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2018 NFL Draft: Small-School Studs Rising Up Draft Boards

Matt Miller

Every year a handful of NFL draft prospects start to rise up boards as the season nears it's end. Who are small-school sleepers that will shoot up this year? 

Some players end up at a small school because they grow late. Others discover football late and don't get the recruiting love they deserve. Then you have the former big-name recruits that get into trouble off the field and end up at a smaller program on a second chance. No matter the reason, small school guys need love and we're here to give it to them.

Who will be moving up and who do you need to put on your radar? These guys.

Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Daryl Wilson/Associated Press

The 2018 tight end class doesn’t look close to as strong as last year’s group that featured three first-rounders, but there is solid depth.

One player poised to rise up boards is South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert. He has the type of athleticism, size and production that’s hard to overlook. Like all small-schoolers, a big week at the Senior Bowl and then at the combine could boost him over some of the more well-known tight ends.

The 6'4", 260-pound senior captain was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award last year—basically the FCS version of the Heisman—and while his touchdown numbers (four) likely won’t reach last year’s (11), Goedert is establishing himself as one of the nation’s best skill players.

Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

A three-year starter, Chukwuma Okorafor has played one year at right tackle and now two on the left side and has worked his way from 3-star recruit into the conversation as one of the best blockers in the nation.

At 6’5” and 333 pounds, Okorafor has the size to shut down power rushers and can clear massive lanes in the run game, but he’s a more nimble and agile mover in pass protection than you’d expect given his size. The combination of length, power and agility makes Okorafor one of my favorite tackles in the class. And given an opportunity to show his talent against top-tier pass-rushers at the Senior Bowl, his tools and traits could make him a first-rounder.

Given the lack of sure things at left tackle in this year's class, keep an eye on Okorafor as a name to rise way up boards.

Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

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Will Hernandez has the traits of a top guard, and his size at 6’3”, 330 pounds is a perfect fit for many schemes since he shows the movement to get out into space and operate as a zone run-blocker. Hernandez doesn’t routinely see top competition and did struggle in 2016 against Texas, so he’ll need a solid week in Mobile, Alabama, at the Senior Bowl to boost his stock. I think he can do it.

Hernandez reminds me of Joe Thuney (New England Patriots) thanks to his agility and the mean streak he plays with. It’s a treat to watch Hernandez get outside the tackle box on sweeps, zone plays and even when pulled to protect the quarterback on rollouts. His ability and awareness are ideal for a Day 1 starter at left guard in the NFL.

Ebenezer Ogundeko, DE, Tennessee State

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Sometimes players end up at a small school not because they were late bloomers or somehow flew under the recruiting radar but because of off-field issues. That’s the case with Tennessee State defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko.

Originally signed at Clemson, Ogundeko was a 4-star player coming out of high school but was dismissed from Clemson after being arrested on credit card fraud. And after signing at Tennessee State, Ogundeko was arrested on third-degree battery charges following a fight at a party.

There are some legitimate off-field concerns, but Ogundeko has the agility and first-step speed teams love at the edge. He’s a little short at 6’2” and 255 pounds but has the build to get under and around blockers' hands on the move.

Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA

A 6'7", 255-pound pass-rusher, Marcus Davenport has the tools of an NFL defensive end coming out of UT-San Antonio. With 6.5 sacks on the season, Davenport is showing the production to match the traits that had scouts excited about him when making school visits last summer.

Davenport has a big frame that could fill out more, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him ultimately playing around 270 pounds. For now, he’ll be able to impress with his length and quickness. Hopefully Davenport gets a Senior Bowl invite and can showcase his ability against NFL-level offensive tackles.

Based on tape and talking to scouts, Davenport is also the kind of athlete that could really boost his stock in workouts at the combine.

Larry Allen III, OG, Harvard

If the name sounds familiar, well it should. Larry Allen III is the son of NFL Hall of Famer and former Dallas Cowboy Larry Allen. Those bloodlines will help him get scouts flocking to Harvard to check him out.

The younger Allen isn’t the massive man his dad was, standing 6'4" and 285 pounds, according to the team website. And while he’s not matching up against much NFL talent at Harvard, he’s been the Ivy League’s best blocker on tape the last two seasons.

Allen will need to add some size to make an NFL roster, but that can be done given his frame. The next step is to show up at the Senior Bowl ready to dominate because everyone will be looking to best the son of a Hall of Famer.

Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T

One way to get noticed at the small-school level is to simply be a huge human being. That’s worked for the 6'8", 310-pound Brandon Parker at North Carolina A&T.

The left tackle first popped up on my radar when he was blocking for Tarik Cohen last season. Every time Cohen ran off left tackle, there was Parker clearing the way and showing not only great size and length but the ability to get to the second level as a run-blocker.

Parker hasn’t faced NFL talent at defensive end but has helped lead the team to an undefeated record this year. His size, production and traits are all NFL-caliber and should get him an all-star game invite and the chance to boost his stock.

Aaron Stinnie, OT, James Madison

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

A former defensive lineman at James Madison, senior Aaron Stinnie made the move to offense and has been a standout blocker for the Dukes. At 6'5", 310 pounds, Stinnie was an All-CAA offensive lineman as a junior and a preseason FCS All-American this year. Scouts have definitely taken notice.

Stinnie has the quickness in pass protection that every scout looks for but also has the size, length and power to be a threat in the run game or when asked to hunker down against a power rusher in the passing game. And it may ultimately help that he’s only been playing offensive line for a few seasons, since teams will see that as upside and room where he can still improve.

Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham

Steve Luciano/Associated Press

After three straight seasons over 1,600 yards and a chance to break the FCS rushing record, Chase Edmonds has played in just six games this season due to injury and amassed a mere 392 yards. The hamstring injury that has slowed Edmonds shouldn’t limit him from being an NFL back but could have him sliding in the draft.

The 5'9", 205-pound senior back should still get an invite to a postseason game, which will give him a chance to showcase his vision and power against NFL-level defenders. Because Edmonds is hurt, though, he’s still flying under the radar. His stock could shoot way up once healthy.

Jake Wieneke, WR, South Dakota State

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

South Dakota State’s ability to beat North Dakota State in one of the biggest upsets of the year was made possible by the combination of Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert. Wieneke's 39 catches for 11 touchdowns prove his value as a redzone receiver.

Wieneke has three straight seasons over 70 catches and 1,300 yards while scoring 54 career touchdowns. Those numbers are good enough alone to get him a long look from scouts. In the SDSU offense, he’s a deep threat and vertical receiver but will have to prove he has the speed to separate against NFL-level cornerbacks to see his stock rise.

Adam Breneman, TE, UMass

Sean Rayford/Associated Press

The top-ranked small-school player on my 2018 draft board is UMass tight end Adam Breneman.

A former Penn State signee, Breneman transferred to Massachusetts after three seasons in Happy Valley and has been an unstoppable force at that level. Last year, Breneman led the nation in receptions by a tight end and was an All-American at 6'4" and 250 pounds. He’s an ideal fit in the NFL, where he can flex out as a wide receiver or play in-line at tight end.

Breneman likely won’t see the first round but is a solid Round 2 prospect with the chance to rise if he tests as well on the field as he’ll perform in interviews.


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