This is a post I‘ve wanted to make for a while, and I had to get it done before the draft, so here it goes. Let me begin by saying that I am an alumnus of Appalachian State University. The Mountaineers are one of the marquee teams in Division I-AA (FCS). They are probably the most recognizable team from I-AA thanks to a huge upset win over the Michigan Wolverines in 2007. However, unless teams from the lower divisions do something unprecedented like a huge upset, these teams and players go largely unnoticed on a weekly basis by the majority of football fans.
The bigger college programs in Division I-A (FBS) typically recruit the top high school prospects and therefore have the better players than the lower divisions (Division I-AA, Division II, Division III, and NAIA). And for the most part this is true year in and year out. However despite its disadvantages in recruiting, the lower divisions can still get very good players. And while these teams and players mostly go unnoticed on Saturday, they can have a major impact on Sundays. The lower divisions of college football have had a noticable impact on the NFL. This post is a look at the impact the lower divisions have had on the NFL, both in the past and in the present, and a look at potential impact players for the future.
The history of the NFL is filled with good players from the lower divisions. The most obvious example is Hall of Famer Jerry Rice from I-AA Mississippi Valley State. There are countless players that could be listed, but a great way to measure the impact is the NFL Hall of Fame. Of the 260 HOF inductees, 72 are from lower division schools. (This number includes players, coaches, and owners). There are 59 lower division schools represented in the NFL HOF.
*Notable names: Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Deacon Jones, Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, John Madden, Howie Long, Darrell Green, Al Davis.
The NFL is still feeling the impact of lower division players. There are 289 lower division players currently on NFL rosters. Many were full time starters in 2009. There were 13 lower division players on the Pro Bowl roster in 2010. On our own Miami Dolphins, there are currently 13 lower division players. Several of the more productive players over the last few seasons have come from the lower division college ranks.
*Miami Dolphins players:
Yeremiah Bell (Eastern Kentucky)
Joe Berger (Michigan Tech)
Dan Carpenter (Montana)
J.D. Folsom (Weber State)
Lex Hilliard (Montana)
Brian Johnston (Gardner-Webb)
Kendall Langford (Hampton)
John Nalbone (Monmouth)
Evan Oglesby (North Alabama)
Chad Pennington (Marshall - Marshall is I-A now, but was I-AA when Pennington & Moss played there)
Julius Pruitt (Ouachita Baptist)
Tyler Thigpen (Coastal Carolina)
Dmitri Tsoumpas (Weber State)
2010 should prove no different in that while the majority of the NFL talent will come from big-time college programs, several lower division players will get drafted and make rosters. I decided to list a few lower division players from this year’s draft that could make a productive impact within the next few seasons. I wouldn’t be surprised if our FO doesn’t have their eye on some of these guys. (Click the links to get more in depth info about the players)
Armanti Edwards (QB, Appalachian State): The 2008 and 2009 Walter Payton award winner. A dynamic athlete with 14753 total yards and 139 TDs in college. He played QB in college, but he may have to convert to WR/KR at the next level.
Andre Roberts (WR, Citadel): A WR/KR with potential to be great in the pros. Savvy route runner with 4.4 speed. Only dropped 6 passes in college. Upside to be a top tier WR in the pros.
Deji Karim (RB, Southern Illinois): A quick change of pace style RB with 4.3 speed. He had a 7.1 YPC average in 2009.
John Skelton (QB, Fordham): A QB prospect with prototypical size, but will need polish to become an NFL QB. A mid round project that could develop into an good QB in a few seasons.
Vladimir Ducasse (OL, UMass): A solid offensive linemen that can play tackle or guard.
Jared Veldheer (OL, Hillsdale): A massive tackle that could sneak into the second round.
Tony Washington (OL, Abilene Christian): He has a troubled past, but has the talent to be a solid offensive lineman in the pros.
Austen Lane (DE/OLB, Murray State): A typical LE that could become a good pash rusher in a 4-3 scheme.
Arthur Moats (DE/OLB, James Madison): The 2009 Buck Buchanan award recipient. He’s somewhat small for a OLB, but he has the speed and athleticism to drop back into coverage.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (CB/S, Indiana of Pennsylvania): A player climbing up draft boards. An athletic player who can play corner or free safety in the NFL.
There will be any number of lower division players drafted or picked up as undrafted free agents this year and they could make an impact for the teams that acquire them. As a fan of a I-AA school and I-AA football in general, I like when these schools and players get the recognition that often eludes them. I know that while these guys may not get as much attention on Saturdays, they can make some serious noise on Sundays. Don’t overlook these guys just because they're not from a big time school.