By the time April comes around, every football fan interested in the NFL Draft will be able to name off dozens of prospects from big time programs that they believe their favorite team should draft. There’s no doubt that a majority of professional talent is found in Power 5 conferences, but that doesn’t mean high-quality prospects cannot be unearthed elsewhere. Over the past decade, a plethora of small school prospects have taken the NFL by storm and proved that when it comes to scouting, you must leave no stone unturned. This installment of Future Broncos is dedicated to mentioning some of the best small school prospects eligible in this year’s draft that you should keep note of throughout the entire draft process.
Dallas Goedert, Tight End — South Dakota State
As a North Dakota State alumnus, it’s hard to talk positively about any prospect that comes from “that other State school”, but I have to give credit where it’s due. If you are a diehard Denver Broncos fan who is hoping John Elway can find a solution to the franchise’s revolving door at the tight end position, there is a big-time prospect from the the prairies of South Dakota who should be of interest to you.
Overlooked by most all big collegiate programs in the area, Dallas Goedert signed on with the local Football Championship Subdivision South Dakota State five years ago and hasn’t looked back since. In his career with the Jackrabbits, Goedert has chalked up eye-popping numbers, reeling in 186 receptions for 2,843 yards and 19 touchdowns — making him one of the most feared weapons in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. His premier receiving ability has earned him numerous accolades, including back-to-back FCS All-American honors.
At 6’5 and 260 pounds, Goedert possess the size scouts covet and the position and will undoubtedly be a match-up nightmare upon entering the big leagues. Inline, split outside and even coming out of the backfield, he is a do-it-all prospect who will have defensive coordinators staying up all night trying to figure out ways to stop him. Some may knock the level of competition he is playing at, but I can attest that the MVFC is the premier conference in the FCS and he has risen to the occasion when the Jackrabbits have played FBS level schools. He has earned an invite to this year’s Senior Bowl with a chance to show he has what it takes to be a difference maker on Sundays and prove he can hang with the best prospects college football has to offer.
Teams and scouts across the nation already know who this kid is, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he sneaks into the late first-round of the draft he has a great Senior Bowl and workout at the NFL Combine. If the Broncos decide to snag a quarterback with their first pick in the draft, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to use their second selection on a prospect like Goedert. After all, a tight end is a young quarterback’s best friend and a lethal duo is just what the Broncos need to help rejuvenate their horrific offense.
(P.S., Also keep your eye on his teammate, wide receiver Jake Wieneke, who definitely has the ability to play in the NFL and at the very least should be a good possession receiver and redzone target.)
Brandon Parker, Offensive Tackle — North Carolina A&T
Heading into my evaluations of this year’s offensive tackle class, I was excited about the growth potential of the top guys at the position. Unfortunately, prospects such as Connor Williams, Mike McGlinchey and Trey Adams had underwhelming years and didn’t live up to the hype they received before this collegiate year of football kicked off. It’ still not a bad class overall when you factor in names like Orlando Brown, Chukwuma Okorafor and Martinas Rankin, but if you are looking for a small school sleeper who will rise up draft boards come April, MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year Brandon Parker of North Carolina A&T could be your guy.
A mountain of a man at 6’7 and 310 pounds, Parker has the size and length scouts dream about when assessing pocket protectors. If you aren’t familiar with anyone from North Carolina A&T, I can tell you after evaluating several games that he is one of the primary reasons former teammate and current Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen had such success in college. You can’t help but notice his dominance as a run blocker when you put on his tape from last season and this year. It’s very rare to see a big man move the way he does, but he definitely has solid ability getting to the second-level as a run blocker.
By no means is Parker a day one plug-and-play starter at tackle. He will need a year to get better with his technique and get acclimated to the speed of the NFL, but will have his chance to go up against some of the better prospects in college football, as he too received an invitation to this year’s Senior Bowl. As of right now, Parker looks like an early Day 3 prospect with the chance to move up boards with a good showing in the draft process. I’m not completely sold on his ability to man down the blindside in the NFL and feel a move to the right side may be in the cards for him, but he definitely has the physical traits and mindset to become a quality NFL player.
I expect the Broncos to use one of their top three picks on a tackle to pair with Garett Bolles. However, if the team misses out on one of the higher graded players on their board and that doesn’t happen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go after Parker early in the fourth round if available. They need someone opposite of Bolles and I feel that Parker at right tackle, with Ronald Leary right next to him at right guard would help boost the Broncos’ offensive line and rushing attack to the next level.
P.J. Hall, Defensive Lineman — Sam Houston State
The Denver Broncos have really turned things around on the defensive line this year. Ranked as one of the worst units against the run just a season ago, they have become one of the best in the NFL at stopping opposing rushing attacks. Long-time veteran and nose tackle Domata Peko is a big reason for that, but outside of him there aren’t many options long-term and the team could use more reinforcements in the defensive trenches for the future.
Primarily playing defensive end for Sam Houston State, defensive star P.J. Hall has arguably been one of the most productive defenders in college football the past four seasons. Literally unblockable and unstoppable most games, Hall has accumulated some of the most gaudy statistics I’ve ever seen from a trench player. In 53 career games, he has amassed 264 tackles, 82 tackles for loss and 42 sacks. He also is a standout special teams player who has blocked a ton of kicks over the course of his career and the football gods know we could use some help in that phase of the game.
At 6’1 and just a tad bit over 280 pounds, I don’t envision Hall being an every down starter in the league and he won’t be a fit for every team. In my eyes, he will likely make his way to the interior as a pro where he can get after the quarterback on passing downs and use his strength, quickness of the snap and athleticism to penetrate a single gap. That would be just fine here in the Mile High City. There is nothing wrong with finding quality role players who can help address needs.
One of the weaknesses on defense for the Broncos this year has been getting interior pressure consistently. Selecting a player like Hall would definitely help improve that for the long-term and with DeMarcus Walker moving back to the defensive line, it would give Denver two young prospects who made their living getting after quarterbacks and taking them down with ease in college. What’s not to like about that?
Other small school prospects worth noting: Darius Leonard, LB - South Carolina Sate - Davontae Harris, Illinois State - Marcus Davenport, DE - Texas (San Antonio) - Cole Reyes, S - North Dakota - Skyler Phillips, OG - Idaho State - Nick DeLuca, LB - North Dakota State, Tre Dempsey, DB - North Dakota State
As always, thank you for reading and feel free to talk about some of your favorite small school prospects in the comments section.