As the 2015 NFL Draft approaches, many are eager to find out which teams land top prospects such as Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Dante Fowler, Jr. and Vic Beasley just to name a few. Each of these highly anticipated individuals hail from Division I schools that historically have strong football programs.
The top 10 prospects in this year’s draft all belong to colleges with an enormous amount of players drafted into the NFL throughout the years such as Florida State, Oregon, Florida, Southern California, and Michigan. Despite this lineup, the Draft is always full of surprises and has proven that not everyone who shines in the NFL emerges from a powerhouse football program. Blake Bortles from the University of Central Florida was the first quarterback picked overall in the 2014 Draft (Jacksonville Jaguars) over Johnny Manziel who was perceived as the favorite and belonged to a well-known program at Texas A&M.
Some of the best to play the game have earned their stripes at small schools that are often overshadowed by larger, more reputable universities. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at the accomplishments of small school draft picks who have succeeded in the NFL.
Joe Flacco (QB, Delaware) – Only QB in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. With Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens have won the AFC North twice, appeared in three AFC Championships, and won Super Bowl XLVII.
Jerry Rice (WR, Mississippi Valley State) – During his 15-year career with the San Francisco 49ers, Rice won three Super Bowls and one Super Bowl MVP. He was also selected to the Pro Bowl a record 13 times, won the NFL MVP Award in 1987, and elected to the 2010 Hall of Fame.
Walter Payton (RB, Jackson State) – Payton is remembered as one of the most prolific running backs in the history of the NFL. Selected to the Pro Bowl nine times, his career includes two MVP Awards and a Super Bowl XX win with the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Rashean Mathis (CB, Bethune Cookman College) – Mathis spent 10 seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars securing the franchise record with 30 career interceptions, three interceptions for touchdowns, 512 interception return yards, and 35 total takeaways. He was also selected to the 2006 Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB, Tennessee State) – Rodgers-Cromartie helped the Arizona Cardinals reach Super Bowl XLIII with 42 tackles and four interceptions in his rookie season. He also helped the Denver Broncos reach Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seattle Seahawks.
The lesson learned from these few examples is to never sleep on small school talent. Similar to previous years, there are a plethora of small school draft prospects waiting for an opportunity to outshine their more popular counterparts.
This week’s Draft has its eyes on small school standouts David Johnson (RB, Northern Iowa), Dezmin Lewis (WR, Central Arkansas), MyCole Pruitt (TE, Southern Illinois), Tre McBride (WR, William & Mary), Zack Hodges (OLB, Harvard), and more.
In just a few days we’ll find out which of these draft prospects will be the next to make a big impression in the NFL.
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