Interview With A Draftophile: The Art of Uncovering the Small School Sleeper

Rutgers v Ohio State
Rutgers v Ohio State / Ben Jackson/GettyImages
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Which would you say has been your biggest ‘hit’ in the 13 or so years you’ve been mining for gold in these lesser-known schools? Biggest miss?

My biggest hit easily wasn't a small school guy but it was a QB prospect who the vast majority thought was the next Johnny Manziel-- didn't protect the ball enough, played in an Air Raid offense; people were just lining up to pick him apart. I watched literally 15 minutes of a game he lost and said out loud, "This is what a future Hall of Fame QB looks like."

Of course, it was Patrick Mahomes.

I participated in one of the big Twitter drafts that year and GM’d the Browns. I took Patrick Mahomes over Myles Garrett and the vitriol was over the top. Like, I had to get off Twitter for a few days. But now people see my pinned Tweet and give it a like or a re-Tweet almost every day.

As for smaller school guys, it's easy to forget all the prospects I loved who went nowhere and endlessly relive all 'my' successes. I usually list:

Jared Veldheer, Richard Sherman, Carlos Dunlap, Emmanuel Sanders, Jimmy Graham, Josh Norman, Alterraun Verner, Junior Galette, Jordan Cameron, Tarik Cohen, Kevin Byard, Kenny Golladay, Julius Thomas, Buster Skrine, Doug Martin, Bruce Irvin, Robert Turbin, J.R.Sweezy, Jamie Collins, Brandon Williams, Paul Worrilow, Jarvis Landry, Javon Hargrave, George Fant, Karl Joseph, Adrian Colbert, Cooper Rush, Chase Allen, Jatavis Brown, Jessie Bates, Nik Needham, James Robinson, Donald Parham, Garrett Wallow, Elijah Mitchell, Antonio Gibson, Kenneth Gainwell, Larry Borom, Cole Strange.

Some of those are small-schoolers and many are just guys like Sherman, who had no buzz or bad buzz. I suppose when it comes to lesser-known schools, Veldheer, Robert Tonyan, Tarik Cohen, Kevin Byard, Javon Hargrave, and the two Memphis RBs Gainwell & Gibson are a nice set to be proud of. I guess the answer of "Who is the small-school guy I had at the top, zero draft interest from anyone, that turned into an NFL stud?" would be Robert Tonyan or Kevin Byard.

One of my all-time tiny school favorites - a big draft crush out of nowhere who came so, so close to making it big in the NFL - Eric Rogers, a WR out of Cal Lutheran was the undisputed star of the first two weeks of Dallas Cowboys Training Camp. Then the reps slowed, and he got cut. Went to the CFL and was an All-Star leading receiver on a Grey Cup Champion. After three years there, there was a bit of a bidding war for his services among 16 NFL teams. He signed with San Francisco, and there was talk that they expected him to start for them. Unfortunately, he tore an ACL in camp, missed a year, then went back to being a CFL All-Star. Oh, well.

CB Kalan Reed & basketball-convert-to-TE Rico Gathers I was convinced were going to be NFL players. Nope. Kalan Reed was my POY.

But I was perhaps the biggest Shaquem Griffin fan in the world. I thought he was going to be a Ryan Shazier-type LB. Great story, though.