As the NFL Draft quickly approaches and festivities at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis get underway, big names like Ndamukong Suh, Tim Tebow, and Sam Bradford will take the spotlight and dominate the headlines. But as we have seen in past drafts, it is sometimes the not-so-famous prospects from smaller schools that go on to make the biggest splash in the NFL (see Marques Colston, Tim Hightower, Joe Flacco, Brandon Marshall). Like in every draft, there are sure to be a few small school gems in this draft as well. Here are a few names to keep an eye and ear out for as the draft nears.
Vladimir Ducasse – Offensive Lineman, UMass
Vladimir Ducasse was not a name that appeared high on many teams’ lists until his performance at the Senior Bowl. Ducasse certainly has the size that you like in an NFL lineman, measuring 6 foot 4 and 332 pounds at the combine. He also has the intangibles that you look for as well, with great agility and footwork. He played offensive tackle at UMass, but would likely slide inside to guard in the pros. He may be a bit raw right now since his first exposure to football was in 2002, but he possesses tremendous upside. This year’s draft is the deepest in easily a decade for offensive linemen and Ducasse could go as early as the late first round for a team looking to fill voids along the offensive line. If he slides into the late second round however, look for the Cowboys to seriously consider him to add much needed depth to their interior line.
Brandon Lang – Defensive End, Troy
Another small school product that has flown under the radar, Brandon Lang had a fairly productive career rushing the quarterback at Troy, registering 19 sacks in his last two seasons. At 6 foot 4, 256 pounds, Lang is a “tweener” who will likely make the transition to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. The NFL Combine will go a long way in determining where Lang goes in the draft. His 40-yard dash time as well as his 3-cone drill time will help determine if he is athletic enough to switch to outside linebacker. If he is still on the board when Dallas picks in rounds 3 to 4, they will strongly consider him. Given the recent success of pass rushers coming out of Troy (Demarcus Ware, Osi Umenyiora), he could be well worth the risk. As a man named Bill Parcells used to say, “You can never have too many linebackers.”
Jared Veldheer – Offensive Tackle, Hillsdale
Jared Veldheer is another name that has climbed up the draft boards in recent months with his performance in the Texas vs the Nation Invite in 2009. Hailing from tiny, ultra-conservative Hillsdale College, up in my neck of the woods, there is no doubt that Veldheer possesses the fantastic size that teams look for in a left tackle, at 6 foot 8, 312 pounds. He also possesses rare athleticism for his size and has exceptional footwork. Like Brandon Lang, the combine will help determine where he will go in the draft. Pending the results, he could go as early as the second round. Given the aging of Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo, Dallas will certainly be interested in his services.