Small school players don´t have the luxury of television exposure.
National sports publications don´t tend to follow their teams.
They are left to rely on coaches or fans with connections.
Or maybe a small school scout will find his way to their neck of the wood.
@CFD22 how can the NFL Combine look over TSU receiver Chris Rowland. Broke Jerry Rices records this year and won The Black College Player of the Year Award. Had a consistent terrific career as well and killer season this year. What does a small school player have to do?
— Dejuan Buford (@StFarmNashville) February 28, 2020
Big games against big teams would help.
But not everybody gets that chance.
Even when someone gets recognized, there are hurdles.
Small school players invited to the NFL scouting combine have to perform exceptionally well to have a shot.
Draft day coin flips always tilt toward players from the bigger programs.
Chris Ballard has some good ideas about the draft already for the Indianapolis Colts.
But Chris Ballard would do well to watch the film on these three small school standouts.
One of them could be the next Jerry Rice or Deacon Jones, both of whom attended Mississippi Valley State.
1. Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR (Liberty University)
There are plenty of excellent wide receivers in the 2020 NFL draft.
Few of them possess the catch radius and strength of Antonio Gandy-Golden.
He uses all of his 6´4″ 220-pound frame to snag passes above or away from defenders.
Looking for another Kenny Golladay – look no further than AGG (Antonio Gandy-Golden) pic.twitter.com/SILvOZJEkK
— Henry Saluman (@SalumanHenry) February 24, 2020
His 4.60 dash at the combine beat his projected time.
It is not elite speed, but Gandy-Golden still finished among the leaders in catches of 10+, 20+, and 50+ yards.
He is one of those receivers that is open even when he isn´t open.
Gandy-Golden uses his hands well to fight off defenders and has good sideline awareness.
Coaches can work on his route running and footwork.
But Gandy-Golden can go up and get anything thrown in his direction.
He could add a solid possession receiver and red-zone target to the Colts offense.
Some draft followers have Gandy-Golden gone in the third round, but in a crowded field, he could slip.
2. Alex Highsmith, Edge (NC- Charlotte)
Alex Highsmith was a walk-on player at Charlotte, arriving after their preseason program ended.
He won a full scholarship the following season after impressing coaches with his effort and smarts.
During his junior year, Highsmith broke out with 60 tackles, including 16.5 for a loss.
He also had 3 sacks and forced two fumbles.
Alex Highsmith runs 4th fastest 40 among defensive linemen https://t.co/Kdlsd19EaV
— Zach Aldridge (@wzaldridge) March 1, 2020
Then, Charlotte changed coaches and former Minnesota defensive coach Marcus West joined the staff.
Highsmith credits West with adding dimensions to his game that propelled him to third-team All America honors from AP and Pro Football Focus.
In just 13 games, the lineman racked up 75 tackles, 21.5 TFL, 14 sacks, and 8 quarterback hits.
At 6´4″ and 248 pounds, he ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at the combine.
He is quick off the line and mastered a handful of techniques to get around or go through defenders.
Although Charlotte is a small school, Highsmith had impressive performances against Clemson and Appalachian State this year.
The best game of his junior year came against Tennessee.
Highsmith projects as third-to-fourth round defensive end or outside linebacker.
3. Ladarius Hamilton, DL (North Texas)
It´s hard enough to stand out when you play for a small school.
It´s harder when you play for a small school that owns the longest NFL draft drought in Division I (2004).
Even harder when you are part of a three-man defensive line on a team that rarely blitzes.
Harder still when you face constant double- and triple-teams.
But when you face all that and still wind up with 8.5 sacks, you get invited to the NFL combine.
— SUSPENDED AGAIN (@FTBeard1) February 29, 2020
That´s how it went for North Texas´ Ladarius Hamilton.
Alternately using his speed and a patented chop club, Hamilton was the defense´s only bright spot.
He lined up inside and outside, offering some versatility to NFL teams.
How highly did North Texas think of Hamilton?
The school assigned Hamilton the jersey number of fellow North Texas alum Mean Joe Greene.
“Our Hall of Famer” is spoken of in reverent tones by Hamilton.
Greene was in the ear of Hamilton this season, following the young defender´s progress.
That can´t be a bad thing for a prospective Colts pass rusher.
Adam Trautman´s 40-yard-dash time in the NFL combine might drop his stock a little.
But the tight end from Dayton nailed the best score in the 3-cone drill.
At 6´5″ and 255 pounds, Trautman can block and catch with anyone.
Adam Trautman has a little George Kittle to his game (violent route runner, great blocker) that I think teams are gonna love
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 25, 2020
He could give Mo Allie-Cox a challenge for the second tight end spot.
Indianapolis has a full stable of running backs.
But Illinois States James Robinson might be worth a look.
We should be talking more about James Robinson (Illinois State).. should be in everyone's top 12 RBs
— Mike Margittai – Football Alliance (@DraftMaverick) February 29, 2020
Robinson followed up a 137-yard Shrine Game performance with a solid combine.
He won´t be the fastest guy on the field, but he can move piles and scoot through holes.
Chris Ballard is like every NFL GM.
He dreams of signing the UDFA or late-round future Hall of Famer.
One of these guys might be him.