Small schools, big-time prospects

Players like Lane's Jacoby Jones and UW-Whitewater's Derek Stanley show intriguing NFL prospects aren't limited to first-round picks or the BCS schools.

In's seven-round mock draft from April 9, former NFL scout Tom Marino had the Packers selecting wide receiver Jacoby Jones from Lane College in the fourth round.

Who? From where? In the fourth round?

Lane is a Division II college located in Jackson, Tenn. Jones is why NFL teams put so much money, time and energy into scouting. There are prospects at every level of college football, not just the BCS schools.

Jones, the experts say, is raw. He didn't play football until his junior year of high school, and the quality of coaching at Lane isn't as good as at a big-time Division I school. But he's got all the physical tools you'd want. At 6 foot 2 1/2 and 210 pounds — he was only 5-foot-7 coming out of high school — he's got the size. With a 40-yard dash time of 4.55 seconds at the scouting combine and 4.50 on wet grass at his individual workout, he's got the speed.

And he's got the productivity. Jones simply dominated the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. As a senior, he was the offensive player of the year — catching 68 passes for 822 yards with seven touchdowns — and a first-team all-conference selection as a receiver, punt returner and kick returner. He returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns.

With credentials like those and the Packers' obvious needs in all three departments, Lane could make an impact even while learning on the fly.

"I've heard a lot of people compare me to Marques Colston," Jones, in an interview with the Philadelphia Tribune, said of the New Orleans Saints receiver who starred as a rookie after being a seventh-round pick from Hofstra last year. "It makes me feel good because he didn't come from a big school, but he proved that he could play in the NFL."

While Jones is projected as a third- or fourth-round pick, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater's Derek Stanley most likely will be signed after the draft. The lightning-fast receiver from the Division III ranks scored 33 receiving touchdowns the last two seasons — helping the Warhawks reach the title game both seasons — and is a dangerous returner.

"I think about playing (in the NFL) all the time," the 5-foot-9 Stanley told the Wisconsin State Journal last fall. "Right now, there are some things about my game that I would like to improve on, such as my route running, reading defenses and getting out of my breaks quicker.

"Right now, I think about lining up against (Atlanta Falcons cornerback) DeAngelo Hall, and wondering if I'm even ready be in the NFL. But it's a process."

Another hot small-school prospect is Whitworth tight end Michael Allan, the only Division III player invited to the combine. He opened eyes there by running the second-fastest 40 time among tight ends. He opened eyes on the field last season by catching 53 passes for 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns. "We did a lot of five-wide and I was always on the field. I did a lot of receiver work. I caught 53 balls my senior year. So, I was one of the primary options in our offense," said the 6-foot-7, 245-pound Allen, who could fill a void on a Packers team without a receiving threat at the position. Players like Jones, Stanley and Allen show there are big-time players at schools other than Florida and USC. They also show that there's more to the draft than just the first round.

While it's easy to dismiss a low-round, small-school pick, let me remind you of two of the better players in Packers history: Alcorn State's Donald Driver and South Dakota State's Adam Timmerman.

In fact, between Driver and center Scott Wells, the Packers have almost as many seventh-round picks in the starting lineup as they do first-round picks (three).

Late-round draft picks are what separates the average general managers from the really good ones. They're what separated Ron Wolf from Mike Sherman, and they're what will make the difference for Ted Thompson.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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