Well, it’s finally here. The time when I am, as a football fan, most excited.
The Har-Bowl has been decided, Ray Lewis went out on top, and Cool Joe silenced a lot of people. BUT more importantly, the NFL draft is now the talk of the football world.
Ever since I can remember, the NFL draft has always been my favorite sporting event. There’s something about seeing the college athletes you love to watch play take that next step and following all the different evaluations/strategies from the “experts.” Watching Mel and Todd duke it out on which QB will be the most successful and who has been better hair. I love it all.
I have stacks of “Mel Kiper Draft Reports” in my closet dating back to 2004 and do my own evaluations on players I watched during the year while reading about players I didn’t get a chance to see first hand.
One of the best components of the draft is the hidden gems you can find late in the draft and at the various levels of the collegiate ranks they can come from. So, I thought I would write about the most successful “small school” guys in the NFL.
There have been quite a few players to come through the NFL and have very successful careers. Some of which have come directly from Stretch clients.
Active guys that came from the lower ranks like Pierre Garcon (who came from DIII powerhouse Mount Union), Fred Jackson, of Coe College, and Jared Allen, from Idaho State, have been very successful at the NFL level. Even Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Flacco comes from the FCS.
There are also a lot of former players who impacted NFL and came through the small-school route, some of whom are thought to be the best to ever play their positions. A wide receiver by the name of Jerry Rice came from a DI-AA (or now known as FCS) school called Mississippi Valley State and set NCAA records across all divisions for touchdown receptions and total receptions. He only went on to win 3 Super Bowls, 1 Super Bowl MVP, 13 Pro Bowls, and set the NFL record for career receptions, yards, and TDs.
Another FCS product came from a small school in Columbia, Mississppi and will forever be associated with being one of the greatest running backs of all time. Walter Payton, who attended Jackson State University, never got any interest from SEC universities but ended up breaking the NCAA’s scoring recording with 65 rushing touchdowns. Oh, and he is also the NFL’s second all time leading rusher. Not bad for a kid who didn’t get a sniff from the big conference schools in his own backyard.
The list of successful pro football players from smaller schools is extensive and prodigious. Sometimes kids just need the opportunity to play and develop instead of sitting on the bench for 3 years only to hope for a starting spot their senior year. There are plenty of examples to back it up.
Since I am such a draft junkie, I thought I would take a look at some small school prospects who I think could make a living out of playing on Sundays. Some even played for a school that happens to be a Stretch Internet client
Luke Marquardt is an offensive lineman out of Azusa Pacific who has been shooting up draft boards since the process started. Marquardt only solidified the buzz with an impressive showing at the NFL combine that included 31 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Not bad for a kid who started as a walk-on basketball player and turned out starring on the gridiron under their NFL Hall of Fame offensive line coach, Jackie Slater. Coincidentally, Slater attended Jackson State (same as Walter Payton) and went on to be a 7 time Pro Bowler and 3 time First Team All Pro.
Another prospect that stood out at the combine was a tight end from Rice University, Vance McDonald. The first two TEs off the board have been solidified in Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz, but McDonald made a strong case to be the third player drafted at that position. His 4.69 40 time and 31 bench press reps were very impressive, especially when he measures at 6-foot-4 267 pounds.
Every year there is a ton of talent that comes from below the FBS level. Who will be the next Rice or Payton? It’s tough to predict such greatness, but there is no doubt that NFL teams are capable of finding big-time players in the lower divisions.
Let us know. Who is the best football player to come out of your school? Any prospects that NFL teams should be noticing?