Many of the NFL greats come from powerhouse football programs like Alabama, Michigan, and Oregon. But there are also some big names who come from schools you might not see on national television in the fall.
Jerry Rice, a Hall of Famer who scored 50 receiving touchdowns and put up 4,693 receiving yards at Mississippi Valley State, was the 16th overall pick in 1985. Randy Moss, who scored 53 receiving touchdowns in only two seasons at Marshall, was the 21st pick in 1998.
With the NFL draft coming up on Thursday evening, take a look at these top draft prospects who excelled outside the power conferences.
Carson Wentz, quarterback, North Dakota State
Wentz tossed 45 touchdowns and threw for 5,115 yards in his four-year career. He is projected to be the first or second pick in the draft. The Los Angeles Rams traded up with the Tennessee Titans to get the top pick, but the Eagles, who also need a quarterback, traded up to get the No. 2 pick. Wentz stands 6’5”, weighs 237 pounds, runs a 4.77 40-yard dash, and has a vertical jump of 30½”.
His strengths are his throwing release and his ability to stand tall in the pocket and make NFL-type throws. He is, however, inconsistent with his footwork in the pocket, and when he rolls out the ball often floats when he takes shots downfield. NFL.com compares Wentz to Blake Bortles, a rising star quarterback with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
William Jackson III, cornerback, Houston
Jackson had three touchdowns and eight interceptions in his three-year career. The six-foot, 189-pound corner is projected to go in the middle of the first round. He runs a 4.37 40-yard dash and has a broad jump of 9’8”.
Jackson’s strengths are that he stays low, which helps him backpedal, he has good acceleration, and he has excellent timing when trying to disrupt the passer. Jackson’s weaknesses are that he needs to be more physical, and he can get knocked off-balance. NFL.com compares him to Phillip Gaines, who is a third-year cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Paxton Lynch, quarterback, Memphis
Lynch threw 59 touchdowns and passed for 8,863 yards in his three-year career. He is projected to be a late first-round pick, specifically going to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 29. Lynch stands 6’4” and weighs 244 pounds, and he has a 36-inch vertical and a 9’10” broad jump.
Lynch’s strengths are that he is very quick for a tall quarterback, and he has the ability to scan over the top. Lynch’s weaknesses are that he needs a little better accuracy and that he needs to be more consistent on his arm strength. NFL.com compares him to Marcus Mariota, who was a rookie sensation last year with the Tennessee Titans.
These players show that you don’t need to be at a big-time school to finish big and make it to the pros.
Photographs: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images (Wentz); Scott Cunningham/Getty Images (Jackson); Joe Robbins/Getty Images (Lynch)