Despite lacking television coverage and generally being inundated with two and three star players, non-power five teams routinely put top talent into the NFL. From Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown to Josh Norman, the NFL features stars from non-traditional programs. A few notables in the devy community can be found below.
Fulfilling Their 2015 Promise
Corey Davis, WR Western Michigan Broncos
The rare non-Power Five talent to be a coveted devy prospect early in his career, Corey Davis rather unpredictably opted to return to Western Michigan for his senior season despite posting another huge campaign for the Broncos. Davis has consistently added nuance to his game and his overall explosiveness – once a question mark in his game – has grown exponentially throughout his career as he has added more strength and confidence. Despite losing a year in the big leagues, he is still an elite option and has a great opportunity to be one of the first receivers off the board in 2017.
Carson Wentz, QB North Dakota State Bison
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Carson Wentz made his unexpected return to the Bison during the FCS Championship game, sending #DraftTwitter atwitter and reminding folks just how good he actually is. Once a trendy round two selection for teams looking for a developmental option behind an aging starter, Wentz now appears destined for round one and an opportunity to start early in his career.
Mike Thomas, WR Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Mike Thomas is another individual who popped during bowl season, demonstrating elite body control along with speed and acceleration. He’s a bit slender, and not the most refined technician at this point in his career, but he’s just another solid addition to a receiver class which offers many different flavors.
Marlon Mack, RB South Florida Bulls
Marlon Mack shows just how much players can improve over the course of their collegiate careers. Mack was very effective as a freshman, yet had the look of a productive college back as opposed to a legitimate NFL prospect. During his second season, he appeared to add good weight to his frame and juice to his legs, showing burst into the second level and surprising power at the point of contact. He’s yet another 2017 eligible running back with the skills to contribute at a high level.
Courtland Sutton, WR Southern Methodist Mustangs
It is difficult to get noticed at SMU given what the program has become, but tall, rangy receivers tend to stand out on any football field and their traits Courtland Sutton possesses in spades. Sutton posted a 32.9% market share of the receiving yards to be had in the Mustangs passing game hierarchy as a redshirt freshman and his impact should only grow as Chad Morris continues to leave his imprint on the program.
Kenneth Dixon, RB Louisiana Tech Red Raiders
Kenneth Dixon could quickly become a fan favorite given his insatiable desire to fight for every yard and his emotional thermometer which always runs hot. A true heart and soul runner, Dixon combines willpower with adequate physical gifts, a combination which has made him a possible day two pick. I don’t buy Dixon leading a rushing attack but few do these days. The buzz around should build as the draft grows closer.
Demarcus Ayers, WR Houston Cougars
Anyone in return yardage leagues should be tickled about the notion of owning Demarcus Ayers. He could be a plus returner from day one, and has the quicks and frame to contribute in a variety of ways on offense. In a watered down rookie pool he may prove to be one of its best values.
Paxton Lynch, QB Memphis Tigers
The Paxton Lynch explosion followed an impressive performance in an upset win of Ole Miss, in which Lynch lit up the Rebels for 384 yards and three scores. The ultimate toolsy prospect, Lynch is understandably unrefined given he had an atypical route through high school into the college ranks. Passing camps and all-star games were not on his schedule. I’d be a bit leery of nabbing him were I a team in the top five, but he may have the most upside of any quarterback in this year’s class.
Will Fuller, WR Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Will Fuller is one of the few draft-eligible receivers with true, game-changing speed. A burner before and after the catch, Fuller can thrive as a vertical threat despite inconsistent hands and a slender frame. I don’t love his opportunity for annual fantasy success, but he should contribute at the NFL level.
New Year’s Resolutions Needed
Kareem Hunt, RB Toledo Rockets
Kareem Hunt did not necessarily have a disappointing season. He piled up nearly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns despite dealing with a two game suspension as well as numerous injuries. The only letdown was Hunt failed to cement himself as a slam dunk top five running back for the 2016 class, as many had hoped before he embarked on his junior campaign. He still possesses talent in spades; he just may become more of a face in the crowd as he joins the 2017 crop of running backs.
Shopping For Next Year
Tyrie Cleveland, WR Houston Cougars
We’ve seen what Tom Herman can do with a program in just one short year. Now he starts adding top-shelf talent to his cupboard. Tyrie Cleveland is a smooth accelerator with blazing long speed and at 6’3”, 205 pounds he offers an impressive catch radius. He has lead receiver traits and Houston is well-stocked at the quarterback position with Greg Ward Jr. returning and Kyle Allen transferring over from Texas A&M. Possessing one of the higher ceiling in this year’s cycle at receiver, Cleveland is also polished enough to play right away and warrants a devy roster spot in most formats.
Javon McKinley, WR Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame has welcomed a lot of talent at receiver over the past few years, yet the results have been mixed. The aforementioned Will Fuller carved out an excellent career and became the Irish’s top weapon. Corey Robinson shows excellent ball skills in traffic, yet remains a bit one-dimensional. Torii Hunter Jr. looks like a potential Fuller replacement, but the early parts of his career were marred by injury. Miles Boykin and Equanimeous St. Brown are oozing potential but have one career catch between them after being part of the 2015 class. There’s opportunity here, especially for a nuance route runner such as Javon McKinley. Well-built and with solid hands, McKinley could quickly become a reliable option for whomever lines up under center in South Bend, but I question his overall explosiveness, which makes me reticent of investing in devy drafts.