As the NFL season comes to a close, fans start to focus on the off-season and the draft. The post-collegiate bowl games have just finished up and now general managers and scouts will spend hours upon hours watching film of the best college players in country. While the casual fans will know about Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Justin Blackmon, and players like that, there will be an entire slate of players that largely go unnoticed by most fans.
Big time college football is big time business. The big programs are practically their own brands. But every Saturday, good football players line up across from one another for teams that don't get the fanfare. Many of them do it without the luxury of scholarships. These are the players for lower division schools (divisions I-AA, II, and III) And every year, the very best of these players get a chance to make it to the NFL.
In 2010, I made a post highlighting the impact these lower division players have had on the NFL. The Hall of Fame is filled with players, coaches, and other people that hail from lower divisions. including arguably the greatest football player of all-time, Jerry Rice. The current fraternity of NFL players is filled with big time players from the lower divisions such as Fred Jackson, Tony Romo, Vincent Jackson, and Brandon Jacobs. The current Miami Dolphins roster has several players from lower divisions like Dan Carpenter, Jimmy Wilson, and Edmond Gates.
One thing to note is this is not about players from small Division I-A schools like Akron or Louisiana Lafayette. Players on this list must come from a division under I-A. So who are some players to watch in this year's draft that come from lower divisions?Janoris Jenkins, CB University of North Alabama
OK, here is the easy one. Jenkins was a premier corner for the Florida Gators in 2010. He was a potential first round pick, but got in trouble with the law. He was dismissed from the Gators and instead of entering the supplemental draft, he chose to play his senior season for the Lions of North Alabama. He has good speed and coverage abilities. If teams feel he has matured, then look for him to be a first round or early second round pick this draft.
Brian Quick, WR Appalachian State University
I have talked about Quick several times on here before. At 6'3" and 1/2, 220 pounds, he's a big receiver with big time potential. He's the all time leader at AppState in career receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He's not the fastest guy out there, but he builds speed and has good hip movement for a player of his size. The team that drafts him will get a guy they can develop and possibly turn into a red zone threat, if not a true #1 receiver. His 40 time will dictate where he gets drafted, but his range is anywhere from second to fifth round.
Josh Norman, CB Coastal Carolina
Norman made the most of his opportunity at the East-West Shrine Game and turned that into a Senior Bowl spot. Norman was voted an All American in 2011 and is the Big South Conference leader in passes defensed and passes broken up. He's second all time in the Big South in interceptions. The big corner has size to play press-man coverage, but also has the speed and awareness to play off-man coverage as well. A strong combine performance will earn him a second day draft selection.
Rishaw Johnson, OL California University of Pennsylvania
Another SEC transfer, Johnson was kicked off of the Ole Miss team for violating team rules. He's a big guard with big hands, with enough strength to be a force in the running game. He's got some athleticism for a big man and may develop into a decent pulling guard at the next level. He'll need some development coming from D-II, but having played in the SEC, he should adjust fairly easily. He played well in the Shrine Game and earned a spot in the Senior Bowl. He'll be a late round pick that can add depth to a team that may also earn a starting job in the future.
Ryan Steed, CB Furman
Another SOCON player, Steed was a four year All American for the Paladins. He's a ball hawking corner who accumulated 14 picks over his career, of which 3 were returned for touchdowns. He's the kind of player that will excel on special teams early on and turn into a solid contributing player in the secondary. He's a later round selection, though a strong combine could raise his stock.
B.J. Coleman, QB University of Tennessee-Chattanooga
Once again, we have a transfer from an SEC school. Coleman fell down the depth chart at UT and transferred to Chattanooga. He had good career for the Mocs passing for a 6871 career yards and 52 touchdowns. He's a strong-armed QB with the intangibles teams look for in a signal caller. He will need some development, but would be a great prospect to let sit behind a veteran and learn the game. He'll be a mid to late round draft pick.
Akiem Hicks, DT University of Regina
This guy flashed onto the scene during the Shrine Game and turned the heads of scouts. He was set to play for LSU but eventually made his way into Canada. Hicks is a big prospect at 6'5" 325 pounds. He blew up offensive lines at during the Shrine Game and will intriguing as a 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT. He will need development since he didn't go up against elite college talent in Canada, getting by on strength and athleticism alone. However, he could become a gem in the late rounds or as an undrafted free agent for a team that can tap into his potential.
Joe Long, OT Wayne State University
This is the final player on the list. He's a big offensive tackle prospect, who will make a team most likely as an undrafted free agent. However, I thought it would be cool to mention him as he is the brother of our current franchise left tackle, Jake Long.