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Future Broncos: Top small-school prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft

It’s not just the FBS that pumps out quality talent for the NFL Draft. Over the past few years, there has been an uptick in high-level prospects from the FCS and beyond who have made an impact in the NFL. Here are some of the top small-school prospects to keep an eye on in next year’s draft.

NCAA Football: DI Football Championship Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When you think about the NFL Draft, having a keen focus on the big-time players from the nation’s most prestigious programs at the FBS level is undoubtedly a priority. After all, that is predominantly where the premier talent is year in and year out. For decades, universities such as Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Southern California and Lousiana State, etc. have been a pipeline for young prospects eager to chase their childhood dreams of playing in the National Football League.

But over the past several years, there has been a significant uptick in prospects drafted from smaller schools including the FCS, Division II and beyond. It’s not often that a small-school quarterback gets selected in the first round of a draft, but Carson Wentz and Joe Flacco are notable exceptions, both of whom experienced meteoric rises up draft boards in their respective draft years and have shown they are perfectly capable of being franchise signal callers at football’s biggest state.

In recent memory, FCS-level players such as Cooper Kupp, Javon Hargrave, Tarik Cohen, James Develin and Kyle Juszczyk have all become key players for their respective teams and demonstrated big-time potential. Truth be told, the chances of finding an All-Pro or Pro-Bowl player from the small-school ranks is far less significant than compared to larger programs. However, with a little diligence and nose-to-the-grindstone scouting — it’s certainly possible for teams to unearth the next, Adam Vinatieri, London Fletcher, Jared Allen, Robert Mathis or Tony Romo.

In the past three years, 13 players have been selected in the top three rounds from the FCS level. And with each year that passes, more of these prospects earn their way to post-season All-Star games that allow them to showcase their talent against higher regarded talent from the top-tier schools. With that in mind, here are several small-school prospects to keep your eye on over the course of the college football season.

Bruce Anderson, RB — North Dakota State University

As a Bison alumni I pay extremely close attention to the FCS, in particular the Missouri Valley Football Conference. In my heart of hearts, I truly believe it arguably holds more talent and competitiveness than some of the lower-rung FBS conferences.

Over the past decade, the frozen tundra of Fargo has produced a handful of early round selections and/or starters in NFL starters including the aforementioned Wentz, Joe Haeg, Kyle Emanuel, Marcus Williams and current Denver Broncos back-up offensive lineman Billy Turner. Taking a stroll down memory lane, heralded Bison defenders Joe Mays and Tyrone Braxton also had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in the Mile High City after impressive collegiate careers.

With the Bison stringing together six championships in the past seven years, NFL scouts and teams have made Fargo a frequent destination on their scouting trips. And for those who have been in attendance the past few seasons, they know that versatile weapon Bruce Anderson has the talent to be a quality contributor at the next level.

As a true freshman in 2015, Anderson saw action in 15 games and had 90 rushes for 503 yards and two touchdowns. But his biggest impact was on special teams, where he had two kick-off return scores and averaged 36.5 yards per return. He experienced a sophomore slump, but that’s more due to the wealth of talent the Bison had at the position, but came back with a vengeance in 2017. As a junior, Anderson earned second-team FCS All-American and All-MVFC honors after rushing for 1,216 yards and 12 touchdowns. Additionally, he reeled in 8 passes for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. If you’re interested in a highlight tape of his, NFL Draft Diamonds has a great cut-up to view here.

Speed, vision and elusiveness are all top-traits for the former Florida prep star. The Bison have a program where it is almost a virtual certainty you will be red-shirted your first year, but Anderson’s skills were too good to be stashed away for a season. He is a dynamic prospect who can make an impact offensively as a runner and receiver, and would provide any franchise with a top-caliber returner on special teams. Backs who have incredible production like Anderson have been known to slide on draft day, but he is a prospect deserving of Day 3 consideration because of his leadership, championship pedigree and overall skill set.

Keelan Doss, WR - University of California Davis

There aren’t a whole lot of prospects who find their way to the NFL out of the University of California Davis, but Keelan Doss is going to be one of them. Not only that, he will be drafted a lot higher than you would imagine — and here is why.

Over the past two years, Davis has established himself as a threat with a penchant for big-time touchdowns and is coming off a junior campaign where he snagged 115 receptions for 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns. In some cases, it doesn’t matter where you play, because that type of production will most certainly get you noticed and scouts are well aware of the prominent Aggie — and it already appears that he will have an inside route to participating in this year’s Senior Bowl to prove he can go up against the best the coming draft process has to offer.

At 6’3 and 210 pounds, the All-American Doss possesses the size to be a big-time weapon at the next level. What is most impressive to me is how much polish he has to his craft for a small-school prospect. He has a knack for adjusting to poorly thrown balls, is a quality route runner and rarely drops a pass. Perhaps most importantly, he knows how to throw himself open and is an ultimate chain mover who can be relied upon consistently to get a key first down.

Like Anderson, Doss’ value would be on the third day of the draft, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him sneak into the compensatory selection part of Day 2 if he impresses in the post-season draft process. This weekend he will have the chance to go up against the University of Stanford and showcase his talents against a well-respected program. If he performs well, expect his draft stock to get a significant boost.

Other Prospects to Consider

Easton Stick, QB — North Dakota State University

Devin Singletary, RB — Florida Atlantic

Rob Rolle, FS — Villanova

Marcus Marshall, RB — James Madison

Josh Buss, LB — Montana

Randy Robinson — Jacksonville State

Davion Davis, WR — Sam Houston State