter Camp and Associated Press for his outstanding play as a senior after earning just 3rd team All-Atlantic 10 honors as a junior. He has the physical tools to be a solid short yardage back or change of pace back to a smaller, elusive tailback. He improved greatly over his career and shows the potential to be a solid backup, as long as he is coached up. Heading into the post all-star game period he carries a priority free agent grade.

    5. Omar Cuff, Delaware, 5095, 195lbs, 4.50 40:

    Most don't know that Cuff was a walk-on who was doubted by the coaching staff when he first came on campus. He was out of shape when he reported to camp but worked hard and became a starter as a sophomore. He ran for 1,205 yards in '05 but only had 541 yards as a junior due to injuries. As a senior he rebounded to earn All-America honors by the AP, Walter Camp, and The Sports Network. He holds the C.A.A. records for touchdowns (7), and points (42) in a game and rushing touchdowns (6) in a game. He broke the C.A.A. record of 24 rushing touchdowns held by Marcel Shipp with 34 this year. Cuff is a smaller back with good quickness and the ability to catch the football. His ability as a receiver intrigues many and could make him a sleeper in the coming months. He has a lot of work to do but has a chance to sneak on a practice squad as a priority free agent signing after the draft.

    Notables: Kevin Richardson, Appalachian State; Jamar Brittingham, Bloomsburg; Danny Woodhead, Chadron State; Matt Lawrence, Massachusetts.


    1. Jerome Felton, Furman, 5116, 242lbs, 4.62 40:

    Felton has been compared to Jerome Bettis because of his style of play but he has teams thinking he could be a TB and FB after his better than advertised speed, hands, and blocking at the East-West Shrine Game. He is a great short yardage option who has earned All-America honors the last three years. Many don't realize how tough he is as he has only missed one game over his career despite suffering a right index finger fracture and high ankle sprain. Felton entered the East-West Shrine game as a late round prospect but quickly vaulted his stock into the 3rd-4th round range after an excellent week of practice. If you ever get to meet him it will be a pleasure. He has also earned an invite to the N.F.L. Scouting Combine next month.

    2. Mike Peterson, Northwest Missouri State, 6020, 246lbs, 4.58 40 (TE);

    Peterson finished his career as a two-time All-America selection and three-time All-M.I.A.A. pick. He is an excellent athlete with good straight line speed, solid hands, and good quickness of the snap. He will need to work on his blocking technique as most see him as a FB or H-back in the N.F.L. One concern is his age due to being over 25 years of age. It is unfortunate he did not earn a combine invite as he would impress heavily because of his "workout warrior" numbers he would have put up. He is a projected priority free agent selection.

    3. Mike Tolbert, Coastal Carolina, 5084, 246lbs, 4.67 40:

    He was a 1st team All-Big South selection in 2007 after rushing for 748 yards and 9 touchdowns as a FB. Tolbert has flown under the radar this entire year as nobody has given him credit for his blocking and catching ability in college. Many are scared of his size being only 5'9". He has the ability to make a roster and become a contributing backup within 2-3 years in the system. He should be a priority free agent pickup based on current N.F.L. grades.

    Notables: Blake Martin, Sam Houston State (TE); Brad Listorti, Massachusetts (TE); Gerard Landry, Southern (WR)
  2. junk

    junk I've got moxie

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    Hilliard and Cuff are both interesting RB prospects.

    Hilliard didn't miss "several games" in 2007. He missed one game (Idaho State).

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