The 2021 NFL Draft class has five small-school prospects with legitimate chances to be selected before the third day of the draft, and one is bound to be picked in Round 1, maybe inside the top 10. He's a quarterback. You know him.
Let's dive into those prospects from the FCS, Division II and even Division III level who'll be wearing NFL uniforms this fall and have the talent to make an impact early in their pro careers.
Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Lance likely needs no introduction, and he's bound to be picked somewhere in the top 15. The one-year starter for the Bison has the natural talent of a No. 1 overall pick. His pocket presence, accuracy, and field reading need to improve. Then again, what we saw from Lance in 2019 that made him arrive as a serious draft prospect occurred when he was 19 years old.
Therefore, in a way, he's ahead of where most top quarterback prospects are at that age with that little experience. If the team that picks him is patient, and he's deployed in a play-action, roll-out based system and uses him in the designed run game, Lance will eventually be one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.
Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
Radunz is the closest thing to a finished product in the trenches among small-school prospects in this class. From smoothly exploding out of his stance to sliding inside against counters -- he has the athletic gifts to stay on the edge in the NFL. He has a ways to go in the power department but has the frame to add 10-15 pounds without sapping his athleticism.
The technique and athleticism are NFL-starter quality. While he'll likely take his lumps early on because of his strength deficiency, weight is the easiest thing for a blocker to add once he's in the league. Radunz should land somewhere in the second or early third round.
Quinn Meinerz, iOL, Wisconsin-Whitewater
Meinerz, the darling of the 2021 Senior Bowl, practiced his way into the second or third round in Mobile. Seriously. At 6-3 and 320 pounds with long 33-inch arms for the guard spot, Meinerz repeatedly moved Power 5 defensive linemen in the run game and stymied them as pass rushers on a routine basis during one-on-one drills.
Of course, on film at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Meinerz was a bull dozer with no off switch. There's good mobility to his game but in terms of explosiveness and lateral agility -- and we got a glimpse at the Senior Bowl -- he's at least powerful enough to deal with NFL-caliber rookies.
Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
Rochell has size teams want in their outside cornerbacks. He's just under 6-0 and 200 pounds and has long arms over 32 inches. Rare size profile. On film, his speed makes a first impression. He's aggressive at the line of scrimmage in press -- where he played often -- because he trusts his recovery speed if initially beaten.
Despite the outstanding explosion and overall athletic gifts, Rochell isn't overly effective disrupting routes at the line of scrimmage. He is more of a freaky athlete right now than a refined route-recognizing, ball-awareness cornerback. But his long arms and high-end athletic tools -- particularly his speed -- could get him drafted late on Day 2.
Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
At over 6-8 and 314 pounds with 34-inch arms, Brown is going to far exceed every team's length threshold for the offensive tackle position, and he's a twitchy athlete who explodes out of his stance. Importantly, too, Brown understands defensive ends are going to try to out leverage him, so he plays with really good knee bend.
For as springy as his kick slide is in pass protection, he tends to create a shallow arc with it, so defenders have an easy path to the quarterback, and pass-rushing moves tend to get the best of him. While he does demonstrate high-end strength on film, he's going to need to add weight -- and his frame has plenty of room for it -- and get stronger going from the FCS level to the NFL.
He'll rightfully get hit with the developmental tackle label during the pre-draft process, but at his size with his athletic gifts, Brown could sneak into the latter stages of Day 2.