The 2017 NFL Draft opens Thursday night and while you already know all the big names who will come off the board early, we thought we should get you acquainted with some other guys. Here’s our look at the 10 best small-school prospects in this year’s class. They’re listed in no particular order.
1. Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
Kupp left school with FCS career records in receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and receiving touchdowns (73). Poised to be a third-generation NFL player, Kupp has good size (6’2″ ad 204 pounds) and outstanding hands. He grabs the ball out of midair just when you think he can’t and tucks it away quickly. He’s a great route-runner and great at finding the ball and shielding defenders down the field. He has outstanding ball skills.
Don’t be fooled by his small-school status, Kupp can play. The downside is his lack of top-end speed and quickness. He ran a 4.62 40 at the combine, and showed average-at-best athleticism. Though his 4.08 20-yard shuttle was impressive.
Kupp looks like a solid possession receiver who can work in the slot or on the perimeter. He’s not going to drop balls and he’ll get open underneath because of his route-running ability. He can play now and will likely get better over time as he adjusts to the competition level.
2. Derek Rivers, OLB, Youngstown State
Rivers is a high-effort edge rusher who hits all the measureables but may need to add weight once he hits the NFL. At 6’4″ he has the frame to handle more bulk, but he measured in at 248 at the combine. Still, he’s plenty strong (30 reps) and with 4.61 speed, a 35-inch vertical and a 6.94-second three cone drill, there’s plenty of athleticism there.
He was a third-team FCS All-American as a senior after racking up 58 tackles, 19.5 for loss and 14 sacks. Rivers is an outstanding tackler who almost never misses his target and is great at shedding blocks in traffic and getting to the ball-carrier. He can be a true three-down linebacker, as he holds up well against the run and can chase plays down from behind.
The only thing holding Rivers back will be adjusting to the size, strength and length of the linemen he’ll be facing in the NFL. That will take time, but he should be a solid option for a team willing to be patient.
3. Jessamen Dunker, OT, Tennessee State
A top 100 recruit out of high school, Dunker transferred out of Florida after one year following an arrest for third degree grand theft. He went to Tennessee State, kept his nose clean and showed why he had been a prized recruit. A four-year starter at both guard and left tackle, he has solid size (6’4″ and 318 pounds) and athleticism and could wind up being the best tackle in this class long term. He was an FCS All-American as a senior and was All-Ohio Valley Conference in his final two years at TSU.
Dunker tested well at the combine, with a 4.98 40 and had a 1.80 10-yard split. He needs to get stronger after just 23 reps, but with good coaching and an NFL weight program, that shouldn’t be an issue. He’s still raw and needs a lot of work but, again, the tools are all there.
Teams have to decide if he’s worth the character risk after his issues at Florida. If he is, he could be the kind of guy who sits for a year and develops, then bursts onto the scene. The talent, size and raw ability is there.
4. Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga
Davis is a heavy defensive end at 6’3″ and 271 pounds and could fit at end in a 4-3, and with some work could also jump to OLB in a 3-4. He was a two-time FCS All-American and racked up 24 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons at Chattanooga. Was the team’s captain as a senior and boasts intangibles as a leader.
While he didn’t work out at the combine, he ran a 4.67 40 at his pro day, while also throwing up 30 bench reps and posting a 37-inch vertical. That puts him among rare peers athletically. As with most of his peers on this list, he’ll need some added development because of the level of coaching and competition he’s seen. Still, it’s easy to like what he brings to the table.
Davis looks like a fringe Day 2 prospect who can immediately add solid depth off the edge and eventually develop into a starter in the right situation.
5. Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland
Shaheen went to D-II Pittsburgh-Johnstown to play basketball out of high school before transferring to Ashland for football after one season. It was a good move. Shaheen is enormous, checking in at 6’6″ and 278 pounds. For his size, he’s a ridiculous athlete who can split out wide and hold his own or play like a traditional tight end. While he doesn’t have electric speed (4.79 40), he has all-around skills and the strength (24 reps) to not only be a solid blocker, but get himself open underneath.
He’s a two-time All-American who absolutely dominated the D-II level thanks to a huge catch radius, and his aggressive pass-catching style. He will benefit from NFL-level coaching as he refines the way he plays the game, but this is a guy who has so much raw ability as a receiver that, given time, he should make an impact.
Shaheen is the typical basketball player-turned tight end, in that he’s a great athlete who has a unique style that must be refined. But his hands, strength and effort should make him a great value pick.