The NFL is full of players who were unheralded out of college because they didn't attend a traditional powerhouse program. Joe Flacco, Vincent Jackson, Robert Mathis and Jared Allen are just a few examples of non-FBS players who were drafted from a “small school” to the “big time” and have thrived at the NFL level.
Not every “small school” player enjoys sustained NFL success, but plenty get a chance each year. Over the last five years, an average of 25 non-FBS players have been selected on draft weekend. This year could have more, it could have less, but assuming there will be 25 small school prospects selected in May, here's my guess of the 25 non-FBS players who will hear their name called on draft weekend and in the order I think they'll be drafted:
1. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois – A quick-paced passer with a lightning-fast release who has his struggles with pressure, but projects as a NFL starter down the road.
2. Billy Turner, OL, North Dakota State – The collegiate left tackle projects best inside at the next level where he can use his athletic feet and nasty demeanor to control the point of attack.
3. Dakota Dozier, OL, Furman – Another collegiate left tackle who projects best inside and should find NFL success with his natural flexibility and quick reflexes.
4. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State – Arguably the most talented running back in this draft class, the former SEC Freshman of the Year has a high NFL ceiling if he stays clean and committed.
5. Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood – Tall and lengthy cover man who will need some time to adjust to the NFL game, but his natural instincts, make-up and athleticism project well to the pros.
6. Terrance West, RB, Towson – An impressive player and person, the junior re-wrote the FCS record books this past season and offers an intriguing blend of power and quick feet.
7. Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton – A quick-footed interior penetrator who has the skill-set to line up at different spots up front and will be attractive to both three and four man fronts.
8. Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana – Athletic and instinctive defender who read-and-reacts in a flash with the closing speed to play both sidelines and finish at the ballcarrier.
9. Zach Kerr, DT, Delaware – A bulky, stout nose tackle, the 326-pounder is surprisingly light on his feet, but also offers the power to match his large frame and very good backfield vision.
10. Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern – A combine star, the former college quarterback opened eyes in Indianapolis with a 4.41 40-yard dash and 32 reps on the bench press.
11. Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty – A surprise snub from the NFL Combine, the tall, long cornerback isn't a speedster, but he shows natural football awareness and quick feet to mirror.
12. A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State – A Florida transfer, he looks more like a bulky wide receiver, but he has the speed and playmaking ability to make an impact if the character checks out.
13. Ethan Westbrooks, DE, West Texas A&M – The 2012 Division-II Defensive Player of the Year, the 6-3, 267-pounder led the team with 19.5 tackles for loss this past season.
14. Kendall James, CB, Maine – Although his size isn't enticing (5-10, 180), he turned heads at the NFL Combine with a 4.43 40-yard dash, 6.81 three-cone and a 39-inch vertical jump.
15. Zach Moore, DE, Concordia (MN) – Trying to become the first player from his school to be drafted, this pass rusher has the quickness, flexibility and motor to make plays.
16. Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina – Setting numerous school records at Coastal Carolina, he isn't the fastest or biggest, but he's a controlled route runner with very reliable hands.
17. Larry Webster, DE/TE, Bloomsburg – The converted basketball star is a tall, long athlete who lacks ideal muscle build and might project best as a pass-catcher on offense.
18. Howard Jones, LB, Shepherd – A tweener pass rusher who needs refinement, but the first step burst (1.63 10-yard split) and speed (4.60 40-yard dash) cannot be coached.
19. John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State – Diminutive in size (5-10, 179), but speedy (4.34 40-yard dash) with sharp footwork in create separation in his routes and create after the catch.
20. Matt Feiler, OL, Bloomsburg – A versatile blocker with experience at tackle and guard, the 6-6, 330-pounder is country strong to latch onto defenders and create running lanes.
21. Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State – Ultra-productive at the Division-II level with his impressive combination of size (6-3, 219), strength (20 reps) and speed (4.42 40-yard dash).
22. Lavelle Westbrooks, CB, Georgia Southern – Quicker-than-fast and versatile cover man with the coordinated footwork and smooth redirection skills to blanket receivers.
23. Kadeem Edwards, OG, Tennessee State – Although he doesn't stand out in any one area, the 313-pound guard looks the part with good build and a large wingspan (84-inches).
24. Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB/FB, Coastal Carolina – Not a quick-twitch athlete, but projects as an every-down back because of his ability to catch the ball and pass protect.
25. Joe Don Duncan, TE, Dixie State – Although durability remains a big question mark, the 6-2, 268-pounder has brute strength (36 reps) and a productive resume when on the field.
QB Jeff Mathews (Cornell), QB Dustin Vaughan (West Texas A&M), TE Reggie Jordan (Missouri Western State), DT Mike Pennel (Colorado State-Pueblo), WR Albert Wilson (Georgia State), S Nic Jacobs (McNeese State), TE Reggie Jordan (Missouri Western State), WR Walt Powell (Murray State), CB Brandon Dixon (NW Missouri State), DE Kerry Wynn (Richmond), RB Tim Flanders (Sam Houston State), LB Tyler Starr (South Dakota), CB Todd Washington (SE Louisiana State), WR Erik Lora (Eastern Illinois), DE Rakim Cox (Villanova), LB Nate Dreiling (Pittsburg State), CB Qua Cox (Jackson State), CB Dominic Clarke (Illinois State)