Feb 26, 2011
Now that the NFL Combine is underway, many of the headlines revolve around Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and how he presents himself to the league’s decision makers. While Newton continues to garner significant attention, there are a number of under-the-radar players, including some from smaller schools, who might prove to be just as worthy of playing at the professional level. Bruno Boys Fantasy Football takes a look at several small school prospects who could land on the big boards of NFL scouts and draft junkies with strong showings during the Combine.
1. Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware
Devlin had a big senior season, throwing for 3,032 yards with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 68 percent of his passes. So that he could be at Delaware for spring practice, Devlin transferred from Penn State when his sophomore season ended and before the Nittany Lions met the USC Trojans in the 2009 Rose Bowl. Devlin has the size (6’4”, 227 pounds) and the arm strength that NFL scouts love. The comparisons to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, a fellow Blue Hen, are almost too obvious. Flacco was a first-round pick in 2008 and although Devlin is not as highly regarded at this point in time, a solid showing at the NFL Combine could make him an early-round pick in late April.
2. Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy
Jernigan is the all-time leader in Sun Belt Conference and Troy history in receptions (262), receiving yards (3,128) and all-purpose yards (5,971). His lack of size (5’9”) may be a cause for concern for some NFL scouts. Jernigan will also have to demonstrate that he’s fully recovered from injury to his left ankle, which he originally sustained during the New Orleans Bowl and tweaked at practice for the Senior Bowl. He played the slot in Troy’s spread offense and his speed (4.34 40-yard dash) should definitely make him a stand out in position drills. To go along with his 84 receptions for 822 yard and six touchdowns as a senior in 2010, Jernigan also had 322 rushing yards and three touchdowns along with two total return touchdowns (one kickoff, one punt). He was not highly recruited out of high school despite a nice career, and he may continue to have something to prove to NFL people that doubt his level of competition in college. Some have favorably compared him to Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin in terms of his speed and versatility. Jernigan should go off the board in the first couple rounds of the NFL Draft as long as his ankle injury is no longer an issue.
3. William Rackley, OG, Lehigh
Rackley finished his collegiate career with 40 consecutive starts at left tackle and was a three-time first team All- Patriot League selection. As a senior this past season, he was the first Lehigh player to be named a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) first team All-America by the Associated Press since 2004. Despite playing left tackle in college, many think that his size (6’4”, 307 pounds) makes Rackley best suited to make the move to guard at the NFL level. His strength is also notable, as he can bench press 440 pounds. A similar show of strength at the Combine, along with a good showing in position drills, could vault Rackley into the first round in April’s draft. In any case, he should go off the board during the first two rounds.
4. Benjamin Ijalana, OG, Villanova
Ijalana missed the Senior Bowl due to a sports hernia, but his durability should not be a concern as he did not miss a game in his entire collegiate career. He played left tackle in college, but is considered likely to be a guard in the NFL, where his strength and skill as a run blocker can be maximized. Villanova averaged nearly 200 rushing yards per game in 2010, and Ijalana was the only FCS player on the watch list for the Outland Trophy at the start of the season. He is considered by some scouts to be a guard/tackle “tweener” and a strong showing in drills and workouts at the Combine would help solidify Ijalana’s status as an early-round pick in April. If he shows enough agility to handle NFL speed rushers, perhaps he could play offensive tackle at the next level.
5. Cecil Shorts III, WR, Mount Union
Shorts missed three games as a senior in 2010, but still had 63 receptions for 1,106 yards and 12 touchdowns along with two punts and one kickoff that he also returned for touchdowns. His best collegiate season came in 2009, when he caught 100 balls for 1,736 yards and 19 touchdowns to go along with eight rushing touchdowns. He originally came to Mount Union as a quarterback before switching his position to wideout. In his first full year as a wide receiver in 2008, Shorts set an Ohio Athletic Conference record with 23 receiving touchdowns. In addition, Shorts was also an All-American sprinter on Mount Union’s track and field team, so speed looks to be an asset for him. The emergence of Mount Union alum Pierre Garcon as a prominent receiver for the Indianapolis Colts certainly has NFL scouts paying attention to Division III wide receivers. Shorts could be a middle round pick in April, and certainly has the size (6’2”, 210 pounds) to be a worthy project for an NFL team.
6. Edmund Gates, WR, Abilene Christian
Gates had a productive senior season, with 66 receptions for 1,182 yards and 13 touchdowns, and is ESPN’s NFL Draft expert Todd McShay’s pick to run the fastest 40-yard dash at this week’s Combine. His career average of 18.3 yards per catch definitely suggests he has good game speed. At one time Gates play basketball at Tyler (TX) Junior College before he was kicked off the team in 2006. Now 25, Gates’ age is one case for concern. There are also questions about his hands and route running, as he tended to drop routine passes in college. Gates is definitely a raw prospect who has not played a lot of football, but his basketball skills show in his ability to adjust to the ball in jump ball situations. He was a college teammate of Chicago Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox and his cousin is Cincinnati Bengals running back Bernard Scott, so he may prove to have an NFL pedigree if given time to develop. Gates could go off the board sometime in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft.
7. Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton
Ellis measured out at 6’5” and 336 pounds at the East-West Shrine Game after previously being listed at 280 pounds. He had 37.5 tackles for loss in three seasons at Hampton, but character concerns could hold him back in April. He was dismissed from South Carolina in 2008 for repeated violations of team and university policy, reportedly stemming from multiple failed drug tests. A big senior season-94 total tackles and 15 tackles for loss-could make Ellis a early round pick in April as long as he interviews well and puts together solid workouts. The dramatic weight gain he apparently had in a fairly short period of time could also become a concern for NFL people if there is not a sound explanation for it. He could be a solid fit at nose tackle for teams that employ a 3-4 defense.
8. Cortez Allen, CB, The Citadel
Allen seems to have the size (6’2”, 197 pounds) to succeed as an all-around cornerback at the next level, and his 57 total tackles as a junior in 2009 show that he is more than just a cover guy. He only played one year of high school football, but was named first team All-State in Florida. Although Allen primarily played in man coverage in college, he is thought to have the skill set to be effective in a zone scheme in the NFL. This will widen the pool of teams interested in him. The level of competition that he faced at a military school will be in question, but his showing in drills may squash any inhibitions teams have. His size and skills compare well to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, another small school player who was a first-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2008. Allen himself is currently widely projected as a middle-round pick come April.