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 I will list the offensive players and this afternoon I will turn the spotlight over to the defensive players.
Quarterback - Pat Devlin, Delaware
"The comparisons to Joe Flacco are inevitable. Both began at major programs (Flacco at Pittsburgh, Devlin at Penn State) before transferring to Delaware and leading the Blue Hens to a national title game. Additionally, both have great size and earned East Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors. But the reality is that Devlin isn't quite as good a prospect as Flacco was primarily because his arm isn't nearly as strong."
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
Draft Digest* ranked Devlin as the No. 9 quarterback available and should be drafted in either the fourth or fifth round.
Running Back - Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington
"Jones wasn't in the lineup when Eastern Washington won the FCS National Championship, but he was a major reason EWU got there in the first place. The Big Sky Conference co-Offensive MVP, Jones rushed for 1,742 yards, including a 230-yard performance against North Dakota in the quarterfinals. He broke a bone in his foot in that game, though, adding to a long list of college injuries."
Even though he is one of the fastest players available in the draft, Draft Digest doesn't think he will be selected until the third day.
Fullback - Bubba Bartlett, Carroll
"Carroll College, located in Montana, won its sixth NAIA title last season, and Bartlett was a major contributor as he earned first-team All-American honors as a tight end. But the 6-1, 245-pound Bartlett, who caught a team-high five passes in the team's victory in the national title game, played fullback in the NFLPA Texas vs. the Nation all-star game and that's where he'll try to make a living in the NFL."
There were only two fullbacks drafted last year, so it's unlikely that Bartlett will be drafted. However, the seventh round will be interesting to watch this year. Without a new labor agreement, undrafted free agents will not be able to sign with a team following the draft so teams might make more of a push to get those types of players in the final round. Don't forget also that Leonard Weaver was a tight end at Carson-Newman before becoming an All-Pro fullback.
Wide Receiver - Cecil Shorts III, Mount Union
"Mount Union is a powerhouse in Division III, and Shorts certainly has played his part in the last three years. Shorts had his third consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2010 and he earned AP Little All-American first-team honors after adding two touchdowns on punt returns and another on a kickoff return."
Shorts was also an All-American sprinter, although he ran a modest 4.59 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. The 6-0, 205-pound Shorts is expected to be a mid-round pick, according to Draft Digest.
Tight End - Schuylar Oordt, Northern Iowa
"Schuylar Oordt was not a highly decorated college player - he only earned all-conference honorable mention honors as a senior - but he's got the kind of attributes that will make him intriguing to NFL teams. Oordt has great height at about 6-6, and he's among the fastest tight ends available in this year's draft. Northern Iowa even used him regularly on deep routes."
The Eagles nabbed a Northern Iowa player last year in rookie free agent offensive tackle Austin Howard. Certainly, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo saw Oordt play when his son, Greg, played at Iowa. Oordt also ran the fourth-fastest 40-yard dash time at the Combine.
Offensive Tackle - Mike Person, Montana State
"Person has come a long way since he was pushed around in a game against Texas A&M as a 245-pound freshman. Now close to 300 pounds, Person is coming off a senior season where he did not allow a single sack while lining up at left tackle for the first time."
Person was a 2010 All-American selection and the team captain started every game he played at Montana State.
Guard - Ben Ijalana, Villanova
"A tackle at the FCS college level, Ijalana projects inside to guard for the NFL, and has drawn comparisons to fellow Colonial Athletic Association alum Vladimir Ducasse. With long arms and powerful hands, the former wrestler should be able to handle bigger interior defenders."
Draft Digest ranks Ijalana as the third-best guard prospect available. However, there are quite a few experts who believe the 6-4, 315-pound Ijalana - who played through a double hernia last season - can play tackle in the NFL. He is expected to be selected on the draft's second day.
Center - Brandon Fusco, Slippery Rock
"Highly decorated Division II lineman will need to make a bigger jump to NFL competition. He's a tenacious blocker who shoots his hands well and finishes defenders. Fusco must show that he can handle the bull rush of bigger and stronger interior defenders."
The 6-4, 315-pound Fusco is ranked fourth among centers by Draft Digest and should be a third-day pick.