Small schools. Small budgets. Small press coverage. Football players from Division II, III, NAIA and even to a lesser extent, FCS teams, face an uphill battle when it comes to the NFL scouting and evaluation process.
The elements working against these players include a lack of sophistication in coaching and schemes, below NFL-standard weight and conditions programs and an absence of week-to-week competition, But the old adage of “if you have talent, scouts will find you”, is truer today more than ever.
It has been almost 30 years since the NCAA limited Division I schools to 85 scholarships, this was the final reduction down from previous a pre- 1978 high of 105. These downward moves created the opportunity for a lot of young talent to infiltrate smaller programs.
Technology has shortened the time it takes to identify and do initial research on prospective player. Analytics are now the hottest trend and even the smallest schools have computer programs that can be applied to their sports programs. Although most NFL scouting departments have reps in every geographical region of the U.S., there is an army of scouting bureaus, birddogs, and websites that cover even the most distant football outpost.
Les Snead and the Los Angeles Rams have not been shy about harvesting small schools for talent. Last season the Rams drafted cornerback Robert Rochell out of Central Arkansas and dipped into the DII ranks for Concordia-St.Paul edge Chris Garrett. Other recent draftees came from Stephen F. Austin, Maine, South Alabama, and Eastern Washington.
The Rams should consider these three small school prospects:
WR Dareke Young- Lenior Rhyne 6’ 2” 223 lbs.
An intriguing combination of plus traits. Young has speed, size, length, and athleticism. He was on the 2021 Feldman’s Freaks list of gifted athletes, but is a raw late round/ UDFA prospect. Starting his college career in a run-heavy Wing T offensive scheme, Young actually had more rushing attempts than pass receptions in his school days.
With the football in his hands, Young moves like a tailback. He shows patience and vision, setting up blocks and can hit second gear. His good contact balance allows him to stay upright and break tackles, after acceleration he makes cuts at speed.
Young ran simple pass patterns at Lenior-Rhyne and will need a lot of work to upgrade his route tree. By the same token, the school’s running scheme made him a willing and excellent blocker, both down field and near the line of scrimmage. He catches with his hands, adjusts well to errant throws and has long speed.
Many draft long shots earn their way via special teams and Young may be no different. Over his school days, he played on every coverage and return unit. He did the same in the 2022 East-West Shrine game.
Although his physical makeup is cut like DK Metcalfe in Seattle or Marquise Brown in Tennessee, it’s a long shot that Dareke Young could become similar production. But the Rams might want to look at Young as a low risk/high reward possibility. He could fit into the same mold as LA’s 7th round pick from last year, edge Chris Garrett. Both are highly athletic Division II developmental prospects.
’ ‼️@ShrineBowl— Lenoir-Rhyne Football (@LRBearsFootball) February 3, 2022
Tune into @nflnetwork tonight at 8pm ET to watch @DarekeYoung4 represent Bear Nation in America’s longest-running college all-star game.#ShrineBowl x #GOBEARS pic.twitter.com/1axoDxQQhj
CB Joshua Williams- Fayetteville State 6’ 2” 193 lbs.
Williams was an imposing figure in college. A true lockdown cornerback whose combination of wingspan, burst, and long speed is of NFL grade. His athleticism and fearless tackling abilities make him a versatile secondary piece that could easily transition to safety at the next level.
Finding a big corner who understands both zone and man coverages in the mid draft rounds is a steal. Some of his knowledge may stem from the fact that he didn't play defense in high school, he was a wide receiver. Williams has a fast back pedal and easily flips his hips to turn and run. Many draft evaluators like his potential in press/man coverage and he is very sticky, but when I watch his film, I like his potential in zone. He keeps his eyes in the backfield, reacts to sudden breaks and has very good ball skills.
As a tackler, he breaks down with good form and drives his shoulder through the runner. He is just as willing to bang with running backs and tight ends as he is with receivers. He has quick recognition on bubble screens and swing passes, exploding to the point of attack.
The combination of opposing teams staying away from his side of the field and a lack of film versus equal competition make Williams a true sleeper. The 2022 draft cornerback class is deep, but as many as 15 cornerbacks could be off the board by the Rams first choice. This fluid, former high school track star who has shown plus traits in coverage and tackling would be a nice addition in the 5th round. Oh yea, did I mention he played on special teams, as well.
Not a single HBCU player was drafted last year but that won’t happen again in April. Fayetteville State CB Josh Williams (6024v, 32 1/4” arms) is prototype for press-man teams. @Jwilliofficial was also second-fastest defensive prospect (21.75 mph) at this year’s @seniorbowl. pic.twitter.com/mW24jfOE5o— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 18, 2022
T/G Cordell Volson- North Dakota State 6’ 6” 319 lbs.
One of my favorites. One key to evaluating small school prospects is whether or not they dominate their opponents. Volson fits into this category. He spent most of his college career at right tackle, but also took snaps on the left side and guard as well. Most evaluators think he will transition to guard in the NFL, as he does not have the athleticism and lateral agility to play tackle as a pro.
I am not claiming he’s an elite athlete, but his film shows an ability to move laterally on zone plays; smoothly get to the second level, both uncovered and on combination blocks; and efficiently pull. All that said, he’s not a finesse lineman. Volson’s an aggressive brute who drives his lesser competition back into secondary or into the ground. He accomplishes this by pairing good knee bend, that gives him leverage, with strong strikes from his both his punch and shoulder drive.
Volson’s footwork in pass protection needs some fine tuning, speed guys can give him trouble and his hands, when he misses his punch, can be grabby. Moving inside to guard, where he can fight power with power would probably go a long to easily improve some of his weak spots. He’s got very good, not elite, length (34”), stellar grip strength and nice footwork to stay engaged when latches on to a pass rusher.
If the Rams are granted a compensatory pick in round four of the draft, they should strongly consider Cordell Volson. He is a prime mid-round pick, a developmental player with good ceiling potential and a high floor. His game transfers into LA’s offensive schemes and he was dominant in workouts at the East-West Shrine all-star game.
North Dakota St. OL Cordell Volson has been one of the biggest winners at the @ShrineBowl so far. Plays with aggression and has such a strong frame.— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) February 1, 2022
Allowed just 15 pressures (no sacks) across 974 pass-block snaps playing mostly tackle at NDSU. pic.twitter.com/XVONY0evYu
Fitting in with the Los Angeles Rams
Last season, the Rams special teams coverage units left much to be desired. Williams and Young are both fast, aggressive, and have extensive backgrounds in that area. Their athleticism would allow them to be able to provide value on special teams while developing at their positions.
Volson has the potential to get offensive snaps right away. Sean McVay does have a track record of bringing his draft picks along slowly, but in reality, those that are ready to play, see the field.
Snead and McVay are not averse to small school draftees and all three of these prospects dominated their competition, have plus traits that project into the Rams schemes, and so far, are not draft darlings flying up draft boards.
Should LA consider drafting these three candidates, or any other sleeper prospects?