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Last week we took a look at the offensive side of the ball, focusing on the small-college gems you need to know about heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. This week we'll focus on the defense, and what a class it is coming from the FCS, Division II, Division III and NAIA levels. 

What I always find fascinating about the small-college defender, and the small-college player for that matter, is the versatility is always there; guys are able to do more than one thing, mostly out of necessity, but also because of their immense talent. That bodes well for them heading into the NFL since we know the old saying goes, "The more you can do, the better your chances are to make it." Yes, that rings true, but what is also true is that having position versatility and flexibility allows the NFL head coach to maximize their gameday roster, which is 46 active players. If you have guys who can fill more than one role, you're going to be able to put your best 46 out there on the field.

With these 11 players (really 12, because I can't follow my own directions), they really do exemplify that notion of being able to do more than one thing, and doing them rather well.

DE Isaiah Chambers (McNeese)

  • Height: 6-4
  • Weight: 260

Chambers is a fantastic, all-around football player who causes havoc on both ends of the defense. He has multiple ways of getting to the QB and has good football awareness and savvy. Chambers transferred in from Houston after playing for the Cougars from 2017-2019, and he dominated at McNeese, showing up in its big games against Power 5/FBS opponents.

DL Sam Roberts (NW Missouri State)

  • Height: 6-4
  • Weight: 287

Roberts took home the 2021 Cliff Harris Award, which is given to the best small-college defensive player. He's a powerful point-of-attack player who does a fantastic job of rolling his hips into the offensive lineman. A versatile player who is capable of playing multiple techniques up front, Roberts gives an NFL team a ton of flexibility.

DL Keyshawn James (Fayetteville State)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 283

To say James had a stellar all-star game circuit would be an understatement. From the Tropical Bowl, to the College Gridiron Showcase, to the HBCU Combine and the HBCU Legacy Bowl, James made his mark. It's great to stand out during the postseason all-star games, but it's even more important to stand out during your collegiate career and that's what James did. He's got cat-like quickness off the ball with nice closing speed to the QB. While at Fayetteville State, he played across the defensive front and can thrive anywhere from a 7-technique to a 3-technique at the pro level. He's a dominant player who compiled 60.5 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks in his career.

DE De'Shaan Dixon (Norfolk State)

  • Height: 6-4
  • Weight: 251

Dixon was a star all week at both the East West Shrine Bowl and HBCU Legacy Bowl. He's got some really good natural ability. For a guy who's 251 pounds, he's really strong at the point of attack and very tough to move off the spot. There's some untapped potential here for a prospect who posted 14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss, 11 QB Hurries and 10 pass breakups in his collegiate career.

LB James Houston (Jackson State)

  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight: 230

One of the biggest NFL combine snubs in my opinion was Jackson State's James Houston. He's a dynamic athlete with tremendous versatility and athleticism. An off-ball LB at Florida, Houston turned into one of the most feared pass rushers at Jackson State. This year he finished with 24.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles. Houston was able to parlay that into invites to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and East West Shrine Bowl, where he played primarily off-ball LB and was able to showcase his coverage ability while also delivering several big hits and key plays in both games.

LB DeJaun Cooper (South Dakota)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 240

Cooper has top-tier athleticism, and it's something you notice as soon as he steps onto the field. He's got great fluidity that allows him to bend the edge as a pass rusher, the quickness and burst to be a run-and-chase backer, and the athleticism to play any one of the three linebacker spots as a pro. Cooper's ability as a blitzer and pressure player should most definitely have him as one of the small-college players to watch as this process rolls along.

LB Daniel Hardy (Montana State)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 239

While his teammate and fellow backer Troy Andersen gets a lot of the headlines, Hardy was just as dominant this past season for the Bobcats. He's an athletic rusher who has the ability to be an EDGE or SAM backer as a pro. The second-team Stats Perform FCS All-American brings explosiveness off the corner, with the closing ability to really be considered a true threat getting after the QB. Hardy converts speed-to-power rather well and really came into his own this season, blossoming into an All-American and first-team All-Big Sky performer. 

CB Dallis Flowers (Pittsburg State)

  • Height: 6-0
  • Weight: 198

Right off the bat Flowers is your Day 1 kickoff returner, having averaged 33.7 yards per return and two touchdowns for the Gorillas. That's on top of him being a two-time NAIA All-American kick returner and cornerback at Grand View University prior to transferring this season to Pitt State. Flowers was stellar this past January at the East West Shrine Bowl, showing he had the coverage chops to match up with some of the best wide receivers in college football from the FBS level. If you're looking for a comp, think Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

CB KiShawn Walker (Kentucky Wesleyan)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 180

If being around the football was an Olympic sport, Walker would have the gold medal. He's got superb quickness and ball skills, doing a great job throughout his career playing through the receiver's hands en route to the ball. When you combine the footwork, lateral agility and wingspan, he makes completing passes against him a challenge. Matching up with FBS receivers at the College Gridiron Showcase, Walker was able to show that his Division II success wasn't a fluke; it both travels and translates. 

DB Julius Faulk (Delta State)

  • Height: 6-0
  • Weight: 211

Faulk was outstanding for the Statesmen of Delta State, garnering All-American and All-Conference honors throughout his career. He's a press corner all day, with the ability to play safety. Talking with scouts at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, they RAVE about his football IQ, describing how when they met with him, he already had a breakdown of their personnel, coverages they ran and specific games where he felt as though HE could've provided help for them. Now that's next level preparedness and also shows you that he has a true love for the game. He had a really strong performance this year against Jackson State of the FCS.

DB Elvin De La Rosa (Fayetteville State)

  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight: 195

De La Rose is arguably one of the more skilled players in the secondary coming from the small-college ranks. He's a legit, gameday matchup piece who can play either safety spot and inside or outside as a corner. Some teams may view him more as a corner based off his outstanding week at the HBCU Legacy Bowl. As a safety, he takes fantastic angles to the ball, is an above-average blitzer, and is a great form tackler who rarely misses.

FS Cory Rahman (Tennessee State)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 195

Rahman has excellent football IQ and awareness for the position. He plays centerfield with the same excellence that Mike Trout of the Los Angeles-California-Aneheim-Whatever-they-wanna-be-called-now Angels does. Rahman's field vision stretches from sideline to sideline, showing the athleticism and speed to get to wherever he wants to get to on the field. He's got the great ball skills to force turnovers, and it's something that he has done dating back to his time at Southeastern University, an NAIA program, from 2017-2020, when he picked off 12 passes. In his lone season at the FCS level with Tennessee State, he made second-team All-Ohio Valley, earning invites to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and HBCU Legacy Bowl. At the NFLPA Bowl, he showed versus FBS competition that he's more than capable of making the jump, athletically, to the NFL level.

There are more players coming from the small-college ranks who I wanted to squeeze into this article, but don't fret. You can find over 1,000 scouting reports and hundreds of small-college prospect reports right here: www.footballgameplan.com/2022DraftGuide