By Alex Kurpeski
As we look ahead to the 2021 NFL Draft, our timelines have been flooded with rave reviews of top tier talent from programs like Clemson, Alabama, LSU, and Ohio State. While the majority of the players selected in next spring’s draft will come from power conference schools with multi-million dollar coaching staffs and state of the art training facilities, there are several small school prospects who should make waves as well.
QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
By far the best known “small school” prospect in this class, Lance is a player who has earned quite the following in the scouting community. With the physical tools of a young Colin Kaepernick and a sterling season of turnover-free football on his resume, Lance has the potential to be an extremely dangerous playmaker at the NFL level. Many view Lance as a potential top-10 pick, with several QB-needy teams hanging around in the top half of round one. While we can question the level of competition Lance has faced in his college career, there’s a lot to like from his game tape.
2,786 Pass yards
1,100 Rush yards
42 Total TD
— ESPN (@espn) May 8, 2020
WR Jaelon Darden, North Texas
North Texas isn’t the smallest school on this list, but they’re certainly outside of the realm of “powerhouse”. At 5’9, 180 lbs, Darden is a slightly undersized receiver who would work best in the NFL as a slot specialist. Darden has been unrecoverable this season for the Mean Green, with 58 receptions for 882 yards and 12 touchdowns in only seven games.
#NorthTexas WR Jaelon Darden is a name to watch this season! ✅
Absolutely ELECTRIC out of the slot and already starting the season off with 2 first half TDs including this right here! ⚡️⚡️⚡️
— Ben Eby (@Mr_Eby) September 6, 2020
WR Tre Walker, San Jose State
Walker has been an extremely productive player for the Spartans these past couple of years, registering over 1,100 receiving yards in 2019. At 5’11, 180 lbs, Walker has decent size to line up outside, while also possessing tremendous hands and technique for a smaller school receiver. If you’re looking for a player who could be the next Darnell Mooney-type — Walker is a strong candidate.
— San José State Football (@SanJoseStateFB) October 12, 2019
RB Jah-Maine Martin, North Carolina A&T
A former Coastal Carolina recruit, Martin transferred to NC A&T and exploded in 2019, rushing for 1,246 yards and 20 touchdowns while averaging over 8 YPC. At 5’10, 215 lbs, Martin has the size, speed, and vision to be an effective back at the NFL level. Should he declare for the 2021 Draft, Martin could be a surprising riser with good workout numbers.
WHOOP! Jah-Maine Martin has some moves…
— Celebration Bowl (@CelebrationBowl) December 21, 2019
WR Dai’Jean Dixon, Nicholls State
At 6’4, 200 lbs, Dixon is a player who reminds me a lot of Antonio Gandy-Golden from the 2020 draft class. A big-bodied target who averaged 19.5 yards per-reception in 2019, Dixon is an ideal “tools guy” for teams picking in the later rounds of the draft.
TOUCHDOWN!!! Dai’Jean Dixon goes up for the TD grab before the half.
— Nicholls Football 🏈 (@Nicholls_FB) November 3, 2018