NFL Draft weekend is finally here. While everyone is drooling over top prospects from the big programs, this is your friendly reminder to not overlook the prospects from the small schools.
Each year, prospects from small schools slip through the cracks and don’t get the hype they deserve from national media outlets. This year will be no different as the Covid-19 outbreak may have hurt some prospects reigning from smaller games.
That being said, let me put you on game to some of the more prestigious small school prospects in this year’s NFL Draft.
Antonio Gibson, Memphis, RB/WR
Is he a wide receiver or a running back? Doesn’t matter, he’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands. Let this man fall to a progressive style offensive like San Francisco, Chicago or Baltimore and NFL defenses are going to be hurting. Dare I say, he’s a poor man’s Christian McCaffrey. Gibson only has a small sample size of work but in the right system, I’m confident he will become a name we all recognize in two seasons.
Cole McDonald, Hawaii, Quarterback
Oh man this kid has a cannon! The former Sonora High School quarterback tore it up last season for the Rainbow Warriors. Imagine if you took Jacob Easom’s arm strength and Jalen Hurts’ athleticism and combined it into one prospect; you get Cole McDonald.
The physical gifts are all there, but his accuracy needs work, his mechanics are disoriented and he didn’t get to anticipate much in Hawaii’s Run N’ Shoot offense. There are some moments where McDonald’s game reminds me of an unpolished Josh Allen. Regardless of who drafts him, he’s going to need a coaching staff willing to groom him and he might just become a household name in 3-4 seasons.
Jacob Knipp, Northern Colorado, Quarterback
6’4″, 220 pounds and solid athleticism. Jacob Knipp is a deep find at the quarterback position and may go undrafted, but I like what he brings to the table. Unlike McDonald, Knipp is a little more polished mechanically and has an accurate arm. The biggest thing holding him back is that he had three straight season-ending injuries from 2016-2018. Despite all that, NFL teams such as the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears have showed interest in the FCS quarterback during this year’s draft process.
Omar Bayless, Arkansas State, Wide Receiver
A late bloomer, Omar Bayless really showed out in breakout fashion during the 2019 season. He finished with 93 receptions, 17 touchdowns and over 1,600 yards. Bayless isn’t a barn-burner but he’s savvy with his routes and won consistently at all three levels in the passing game. Plus, he had nearly a dozen-type highlight reel plays making several ‘top plays of the week’ lists. Watch out for Bayless to make some noise and surprise some people in the NFL.
Charlie Taumoepeau, Portland State, Tight End
His name may be a little tougher to pronounce but his game is undoubtedly recognizable. Charlie Taumoepeau is excellent with the ball in his hands and lined up at many different positions for the Vikings offense. He’s a bit undersized and may not be the best in-line blocker, but get this man the ball in the open field and watch him cook. I think their are a lot of offensive coordinators that would best utilize Tamoepeau’s skill set and get him the ball 20-30 times a season.
Matthew Peart, UConn, Offensive Tackle
Standing at 6’7″ 300 pounds, Matthew Peart is awfully nimble for a guy of his stature. He’s not the most powerful of blockers nor is he the most technically sound. He does however, possess agile feet and the athleticism to aid him in the pass and run game. He may become a very good starting right tackle if he’s drafted into an offense that runs a zone-run scheme.
Robert Hunt, Louisiana, Guard
Need a to pick up a first down on 4th and 1? Well there may not be a better guy to run behind than Robert Hunt hailing from the Sun Belt conference. Hunt is a powerful human being and lined up at both offensive tackle and guard during his collegiate career. He may lack the agility to play outside but line him up at guard and watch him bulldoze paths in your running game. I know some of y’all might not think of lineman as fun to watch but Hunt may change your mind.
Mykal Walker, Fresno State, Linebacker
Mykal Walker reminds me a lot of another player I like from this draft in Akeem Davis-Gaither. I compared Davis-Gaither’s versatility to a poor man’s version of Isaiah Simmons and I think Walker can be thrown into that mix. Played a lot of stand-up edge for the Bulldogs defense but showed the versatility to play off-ball linebacker in the middle of the defense too. Standing at 6’3″ 215 pounds, he’s a bit undersized for his position but his athleticism and I.Q. should allow him to be an interesting chess piece in a hybrid-type defense.
Reggie Robinson II, Tulsa, Cornerback
Long boundary corners seems to be a position that many teams are searching for and Reggie Robinson II fits that mold. 6’1″ 205 pounds and the eagerness to play at the line of scrimmage and jam receivers up. Robinson possess fluid hips but could use some brushing up on his footwork. He also tends to be a little handsy down the field which may lead plenty of pass interference penalties. But he showed out and had a great combine and teams will salivate over his athletic traits and stature.
Jaron Bryant, Fresno State, Cornerback
To continue with the cornerback trend, Jaron Bryant is another intriguing prospect I like. 6’1″ with very long arms but he’s on the lighter side only weighing 186 pounds. He’s versatile enough to play both on the boundary and in the slot and has solid reflexes deflecting 33 passes in his career. Bryant is a willing tackler and had a big impact on Fresno State’s special teams only adding to his value at the next level.
Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois, Safety
Chinn had flown under the radar until a stellar combine performance in which he displayed a freakish amount of athleticism. Like Isaiah Simmons, Chinn has a unique skillset which could be fun to watch if he lands on the right defense. He made some spectacular plays in coverage and showed his nose for finding the football recording 71 tackles last season. Blitz Chinn off the edge, have him play nickel linebacker, line him up as a safety in cover 2, doesn’t matter. This small school prospect is capable of doing big things at the next level.