I love small school players that make it in the NFL. It doesn't matter where, when or even if you get drafted, all that matters is what you do and how you play when you get that shot at the NFL. Small school players (prospects) present outstanding value for NFL teams because quite often they can get them as free agents or in the late rounds of the NFL Draft.
Here are some of the small school prospects (rookies) that made it into the NFL this year. Here are a few that I covered extensively prior to last year's NFL Draft.
1. WR Marques Colston, New Orleans (Hofstra)
Probably a lock for rookie of the year, after 12 games he has caught 66 balls for 1001 yards and recorded 7 TDs. I bragged about him last year, but he was still passed up in the NFL Draft by 251 other players. The Saints struck gold by getting him in the 7th round.
2. FS Daniel Manning, Chicago (Abiline Christian)
The starting free safety for the Bears, Manning has been outstanding in 14 games recording 59 tackles and 2 interceptions.
3. DE/OLB Jason Hunter, Green Bay (Appalachian State)
Undrafted, but he made the team. Hunter has bulked up from 220 to 255 pounds and at 6-3 he has the size to stick in the NFL. Listed on the depth chart as a back up defensive end, he is a ball hawk and should get a chance to start next year.
4. FB A.J. Schable, Arizona (South Dakota)
OK maybe not a household name and he might never be, but as an undrafted free agent he made the active roster of the Cardinals and is listed on their depth chart as a back-up fullback. Pretty impressive for a kid that played defensive end for tiny South Dakota last year.
5. WR Miles Austin, Dallas (Monmouth)
I really thought Austin was going to get drafted last year so I was estatic when Dallas picked him up as a free agent. The Cowboys were/are very deep at receiver so it was quite a big deal for him to stay on the active roster. Parcels said he didn't want to take a chance on putting him on the practice squad because some other teams were already asking about him. Oh and did I mention he is currently the 2nd ranked kick returner in the NFC. http://www.nfl.com/stats/leaders/NFC/KRET/2006/regular
He is raw, but in a couple years we might see him starting at wideout for the Cowboys.
6. DE/OLB Brent Hawkins, Jacksonville (Illinois State)
One of my favorite small school players last year. He got drafted about where I thought he would in round five. He started out the year playing good football for the Jags, after 6 games he had a skill for getting to the QB with 7 tackles and 2 sacks. He is on IR with a groin injury now, but you should expect big things from him next year.
7. WR Brandon Marshal, Denver (Central Florida)
Marshal was actualy my favorite small school player last year. The Broncos stole him in the 4th round and they now have a gem. He is raw, he was a safety until his senior year in college, but at 6-4 230 pounds and 4.4 speed he is special. Shannahan is bringing him along slowly, he has played in 13 games recording 14 catches for 224 yards and 2 TDs. He looks like the replacement for the aging Rod Smith. If he keeps his head straight I look for him to be in the pro bowl in 2 years.
8. OG Jahri Evans, New Orleans (Bloomsburg)
How many teams would like to get a starting caliber guard in the fourth round? That is exactly what the Saints got when they drafted Evans, a fixture at guard for the next ten years if he stays healthy. Out of tiny Division II he wasn't given much of a chance in the first day of the draft. The Saints resurgence can at least partly be attributed to the play of Evans at Guard.