Hands up, who had Baker Mayfield at number 1 then? Yeah alright, I’m sure you did! But seriously, the draft gets better every year doesn’t it? Over the next few days we’re going to breaking down it down by division, and you can read our NFC East take on the website already. But, to start with I thought I’d have some fun with a good old delve into the small school prospects that got drafted in the later rounds.
What do Big Ben, DeAngelo Williams and Jerry Rice all have in common? Not a lot, you say? Well they all played for so called ‘small schools’ before making it to the big time. Each and every year these players crop up, Cooper Kupp comes to mind from the 2017 intake, and some of them make a big impact.
With that in mind, I’m going to have a look at a few players who could make the grade in 2018 despite not being ESPN regulars during their college career. I’ve decided to skip over new Eagles star, Dallas Goedert, because he was a solid tip for one of the first TEs out the hat and you’ve almost certainly read enough on him already.
Kyle Lauletta – QB – Richmond
College Passing : 68% – 10,465 yards, 73 TDs, 35 INTs
College Rushing: 186 yards – 12 TDs
Pick: 108 (4th Round) – New York Giants
Senior Bowl MVP, Kyle Lauletta is the 2018 rookie who could be that guy everyone claims to have rated for years. In reality, 99% of us hadn’t heard of him until a few months ago.
The 6ft 3 signal caller began his career at Downingtown High School before progressing to be the starter for the Richmond Spiders for 3 of his 4 years in Virginia. His accuracy and record setting yardage over that span had bumped him up as high as a second round pick in some mocks, but in the end he fell into the pocket of the Giants in the fourth.
Watching even five minutes of Lauletta’s tape gives you great insight into his strengths, his short accuracy to the slant and ability to squeeze the ball into tight gaps immediately stick out along with his ability to extend the play. In the Senior Bowl he threw for 198 yards and 3 TDs, including a 75 yard dime to D.J Chark which has led some to speculate that he was the steal of the draft.
All this sounds great doesn’t it? Well there is a reason he wasn’t taken in the first with Mayfield and co. Where Lauletta excels around the line of scrimmage, there are some serious concerns about his arm strength, occasionally the former Spiders star will increase the trajectory on his throws to make up for this – effectively allowing opposition Safeties to set up shop and make a play. With Eli Manning locked is as the Giants starter (at least until that opening day pasting they’ll take at the hands of Dallas) we’ll have to wait to see if Dave Gettleman has unearthed his future replacement.
Roc Thomas – RB – Jacksonville State
College Rushing: 2322 yards – 5.9yrd/rush – 23 TDs
College Receiving: 54 receptions – 644 yards – 2 TDs
Pick: UDFA – Minnesota Vikings
One of the most sought after Running Backs in 2014, Thomas began his college career at the same time as Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook who have already made a splash on the big stage. Thomas was touted for big things at Auburn but after starting just two games as a freshman, an injury hit 2015 saw him drop down the pecking order before making the switch to Jacksonville State.
At Jacksonville; the Alabama native got back on track and in his final year went for 1,078 yards and 13 TDs, showcasing his downhill speed in the process. The Vikings have obviously done their homework, and may even have seen shades of Adrian Peterson whilst watching the Gamecocks match-up with Chattanooga last season, in which way Thomas slalomed through a series of tackles for a 76 yard score!
It’s clear that there is a lot of upside to Thomas’ game, upside that saw him quickly snapped up by Minnesota. But, and it’s a big but, there are some questions that need answering if he’s going to make it in the league for more than a couple of seasons. Firstly, there’s a question around consistency. Thomas has a clear desire to turn every play into something for the YouTube masses to enjoy – all too often that leads to delayed decision making or a run straight into a tackle. There’s also an issue with his passing contribution, in an NFL game that needs backs to be effective route runners, Thomas has yet to show he can add that to his game.
If he can work on these elements over the summer then there’s no reason why we won’t see him join teammate Cook and Fournette on Sunday Night Football soon.
Daurice Fountain – WR – Northern Iowa
Receiving: 2077 yards – 13.8 yrd/rec – 23 TDs
Pick: 159 (5th Round) – Indianapolis Colts
Twitter was alight with mentions of Fountain in the weeks before the draft, the vast majority with positive takes, some questioning the decision not to invite him to the combine. Northern Iowa’s top aerial threat in 2017 is ready for the chance to burst into the NFL.
Comparing himself to DeAndre Hopkins in playing style, Fountain was a state champion hurdler and long jumper in high school before moving to play for the aptly named Athletics in 2014. Since then he hasn’t looked back, earning first-team All Missouri Valley Football Conference honours as a senior last year and now taking up residence in the Colts locker room.
Fountain is explosive from the line, creating separation against opposition corners which will have had NFL scouts nodding in appreciation all season long. He’s also got tremendous climbing ability when competing for the deep ball and the ability to adjust in mid air when needed, anyone needing evidence of this can check out his highlight reel from UNI’s game against North Dakota State last season (43 yards, 2 TDs).
However, it is fair to say that Fountain is yet to be tested against NFL calibre corners in the Missouri Valley conference, and even there he was prone to disappearing (@ Missouri State Bears, 3 receptions for 7 yards). There are also questions about his ability to track the deep ball, often relying on that ability to adjust in mid air as he picks the ball up far too late.
A good pro-day saw him moving up to the fifth round and we all know some of the best WRs have come from this territory before… is he good enough to take some weight off TY Hilton’s shoulders? I’ll certainly be watching carefully in September!
So there you go, 3 small school prospects to look out for in 2018– want to highlight any others? Leave us a comment or let us know at @FantasyPond
By Andy Moore – @AJMoore21