Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Don't Sleep On Small School Transfers

In the last few years, there have been several small school players that have achieved a success in the NFL. Many of them were transfers. Names like Joe Flacco, the former Pittsburgh Panther who transferred to Delaware, or Brandon Jacobs, the former Auburn Tiger who moved to Southern Illinois.

Flacco wanted to start and didn’t want to wait on Tyler Palko, while Jacobs was stuck behind Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. But in the NFL landscape, being from Pitt or Auburn as opposed to Delaware or Southern Illinois greatly affects how you're judged.

I think the first step is to realize that these players were at top schools in the nation. Then, for whatever reason, they decided to move on.

This year the NFL Draft Bible took a look at some of the guys who were at high profile schools when entering college but—like the names mentioned above—ended up moving to smaller schools. In the process, I think they sort of fell off the radar; you can bet your bottom dollar that for the most part, a player from Florida is going to get a closer look than a kid from Southern Illinois.

Rashad Jennings from Liberty was originally at Pittsburgh but transferred to be closer to his father due to his battle with diabetes. When one thinks of Liberty, they think of justice for all, not a tiny school in Lynchburg, Virginia. Jennings did play at Pittsburgh, he was one of only four true freshmen to start a opener for the Panthers. He sort of reminds me of a poor man's Chris Wells. This 6’1 231-pound back possesses the skill set to make a big impact at the next level. During the NFL Scouting Combine, Jennings' results in the 3-cone drill were off the charts for a man his size and he proved to have the muscle as well, logging 29 reps on the bench. Jennings will be lucky to be a day one back, but like Brandon Jacobs who was selected in the fourth round, he's going to be yet another example of how the name of the school affects the ranking of the player.

Having captured the last three Big 12 Championships, the Oklahoma Sooners football program takes a back seat to no one. Could it have been Rhett Bomar instead of Sam Bradford holding the Heisman Trophy if he wasn’t dismissed after breaking NCAA rules? Bomar was recruted to play at Sam Houston State, where he ended up. He was also recruited to play for a team that has gone 102-22 since Bob Stoops took over the program. Bomar broke the rules and now his Draft stock is feeling the effects of those mistakes. Think about it—do you really think Bomar would be ranked where he is now if he was still with Oklahoma? He stands 6’2 and 225 pounds, brings good arm strength and a competitive attitude to the huddle, and is a presence on the field, as a Bearkat or Sooner.

Even though his college career was marred by injuries, former Miami Hurricane Andrew Johnson, who transferred to Akron, is really the super sleeper of the three. At the time when Johnson was recruited by Miami, Larry Coker was the coach and the ‘Canes were a force in college football. They produced elite talent from all positions, maybe none more so than running back, where names like Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore echo in the halls of the U. But like a high-end night club, not just anybody was getting in. For Johnson, the future never turned out like the others—he never made it behind the velvet rope. Johnson has 4.3 speed to go along with size at 5’11 and 215. Time will tell if this former Hurricane will go unnoticed as a Zip before showing up, and lighting it up, in the pros.

Many talented players share the same situation as Jennings, Bomar and Johnson and they'll each be seeking to make a big impact as second day selections.

Photo Credit: Sam Houston State Athletics, Mark Campbell, UD Athletics Media Relations Photo