A look at some of the top small school talents in the upcoming draft, and their best fits due to scheme or need:
1.) Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington Wide Receiver)
After a storied career at FCS Eastern Washington that saw Kupp rack up 6,464 receiving yards and and 73 touchdowns, he lit up the Senior Bowl in Mobile. He consistently won his matchups, and powered the Kupp hype train to even higher levels. He is a polished route runner with a great set of hands, and he can immediately contribute to any team he goes to.
Prediction: Chicago Bears (Other Options: New York Giants, Washington Redskins)
John Fox has been pretty successful through his drafts both with the Panthers and the Broncos, leading both teams to the Super Bowl in year two. That’s pretty lofty goals as he heads in to year two with the Chicago Bears. Throughout his tenure, Fox has steered clear of Wide Receivers in the Round One of the draft. Don’t expect that to change much this year. Fox and his staff had full access to Cooper Kupp during his time in Mobile, as Fox coached the North Team. With Alshon Jeffery possibly on his way out, Kupp could be a homerun selection.
2.) Julien Davenport (Bucknell Offensive Tackle)
This outstanding Offensive Tackle is one of the few players to earn All Patriot League selections in all four of his years at Bucknell. He’s a durable player and started all 44 possible games over his career. He’s boasts true Offensive Tackle size at 6’6 and 310 pounds. He has an absolutely ridiculous wingspan at 87 1/2″. He handled himself well at the Senior Bowl, and did very well against more intense competition.
Prediction: Los Angeles Chargers (Other options: Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings)
Davenport showed off his pass protection ability throughout his college career and during his Senior Bowl bouts. The Chargers current offensive line gave up 36 sacks last year and even more pressures. Davenport could step in and help right out of the gate, and would only get better with more reps.
3.) Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova Defensive End)
If you haven’t heard of the freak athlete who played Defensive End at Villanova, you will soon. His speed is absolutely terrifying for a man as big as he is (6’7 and 280). He has an explosive burst and first step, yet remains a project. He’s been compared favorably to the New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul.
Prediction: Carolina Panthers (Other Options: Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals)
Rivera has put together a very strong defensive unit in Carolina, spearheaded by All-Pro Linebacker Luke Kuechly. Something that could boost their defense to the next level is a threat on the outside on pass rushing downs. Ron Rivera is a very good, defensive minded coach that could bring out the best in Kpassagnon.
4.) Lorenzo Jerome (St. Francis-PA Safety)
Jerome certainly opened some eyes throughout the All-Star game process, notching five takeaways between the NFLPA Bowl and the Senior Bowl. He has a knack for the football and the wheels to get there in a hurry. He is the all time career interception leader at St. Francis with 18.
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts (Other Options: Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints)
The Colts can definitely use some help on the defensive side of the ball, and that could definitely include beefing up the secondary. Lorenzo Jerome would be a great match here, and could use his turnover creating abilities to add another dimension to the Colts defense.
5.) Derek Rivers (Youngstown State Defensive End)
Teams that are looking for a steal as a pass rusher, look no further. Rivers has an explosive first step, and is twitchy enough to bend the edge consistently. He has shown the ability to convert speed to power and has a nice bull rush. He projects well as a 3-4 OLB, but may need to adjust to dropping into coverage.
Prediction: New York Jets (Other Options: Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams)
Though the Jets have a nasty interior pass rush, they have needed a true OLB in the last few drafts. Rivers could provide that the rush off the edge they are looking for. With that defensive line to eat up blockers, Rivers could flourish in the Jets scheme.
6.) Adam Shaheen (Ashland TE)
It is rare for a Division II player to declare for the NFL Draft in their Junior year, but Shaheen is a rare player. He has outstanding size for the position (6’6 and 277 pounds), and still shows the foot quickness to threaten defenses down the seam. He has outstanding hands and is very dangerous in the redzone. With a good showing at the Combine, Shaheen could have teams scrambling to draft him.
Prediction: Tennessee Titans (Other Options: Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers)
This may seem an odd pick with Delanie Walker fresh off of his second Pro Bowl appearance. But, Shaheen would immediately be a number one target in the Red Zone for a team that badly needs one. He could learn the nuances of the next level from Walker and be ready to take over when needed.
7.) Jordan Morgan (Kutztown Offensive Guard)
Morgan is a 320 mauler at Tackle for Kutztown, who quite literally ran the ball behind him. He projects as a Guard at the next level and had a solid showing at the Senior Bowl at that position. Jordan Morgan was recently awarded the Gene Upshaw Division II Offensive Lineman of the year award, after a ridiculously dominant season. He’s still developing as a football player, after only competing in one year of football in High School. He’s barely scratching the surface of his potential, and that is a scary thought.
Prediction: Cleveland Browns (Other Options: Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants)
Hue Jackson loves to pound the rock, and so does Jordan Morgan. The Browns could use Morgan at RG as an insurance policy, in case John Greco doesn’t come back 100% from his foot surgery. No matter who starts at Quarterback next year for the Browns, the need an upgraded Offensive Line.
8.) Keionta Davis (UT-Chattanooga Defensive End)
Davis has a non stop motor and a solid repertoire of pass rush moves. He had two great showings against top tier NFL prospect when the Mocs clashed against Florida State last year, and Alabama this year. He is versatile and can win with power or speed, and had great college production with 28 career sacks.
Prediction: San Francisco 49ers (Other Options: Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Robert Saleh took over as the 49ers defensive coordinator. He spent the last few years as a Linebackers Coach for the Jaguars, and before that spent time with the Seahawks. With Buckner and Armstead projecting to move to Defensive Tackle, Saleh could use some more pass rushing Defensive Ends that can hold the edge. Davis could be a good fit here.
9.) Javancy Jones (Jackson State Linebacker/Defensive End)
Javancy Jones is a versatile Linebacker that can play multiple spots, including all four spots in a 3-4. His best projected fit however is ILB (3-4) or SAM LB (4-3). He is very athletic and can shoot gaps quickly. He does a great job setting the edge as well. In 2016 at OLB, Jones posted 82 tackles (19.5 TFL) and four sacks. He is a fiery competitor that loves to pump up his teammates, and he is a proven play maker on the field.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers (Other Options: Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts)
There is a possibility that 10 year veteran, Lawrence Timmons could leave in Free Agency. If that ends up being the situation, Javancy Jones would be a perfect fit to pair with Ryan Shazier and gives you a dynamic duo inside. This would give Pittsburgh Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler a lot of flexibility in rush packages as well.
10.) Karter Schult (Northern Iowa Defensive End)
Schult has been a force of nature for UNI the last few years, and currently holds the Northern Iowa record for career tackles for a loss (56) and is second in career sacks (35.5). He saved the best for last however, put together a dominant season for the Panthers last season (17 sacks and 24 TFL). He an outstanding power rusher, and has a motor that runs hot all the time. Schult won’t be seen taking plays off, and many sacks and hits behind the line are solely due to this.
Prediction: Dallas Cowboys (Other Options: New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens)
Dallas needs a pass rusher to truly take the next step as a defensive unit. They need a player that can put pressure on opposing Quarterbacks. But, Schult has shown that he’s not just a situational pass rusher and can contribute in the run game as well.