In a year where there are seemingly no conspicuous talent dropoff points, perhaps nothing defines the parity level of the 2013 draft more than it’s remarkably strong class of small school prospects. Typically, these kind of players are late round picks or go undrafted. John Schneider has dabbled with small schools from time to time- spending a late pick on Mark Legree and signing Josh Portis in free agency. Occasionally you’ll see a Brian Quick or Jared Veldheer grace the top 3 rounds, but it’s hardly a regular occurrence.
Given the incredibly unsettled nature of the first four or five rounds this year, it’s a prime opportunity for small school players to break into the conversation. Already, we’re hearing a lot of insider talk that this is exactly the case. First, it was scouts raving about Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton at around the time the Senior Bowl happened. Patton went from a likely late pick to a likely 2nd rounder. You have Robert Alford and Jordan Mills who I highlighted yesterday. Many scouts believe there is “no doubt” that Alford will be a 2nd round pick, as he’s expected to put on a show at the NFL Combine. There is talk that Mills could go in the 3rd round.
And then you have Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan- a player who is already considered a 1st round lock and could go top ten. Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien is ranked as the second best strong safety by NFLDraftscout.com and has a real chance to be a top 50 pick. Cyprien’s teammate, defensive end Tourek Williams, has received glowing mention from some circles as well (you can even find two full game compilations of him on youtube). A 340 pound defensive tackle out of Missouri Southern named Brandon Williams turned some heads when he flashed dominance on the final day of Senior Bowl practices, and some (sources from Rotoworld.com) have now said that his stock has risen as high as the early 2nd round.
One of the fastest rising tight ends is Vance McDonald out of Rice. He’s drawing comparisons to the Gronk, whether that’s fair or not. It is now widely believed that he will be off the board in the top sixty picks, barring a disaster at the combine. Perhaps you’ve heard of Zac Dysert? He’s out of Miami of Ohio. Western Kentucky’s Quanterus Smith is among the better LEO options in the middle rounds. And then there’s Marshall’s Aaron Dobson, who’s slowly been working his way up the pecking order of wide receivers and may find himself going in the first two rounds.
But by far my favorite of these players are two that have been talked about very little in the media, and who have completely unpredictable draft stock. And as luck would have it, these players play positions of major need for Seattle: pass rusher and wide receiver.
You’ve probably read the name “Tony Pauline” quite a few times on this blog. The Sports Illustrated writer runs draftinsider.net and has been a favorite of both Rob and I for a few years now. He gets information straight from anonymous scouts and executives, which has proven remarkably accurate. Last year for example, most people thought that Courtney Upshaw and Zach Brown were likely mid to late 1st round picks, until Pauline revealed a consensus big board from several NFL GMs that listed neither on the top 32, and the data seemed to indicate that Seattle would have a real shot at Brown even at the 43rd overall pick. Upshaw turned into an early 2nd round pick by the Ravens, and Brown lasted until the Titans at the 52nd overall selection.
As the Senior Bowl was wrapping up, Tony Pauline led off one of his updates speaking of a “super sleeper” at wide receiver.
The name making the rounds in the scouting community as one of the biggest sleepers at the receiver position is Courtney Gardner of Sierra College. The 6-foot, 3-inch/220lb pass catcher was expected to play for Oklahoma in 2013 but opted for the NFL draft after academic “difficulties”. We hear scouts have been raving about the physical skills Gardner brings to the field. Besides his large frame the big pass catcher also has the speed (10.7 sec in the 100 meters) to match. Even college coaches in the area are awed by his ability on the field but focusing at the task at hand seems to be an issue.
Gardner’s compilation video:
While it’s clear that Gardner still has a lot to learn, you can see where the scouting community’s enthusiasm is coming from. Gardner has the movement talent of someone like Golden Tate or Percy Harvin, but in a 6’3″, 220 pound body. He claims to have run a 4.38 forty (unofficially of course), and the speed on tape certainly seems to back that claim up. However, he comes from pretty much the lowest level of competition possible, a junior college, and struggled with academics for a long time, which perhaps hints at a lack of work ethic (especially since it was a two year degree type college). Curiously, Gardner was not given an invitation to the combine. That may indicate that Gardner is destined to go undrafted, even if his tools are the stuff of legend.
Finally, I’ll end with the guy in the picture. Armonty Bryant.
I found it interesting that when asked if he’d been in contact with any NFL teams, he mentioned several, but there was one that leapt to his mind instantly. You guessed it- the Seahawks.
Bryant made headlines for his dominating display in that Texas vs. Nation game by the way, which featured prominent players from major Division I schools.
Bryant has 35.5 inch arms, good size, undeniable athleticism, excellent pass rush technique, and a knack for getting to the quarterback. In a recent interview Bryant mentioned that “people keep telling him” that he reminds them of Demarcus Ware.
Yet despite giving a pretty good camera interview and seeming like a good kid, he was busted last season for dealing drugs- during practice. That’s about as flagrant of a criminal red flag as it gets, and that coupled with his coming from division II could double whammy his draft stock. Regardless, Bryant remains an extremely intriguing prospect. Like Russell Wilson last year, he deserves a post all to himself (which I never got around to writing last year, d’oh!). I’ll probably wait until after the combine for that one. In the meantime, this is a player to keep an eye on in Indy this weekend. I included Bryant’s highlight reel below.