Every NFL club scouts the nation in hopes of landing the next great sleeper prospect.
The small college ranks have supplied many NFL Hall of Fame prospects over the past 50 years, with a litany of players like Walter Payton (Jackson State) and Doug Williams (Grambling). This year's class may produce only a few players in the top 100 picks, but as many as 20 could be selected over the seven rounds.
This year's group of small college prospects is one of the better classes of the past decade and is especially deep in the secondary and the offensive line. The highest rated small college prospect is QB Ingle Martin, who completed an excellent two-year stay at Furman after beginning his college career at Florida. Martin has the potential to start in the NFL in time.
Defenders DB Danieal Manning and safety Antoine Bethea carry NFL starting grades. Corners like Jay McCareins and David Pittman may play early as nickel corners and, with development, press for starting jobs.
Offensive linemen usually take longer to develop but blockers like Paul McQuistan, Jahri Evans, Kevin Boothe and Chris Kuper all have the talent to surprise in time.
The secondary should provide the most selections in this month's draft, and the small college ranks should be well represented over the two days.
Here is a look at the top small college prospects for this year's draft with comments for the top 12 ? a group we'll call the Dirty Dozen.
The Dirty Dozen
1. Ingle Martin ? QB/P ? 6-2, 220 lbs. ? Furman
Strong armed senior passer completed a fine two-year career at Furman after transferring from Florida. He is a solid athlete who also doubles as a punter ? where he also earned high grades from NFL scouts. He has a strong arm and good footwork that allows him to set up quickly and drive the ball down the field. He has developed nicely at the Division I-AA level after competing for starting time at Florida. He tested out very well at the NFL Combine and has the intangibles the position demands to become a major surprise if he gets into the right situation. He carries an NFL starting grade in time and could be a major steal late in the second day of the draft.
2. Danieal Manning - DB ? 5-11, 200 lbs. ? Abilene Christian
Athletic junior defensive back has played both corner and safety over his fine career. Manning had strong performances at the East-West game and NFL Combine. He has fine size, speed and agility and will most likely get his first look on the corner as a pro. He has quick reactions and good hands. He could develop into a fine cover man and playmaker with further technique development. He is also a good kickoff returner, which enhances his value. He is capable of playing early in the nickel and dime packages and in time could earn a starting job.
3. Paul McQuistan - OT ? 6-6, 310 lbs. ? Weber St.
Huge, nimble left tackle had a strong postseason after four dominant seasons on the small college level. He has the package to play either tackle spot in the NFL, though he is more suited for the right side. He has a massive reach and wingspan. His footwork and agility make him the top small college offensive lineman this season. At the NFL Combine, he ran a 5.2 in the 40 and lifted 225 pounds 28 times ? one of the best performances for offensive linemen. He is a top-200 prospect who should start in time on the outside.
4. Antoine Bethea - DB ? 5-11, 200 lbs. ? Howard University
Athletic safety has performed well over his career, earning MEAC honors the past three years. He is a hitter with the speed and athletic ability to be an every-down defender with development. He has fine range and the tackling skills to fill either safety spot. At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.42 time with 19 reps and fine agility drills. He has intriguing athletic ability with the speed, agility and toughness to press for playing time early in his career. He carries a starting grade in time, but he must develop further in pass coverage and his reads and responsibilities.
5. Jahri Evans - OG ? 6-4, 310 lbs. ? Bloomsburg
Big, powerful, mobile lineman completed a strong career that ranks him among the top small college prospects this year. He is a massive blocker who played tackle at the Division II level but will move inside to guard initially as a pro. He is a strong, aggressive blocker who dominated at his level of competition. He has the bulk and functional strength to be a road-grader on the inside after some technique refinement. He is a quick athlete who moves well and shows the ability to pull and get to the second level. He also shows the ability to handle big defensive tackles in single assignments.
6. Jason Hatcher - DL ? 6-6, 290 lbs. ? Grambling St.
Big, athletic defensive lineman has drawn special attention despite his short career at the small-college level. During his final season, he was a dominant pass rusher at the Division I-AA level, earning first team All-Southwest Athletic Conference honors. He is a huge athlete with experience at tackle and end. He has the size and athleticism to play in either pro scheme. He combines power and speed to be an every-down defender as a pro. The patient club that grabs him could have an absolute steal late in the draft once he settles into their defense. He is ideally suited for the strong-side end spot.
7. Chris Kuper - OG ? 6-4, 310 lbs. ? North Dakota
Strong, mobile lineman completed a fine postseason that moved him into the early second day. He is a sound technician who gets a quick pop on the snap and uses his powerful base to drive defenders out of the hole. He moves well and shows the ability to pull and get to the second level, though his game is power. He has the ability to finish the block. He also shows the ability to handle big defensive tackles in single assignments ? critical when facing professional interior defenders.
8. Chris Gocong ? DE/LB ? 6-2, 260 lbs. ? Cal-Poly
Athletic defender has been an outstanding pass rusher throughout his career at the Division I-AA level. He is an undersized end who will probably go through a conversion to playing up in the 3-4 scheme at the NFL level. His forte is rushing the passer and he put up incredible numbers over his final two seasons. Gocong won the Buchanan Award as the best small college defender. He is best suited for the attack linebacker role in the professional 3-4 defensive schemes. He will have to go through an adjustment period, though he showed he has the athletic ability to do so at the NFL Combine. His workout performance was a strong effort that warrants a second day selection. Coaches like Bill Belichick and Nick Saban can turn this guy into the next Tedy Bruschi.
9. Kevin Boothe - OG ? 6-5, 315 lbs. - Cornell
Big, mobile lineman completed a strong college career in the Ivy League, starting four seasons at the left tackle position. He is a strong athlete who moves well within a short area and shows the ability to pull and get to the second level. He also shows the ability to handle speed pass rushers in single assignments. He gets good consistent movement at the point of attack as a drive blocker. Fine late addition with definite starting grade in time.
10. David Pittman - CB ? 5-11, 180 lbs. ? Northwestern St. (La.)
Athletic corner has been one of the best cover men at the Division I-AA level over the past two seasons. He combines the instincts, quickness, speed and toughness the position demands. He has nice upside potential that will probably warrant an early second day selection. He has the size, speed and quickness to match up with pro caliber receivers and has the potential to develop into a fine NFL corner. Could earn early playing time in nickel packages.
11. Travis Glasford - RB ? 5-9, 185 lbs. ? Western Illinois
Fast senior scatback has demonstrated big-play ability as a runner, receiver and return specialist. He has the rare initial explosiveness that allows him to find openings and strike from anywhere on the field. He has the sudden acceleration that allows him to get to top speed quickly and break any play. Over his career, he displayed big play ability consistently. His 55 career TDs have drawn the attention of NFL scouts. His versatility probably warrants a late selection ? where he can be a major surprise in a few roles.
12. Jay McCareins - CB ? 5-11, 190 lbs. ? Princeton
Tough, athletic senior cornerback has been one of the best cover men at the Division I-AA level over the past three seasons. He led the small college level in interceptions as a senior. Has the ball skills to be one of the biggest surprises in this class. He combines top instincts and quickness with good speed and the toughness that the position demands. He has intriguing upside potential that warrants a late second-day selection. He has the size, speed and quickness to match up with pro caliber receivers. Could see early playing time as a nickel corner.