Philadelphia Eagles News

Small-School Defensive Prospects To Watch

Of course, Villanova's Brian Westbrook stands out as the shining jewel, but he's certainly not the only one who shed the small-school label. Looking at the roster right now, there's guard Todd Herremans (Saginaw Valley State), center Jamaal Jackson (Delaware State) and linebacker Akeem Jordan (James Madison) who have all started in the NFL. Last year, the Eagles used a fourth-round pick on tight end Clay Harbor from Missouri State and he looks like he's on his way to being a contributor to this offense next season.

Who are some of these under-the-radar college players who could make an impact at the next level? Draft Digest highlighted one at each position and unveiled a top 10 overall list of the small-school players. Here are the defensive players.

Defensive End - Courtney Harris, North Alabama

"Harris was good enough as a senior that he was recruited by Florida, LSU, Georgia and Ohio State before he decided to attend the University of Miami. He spent a couple of years at UM before transferring to North Alabama when he didn't get medical clearance after sustaining shoulder and Achilles tendon injuries."

Draft Digest's Top 10 Non-BCS Players

1. OL Ben Ijalana, Villanova
2. DT Kendrick Ellis, Hampton
3. G Will Rackley, Lehigh
4. RB Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington
5. QB Pat Devlin, Delaware
6. WR Cecil Shorts III, Mount Union
7. WR Edmund Gates, Abilene Christian
8. G David Arkin, Missouri State
9. DT Cedric Thornton, Southern Arkansas
10. CB Cortez Allen, The Citadel

Harris had 10 sacks and forced four fumbles as a senior. While he wasn't invited to the Scouting Combine, his proven pass-rush ability is going to be too good for at least one team to pass up.

Defensive Tackle - Cedric Thornton, Southern Arkansas

"Cedric Thornton arrived at Southern Arkansas in 2006 as a 210-pound inside linebacker and left as a dominating 300-pound defensive tackle. Thornton was particularly impressive as a junior when he led the team with 80 tackles, including 23 for loss and 8.5 sacks."

Expect Thornton to be a fourth-round selection, according to Draft Digest.

Outside Linebacker - D.J. Smith, Appalachian State

"Until D.J. Smith came around, the only other defender to record 500 career tackles for Appalachian State was Dexter Coakley, who went on to make three Pro Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys. Now, Smith isn't quite in Coakley's league as an NFL prospect, but he has some appeal nonetheless, starting with his quickness and his obvious knack for finding the ball."

At 6-1, 230 pounds, Smith should be either a fourth or fifth-round pick, according to Draft Digest.

Middle Linebacker - Tressor Baptiste, Texas A&M-Kingsville

Yes, this is defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's alma mater. Baptiste grew up as a soccer fan and didn't play football until high school. He began his college career at Hofstra and only played at Kingsville for one season recording 66 tackles, earning third-team AP Little All-American honors. The 6-0, 240-pound Baptiste isn't expected to be selected, if at all, until the seventh round, per Draft Digest.

Cornerback - Justin Rogers, Richmond

An explosive kickoff return specialist, Rogers had seven interceptions in his first year as a starting cornerback. The 5-11, 180-pound Rogers ran a 4.5 in the 40 at the Scouting Combine and projects, according to Draft Digest, as a mid-to-late-round pick.

Safety - Mark LeGree, Appalachian State

"One of the most decorated players in FCS history, LeGree earned AP All-American honors for the third consecutive season in 2010. A tremendous ball hawk, LeGree had five interceptions last fall - and that actually was his lowest total since he became a starter in 2008. He had a school-record 10 picks in 2008, followed by seven the next season."

The fact that he played safety in college and is not converting from the cornerback position at the next level should accelerate his learning curve and make him a potential mid-round selection.

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