With the NFL draft just days away, everyone knows the names at the top of the board.
The first of my Nickel Package entries for this week looks at the top five small-school prospects to watch on draft weekend, including an athletic offensive tackle, a massive defensive lineman and a trio of intriguing defensive backs.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff OT Terron Armstead (Scouts Inc. grade: 85)
Armstead is a bit of a project from a Division II school, but teams got more comfortable with him after a strong showing at the East-West Shrine Game, which earned him a late invite to the Senior Bowl.
He then tested off the charts at the NFL combine, including the fastest 40-yard dash (4.71 seconds) ever run by an offensive lineman. Armstead (6-foot-4¾, 306 pounds) also confirmed in Indianapolis that he has everything you look for in terms of foot quickness and agility.
With his lateral agility and mobility he's best suited for a zone-blocking scheme, and Armstead carries a second-round grade at this point. He can improve his consistency with his hands and awareness against the blitz, and he might not be a starter in 2013, but Armstead has the potential to become a good starter and perhaps the next Jermon Bushrod.
For a team that can't get its left tackle of the future in the first round, Armstead could be a good option in the second.
Missouri Southern DT Brandon Williams (79)
Williams is a short, stout presence in the middle who moves well for his size (6-1¼, 335), has surprisingly good feet and shows the strength to hold his ground against the run.
He had a great week of practice against higher-level competition at the Senior Bowl, and Williams could fit as a nose tackle in a 4-3 scheme. It's also interesting that one NFL team worked him out as an interior offensive lineman.
He''s on the short side for a defensive tackle, so that could account for the possible interest in him as an offensive lineman, but either way Williams has an early third-round grade and ranks among the top 10 defensive tackles on the board.
Southeastern Louisiana CB Robert Alford (78)
Another small-school player who grades in the third round, Alford has adequate size (5-10⅛, 188) and outstanding top-end speed. He shows good cover skills and the loose hips to turn and run with receivers.
Alford also has good instincts and some versatility as a punt returner, but his ball skills are just average and he's not as strong or willing as you'd like in run support.
He's not a good fit for teams that run zone-heavy schemes and need contributions in run defense from their corners, but Alford still has some value and ranks as a top-10 corner in this year's class.
William & Mary CB B.W. Webb (75)
Webb has better instincts than Alford, but his top-end speed isn't quite as good. He's a smooth mover in coverage, but while he has adequate size (5-10¼, 184) Webb is even softer than Alford in run support.
Webb is a buffet tackler who will pick and choose his spots and that will hurt him some, but he could make sense in the third round for teams like Arizona, Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland and New Orleans, that play a lot of man-coverage schemes.
Georgia Southern S J.J. Wilcox (71)
Wilcox is a versatile athlete who's just learning the ropes at safety after spending his first three seasons at receiver and running back. He has a strong build (6-foot, 213) and is a tough, physical prospect who can play near the line of scrimmage in run support.
His range and instincts are just average, but Wilcox does have good ball skills and experience in the return game. At worst, a team that drafts him in the late third- or early fourth-round area will get a player who can contribute in the secondary and possibly become a starter, and help out in the return game and in other areas on special teams.
Ten more small-school standouts to know
Tennessee Tech WR Da'rick Rogers*
Princeton DE Mike Catapano
Stony Brook RB Miguel Maysonet
Samford DT Nick Williams
Tennessee-Martin DT Montori Hughes
Harding OLB Ty Powell
Sam Houston State CB Dax Swanson
James Madison G Earl Watford
South Carolina State S Jakar Hamilton
Elon WR Aaron Mellette