There’s a lot of talent in small schools. I have seen a lot of good players there. The issue with them is the very small sample sizes publicly available, often one or two games only. Draft breakdown does a great job putting videos up and I think within a few weeks there’ll be many more available. In the meantime, there’s a bit of guess work involved.
Some of the best small-school players I’ve seen in this draft:
- Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice made my top 50. There’s currently 3 games available on him, and you don’t need much knowledge to see how good he is in them. His man gets open ~never when he’s put in man coverage. That 4.34 speed he ran at the combine is his game speed. There are several “did that really happen” plays on his film. I’ll describe this one: He’s in man coverage, and it’s a typical drag route where the offense is clearing him out so they can throw a medium corner route away from Gaines. So Gaines is trailing his man into the middle of the field and interestingly (not only on this play, mind you) his eyes are staring directly at the QB. To be able to trail and see what’s happening is impressive enough, but then, as soon as he sees the QB go into a throwing motion– since he’s been watching his eyes and also sees the release angle– he immediately bails from the middle of the field, completely flipping his hips in the other direction, and intercepts the pass. Now the QB floated it a bit, but… mother of God. First time I saw the play, I thought one of the other teammates made the pick, because I didn’t see from the TV angle how anything else was possible. Next, they show the play from a wider angle, and I still can’t believe it. It’s not this play alone that has made me a Gaines fan, but this is a good demonstration of his ability. The other plays where he’s merely shutting the window on whoever he’s covering all while seemingly always aware of what the quarterback is up to… he’s a special player, not just the fastest DB at the combine. I’m wanting to see more.
I think Gaines can sneak into the first round. He ran fastest at the combine and has the game that matches the measurables. Led the nation in passes deflected according to a brief Google search. Not on the mock community radar, which reminds me a lot of how D.J. Hayden quickly became a top 10 pick in the eyes of same. There was no tape, nothing on him much in terms of tape for the public, but soon as there was: my goodness, what a talent.
- Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State
I strongly suggest anyone take a look at his tapes. It’s impressive stuff. His best friend Willie Snead at receiver – look at these three straight plays – isn’t likely to get drafted as highly, but he can play as well. Snead didn’t run all that fast at the combine. Possibility he doesn’t get drafted and that would be exclusively due to the depth of the receiving class. If not, he’ll be among on the top free agents and have an opportunity and some camps.
- Dakota Dozier, OT, Furman
There’s only one game up right now but it’s against Clemson and he takes on Vic Beasley 1-on-1 and wins more often than, for instance, Morgan Moses did. Most projections have him playing guard, but I wouldn’t rule out tackle. He looked like the real McCoy at the combine. And name theory loves an offensive lineman with the name of Dakota Dozier – try saying it out loud without picturing defensive tackles getting plowed over. You cannot do it!
- Cameron Brate, TE, Harvard is a guy I was checking out earlier today just clicking buttons on videos (the best way!), and whoa, kid has incredible ball skills. He makes these subtle false engagement steps on two plays that look like a bubble screen to the receiver where he’d be supposed to block, but instead of engaging, he takes a few stutter steps and accelerates to full speed right down the middle for big plays. Now this guy isn’t likely going to be drafted high (he wasn’t invited to the combine) and he only caught 25 passes on the year (some minor leg injury). He’s 6’4″, 245, I believe, so he’s a bit slight for a tight end, and his in-line blocking ability is nothing to write home about.
Have you ever seen Hard Knocks on HBO? Each season, there’s always this type, a very talented receiving end who the coaches hate to cut. Well, Brate may be THAT guy, but also might be a better receiver than the type – I believe he is based on these two games. Rooting for him to get drafted.
These three small-schoolers are all likely to go in varying rounds, but from what I’ve seen I have confidence they can each play. These few are just scratching the surface of the small school pool. Some others I think might be able to play but haven’t seen much film on:
- Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern, who doesn’t exactly have a position because he played everything from running back to cornerback in college, had one of the best combines among anyone there.
- Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty, performed admirably at the Senior Bowl and just ran 4.47 with a 35″ vertical at his pro day, following a snub from the combine list of invitees.
- Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton is getting a lot of love. I haven’t seen much of him personally yet, other than in the drills at the combine (I watched every minute of the combine & Senior Bowl aired, lol) and much a briefer look at the Senior Bowl. I know tweedy has spoken highly of his game.
- Crockett Gilmore, TE, Colorado State was a very late addition to the Senior Bowl, and he was kind of a sensation in the game. All three of his quarterbacks utilized him as a security blanket, without even practicing much with him during the week. Unlike my Harvard guy above, Gilmore brings positive attributes to all aspects of the game. Possibly 4th round talent; hell, I think he’s better than Austin Seferian-Jenkins.