(Editor's note: This is the first installment in a two-part series.)
When the NFL Draft rolls around each spring, even the most casual football fans know the high-profile players from the nation's marquee programs. In other words, nobody is going to be called a football savant after identifying Nick Fairley and A.J. Green and Cam Newton as top NFL prospects.
Most scouts take as much pride in finding the unheralded stars most fans have never heard of ... or legitimate players at schools most fans can't locate on a map. Part of the challenge scouts face is determining whether a small-school star's numbers are a result of superior ability, or merely get inflated because of inferior competition. Uncovering little-known stars is an inexact science, but ranchreport.com has learned of 10 small-school stars in whom the Dallas Cowboys have shown considerable interest:
• Slippery Rock (Pa.) center Brandon Fusco is a four-year starter who earned preseason FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) All-America honors. Fusco has adequate bulk and strength, but has above-average quickness. Fusco is well-coached, playing for a team that has had five centers in the last 14 years earn FCS All-America honors.
• Hillsdale (Mich.) wide receiver Andre Holmes has all of the so-called "measurables" teams covet in receivers; in addition to his height, he has long arms and huge hands. He has exceptional speed for a big wideout, having timed as low as 4.42 in the 40 and as high as 4.52. Holmes's senior season was the best by a receiver in the history of Hillsdale College, with school records for receptions (104) and receiving yards (1,368), as well as 11 touchdown receptions. The first-team All-GLIAC (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) honoree also set a school mark for receptions in a single game, with 16, but the lack of quality opposition has many scouts doing more homework. Holmes will get a chance to convince teams of his abilities later this month, having been invited to take part in the NFL Combine (Feb. 23-March 1).
• Arkansas State offensive tackle Derek Newton is the anchor of the Red Wolves' offensive line. The 6-5, 305-pounder is a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference honoree who was his team's only offensive lineman to start every game in each of the last two seasons. Newton has the long arms team look for on tackles, is quick enough to recover when beaten by some pass rushers, and has a frame that should allow him to add a little more bulk as he matures and gets stronger in an NFL strength and conditioning program.
• Northern Iowa tight end Schuylar Oordt (6-7, 246, 4.57) looks and moves like a small forward in shoulder pads. Few tight ends possess his height and arm length (and big hands), and those who do rarely have the speed he has. The preseason FCS All-America had 24 catches for 405 yards (16.9 yards per catch) and three receiving touchdowns en route to earning honorable mention All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors; in his career, he hauled in 66 receptions for 1,170 yards (17.7 per) and 11 touchdown catches. He is a willing blocker who will get more powerful as he bulks up.
• One of the most highly-regarded players from schools that are not traditional football powerhouses, and generally don't produce a lot of NFL talent, is Lehigh offensive guard Will Rackley. The 6-4, 305-pounder is a versatile athlete who can play either guard position. The Cowboys have two talented starters in Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis, and if the team isn't ready to replace either — and that is not known with any certainty — it at least appears ready to start grooming an heir apparent for one or both, whether it's Montrae Holland, Phil Costa or someone else. Rackley is a powerful blocker who utilizes his 5.25 speed in the 40 to get out and pull on sweeps and other perimeter plays. The first-team FCS All-America is a relentless blocker with a high motor, and is very strong and durable, having started the last 40 games of his college career.
Small-School Cowboys Targets: Offense
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