While most people know about the top prospects from the Power 5 schools and even those from the Group of five, there is still many out there that haven’t hard of guys from the FCS level or even Division II and III. This is your chance to get to know these Top Small School Prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft which could likely be drafted to your favorite teams and go on to make the starting lineup or even carve out a key role. Here is a look at the 8 best small school prospects that I’ve scouted so far this draft season!
Top Small School Prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft
Nathan Shepherd Fort Hays State
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) February 6, 2018
When watching players from non FBS schools I usually look at the prospects size and if they’re play clearly stands out among the rest of the players on the field. Fort Hays State DT Nathan Shepherd fits both of those tests immediately coming in at 6’4 310lbs and watching any of his games you can see him physically manhandling interior offensive lineman. Shepherd doesn’t just dominant with his sheer power but he uses his hands very well to create leverage to put offensive lineman on skates but also uses a strong club while pass rushing. Shepherd was also a standout in his one practice at the Senior Bowl before breaking his hands and having to sit out the rest of the weeks action. What helps Shepherd is that he can play either the 3 technique or 1 technique providing a strong run defender with good pass rushing upside. Shepherd isn’t limited to a 4-3 or 3-4 team because he can be moved around the line so much. With his film work, size and limited performance at the Senior Bowl all but solidifies himself as a day two pick.
Darius Jackson DE Jacksonville State
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) September 1, 2017
You don’t hear much buzz around Darius Jackson and a big part of that may because he wasn’t at the Shrine Game or Senior Bowl. Jackson was the NFLPA game but for somebody that was back to back Ohio Valley Defensive Player it’s a bit surprising he didn’t get the call to the two bigger games. Jackson is an aggressive end who uses his quickness and heavy hands to beat offensive tackles and make plays in the backfield. Having at least 19 tackles for loss in the past three seasons illustrates how much of a playmaker he can be. At only 6’2 243lbs Jackson will likely be viewed as a 3-4 OLB or maybe a SLB in some 4-3 defenses. Either way testing well at the combine could do wonders for him as he is a top 75 player in this class.
Dallas Goedert TE South Dakota State
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) June 25, 2017
The 2018 tight end class lacks the high end players like we saw in OJ Howard, David Njoku and Evan Engram from the 2017 group, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent. Dallas Goedert is one of the handful of prospects that should go somewhere in the first 75 picks and end up being a high end starter in the league. Goedert isn’t going to wow you with his athletic traits but he has the ability to win contested catches and find openings in coverage. Goedert has solid size at 6’4 260lbs that he can use to shield off defenders but also make blocks in the run game. He’s gotten some Travis Kelce comparisons and it’s still early for that, but Goedert may end up being the best tight end in this class.
Alex Cappa OT Humbolt State
If you like your offensive lineman to bee big and nasty, then you are going to love Alex Cappa. At 6’6 299lbs Cappa has the size but lacks the foot quickness and length that teams desire out of tackles. This means teams will likely look at him inside at guard or center which suites his skill set better. Cappa is a road grader of a run blocker using good pad level and power to drive defenders off the ball while using his upper body strength to steer and throw defenders to the ground. Cappa uses his strong upper body well in the run game to deliver a strong punch while keeping his hands inside to grab and control defenders. A strong showing at the Senior Bowl helped and he looks to be a mid round selection and an eventual starter.
Darius Leonard LB South Carolina State
Leonard is another prospect that when you watch him play against other FCS schools he looks like he’s on a whole other level. A smooth athlete, Leonard flows easily to the ball and has the ability to make plays sideline to sideline. He isn’t going to blow you away with elite speed or quickness but he is always around the ball. If there is one thing that may raise some concern is he isn’t the most aggressive or physical player which can cause him to miss tackles and not finish plays. Either way, Leonard is still a raw talent that has starter upside and could be viewed as a poor man’s Telvin Smith.
Kyle Lauletta QB Richmond
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) January 27, 2018
Every year there is a search for the next sleeper quarterback that goes in the middle rounds and then develops into a Jimmy Garoppolo or Kirk Cousins. For a lot of analysts that guy is Kyle Lauletta. Lauletta thrives in the short to intermediate throws showcasing good accuracy with a tight spiral. The further down the field he has to throw is where he’ll run into some issues. Lauletta doesn’t have a strong enough arm to really drive the ball and it will affect his accuracy having to time his throws. What complicates the matter is Lauletta throws with a stiff front leg which will cause the ball to sail on deeper throws. If Lauletta can continue to improve his timing and throw with good anticipation he could develop into a starter in the league. But at this point he is a high end developmental prospect.
Michael Joseph CB Dubuque
Division III prospects don’t get a lot of pre-draft buzz but when you can dominate that level of competition and then go on to the Senior Bowl and hold your own, then it’s no surprise that Michael Joseph may be the next D3 player to be drafted since Ali Marpet. Joseph can line up in press and turn and run with receivers down the field while also having fluid hips to change direction quickly in off man or zone coverage. Joseph was such a better athlete than anybody else on the field, so there will be concerns about his ability to translate to the NFL. But if he’s given time he should be able to develop into a starter down the road while also being a core special teams player. A deeper cornerback class will hurt Joseph a bit, but he should go somewhere in the 3rd to 5th round area.
Davonte Dade DE Portland State
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) September 4, 2017
Dade is another prospect that isn’t getting a lot of attention but could be a solid developmental pick on day three. A lean edge defender uses his quickness and acceleration to beat offensive tackles and make plays in the backfield. Against the pass Dade has shown the ability to get a solid burst off the line and then use his flexibility to turn the corner and attack the quarterback. Dade can struggle to set the edge with power but uses his quickness and fast hands to get off blocks to get after the running back. There is upside with Dade with the hope that NFL coaching can really get him to develop, but at this point he’s still a late round flyer.