Under The Radar: Small School Prospects
At this point in the process, many are talking about the first round quarterbacks and potential high picks in the NFL Draft, but there are prospects outside the top 2 rounds that have a ton of potential and could help NFL teams as rookies. From hulking offensive linemen to touchdown scoring tight ends, teams that score well in the mid to late rounds can drastically improve their teams at little cost. This week, I’ll be talking about a few under the radar prospects expected to go outside the top 100 in the NFL Draft. Today we preview two small school prospects who have big games and big NFL potential.
RB David Johnson, Northern Iowa
David Johnson came from small Clinton High School in Iowa and received only two scholarship offers (Northern Iowa and Illinois State) though he felt he deserved to go to an FBS school. This chip on the shoulder attitude has propelled Johnson to have his best games against the best competition. This season against Iowa, Northern Iowa almost pulled off the upset behind Johnson’s 204 receiving yards. Against undefeated Illinois State, Johnson averaged over 4 yards a carry gaining 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has shown production, leadership, as well as a great work ethic off the field. Johnson worked over the summer as a maintenance man in the Northern Iowa dorms while taking classes and practicing with the football team, repairing furniture students had broken. Taking this type of job is unusual for a student athlete, but shows Johnson’s willingness to put in the work to earn the benefits.
He is a huge runner who has a finesse style to running. Even when running up the middle, Johnson remains highly elusive and rarely takes hard shots to his body. Though isn’t much of a bruiser, this style does help keep him healthy and on the field. The best parts to Johnson’s game is the little things now required in the NFL. He is a very good pass blocker and a great receiver. When Johnson is in the backfield, defenses can’t key in on whether UNI is running or passing and have to respect his talent.
Johnson has a similar game to Towson RB Terrance West who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Though Johnson has not been as dominant a runner as West, he should put up similar combine numbers if he gets an invite (4.54 40 time, 33.5 inch vert, and 120 inch broad jump). While the RB position itself has been devalued, finding prospects who have size, athletic ability, and can be used in the passing game grows increasingly important. Johnson fits the bill and could go much earlier than expected.
Jaquiski Tartt, Safety, Samford
Samford Safety Jaquiski Tartt has the ideal build and game for a strong safety at the professional level with potential to be a playmaker in the secondary. He is still an extremely raw player, but has talent and production to be drafted.
Tartt focused on basketball while at Davidson High School in Mobile, Alabama. With ambition to play basketball at a big time program, Tartt wasn’t developing into the basketball prospect he wanted to be. Instead, his friends convinced him to play football his senior year where he learned the game and immediately made an impact for Davidson. He committed to Samford due to it being where his Mom wanted to attend college, even when Mississippi State tried recruiting him late in the process. His early career was a lot of sitting on the bench and learning while playing special teams, but now Tartt is one of the most decorated safeties at the FCS level. He has racked up 6 INTs in his career and nearly 100 tackles. One of Tartt’s most active games was against powerhouse TCU to start the season. Though Samford didn’t really contend in the game, Tartt was flying around the field and seemed to always be in position to make a tackle. He showed he can play at a high level and potentially be drafted into the NFL.
Tartt has excellent size and plays downhill. He gets up to full speed quickly and punishes opposing running backs or receivers going over the middle. He has special teams experience, which should be endearing for a team to draft him and bring him along slowly as he plays special teams gets up to speed. Over the last year, Tartt has developed in coverage, though it certainly is not his forte. He has a nose for the ball and good hands to make interceptions when the situation presents itself. He can get caught up in transition and isn’t as rangy as needed to play center field in the NFL, but it has been a consistent improvement in many of these areas for him. Ultimately, Tartt is a late round prospect with major upside. He can rotate as an in the box safety and he develops coverage skills and has the athletic upside to become a starter down the line.