2018 NFL Draft: How Marcus Davenport, UTSA became hot names among scouts

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Marcus Davenport pauses before answering each question.

In that moment, he's thinking, shaping the response. We're talking not only a first-round prospect from the college football hinterland of Texas-San Antonio but a worldly kid with interests other than football.

This is a guy who enjoys poetry, movies and music. He's working up the courage to appear in public at his own poetry reading. That's where those thoughtful pauses can be interpreted different ways. Ask Josh Rosen how it complicates NFL minds to be, you know, smart.

It just hit Davenport, the Roadrunners' defensive end -- where else than at the NFL Combine?

"It was enlightening," Davenport said. "I learned a lot about the people up there."

For now, might as well call Davenport this year's Ed Oliver. As a Group of Five breakout star, Davenport contributed 21.5 sacks and 185 tackles over a four-year career at UTSA. He was the 2017 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year.

The difference is that Oliver, a rising All-American junior at Houston, is likely to be the most celebrated Group of Five prospect in next year's draft. That's after he was the first five-star prospect ever landed by a Group of Five school.

Oliver was a sure thing out of high school. Davenport was a project. He came out of San Antonio Stevens High School as a 198-pound defensive end. Not quite a weakling, but certainly not a blue-chipper. Davenport said he was offered by UNLV, New Mexico and UTEP.

Four years later, he was rated by Pro Football Focus the fifth-best defensive end in the country. Only one Power Five D-end, Ohio State's Nick Bosa, finished ahead of him.

Davenport was also a top 10-rated run defender and pass rusher. In 537 snaps, he missed just four tackles. Some big boards have him among the top 10 overall players in Thursday's 2018 NFL Draft.

Davenport describes his game as "more violent, aggressive, controlled." As for the esoteric stuff, he describes those NFL Combine questions about his outside interests this way:

"Enlightening," he said. "… Not everybody is as homey as San Antonio people. … I got a vibe that some people care a little bit too much about [my outside interests]. But then, eh, I don't know. I guess this is people's livelihood, and they don't necessarily want anybody that doesn't [care primarily about football]."

UTSA coach Frank Wilson has been called the best recruiter in the country. His recruiting resume as an LSU assistant included Leonard Fournette, Tyrann Mathieu, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.

Wilson inherited Davenport when he joined the Roadrunners. The kid put on 65 pounds over four seasons with all kinds of twitch off the edge.

"I don't know how to describe it because I still think I'm growing," said Davenport, who now stands 6-foot-6 and 264 pounds … and he's getting bigger.

That makes the whole situation down here intriguing. Former Miami coach Larry Coker recruited Davenport. Coker retired in 2015 after getting the program off the ground in 2011.

UTSA has been surprisingly competitive going 38-44 through its first seven seasons. It didn't have its first player drafted until 2016.

"Here, you identify the guys," Wilson said. "You present everything you have to offer and you give it your best shot. At those [Power Five] schools, you have all the resources. … A guy can say, 'They don't have an indoor facility here.' For whatever reason, our target audience, some of them make their decisions based on that, on the fluff."

More intriguing: Wilson chose this place as his starter job. After spending 10 years and three different SEC schools recruiting the best, he doesn't have to go back to his native New Orleans to pull blue chips.

"It's so fertile in San Antonio and Texas; I would have to pass over all of these guys to go there to compete for the guy I want against LSU and Alabama," Wilson said. "What I would be able to get out of there is plentiful here. Would I like to get Leonard Fournette out of there? Could I get Leonard Fournette from LSU and Alabama [to] UTSA? That would be a little tough to say the least."

Intriguing. At this level, sometimes you have to publicize yourself. UTSA defensive back Devron Davis has taken to social media to target key influencers. His message: I'm the best corner in the draft.

Whether he is the best cornerback does not really matter. There probably isn't a college player out there who promotes himself -- and his teammates -- better.

Davis flaunts his talent and his pedigree. He has three cousins on NFL rosters, including Redskins tight end Vernon Davis, Bills CB Vontae Davis and Chiefs CB Steven Nelson.

(For the record, Devron Davis is projected to be a late-round selection.)

On Thursday, Davenport is going to be in Dallas at the draft. Davis will be at home in Stockton, California, with family and friends wishing he was alongside Davenport.

"Marcus is smart, intellectually smart in that respect. Being proactive, putting his name out there. His name is not as widely known yet," Davis said. "You wouldn't even think he was going to play in the NFL. He was ready to be a school teacher. It's kind of amazing to see [this] transpire."

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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