Every year there are names that come out of nowhere from small schools who somehow grab national attention. After failing to receive much notoriety throughout their careers because of being a part of smaller institutions, it isn't until the post-season bowl circuit where many begin to notice them.
Having said that, after a summer and fall full of making calls to receive film and tips about certain small-school players and with the extreme levels of difficulty to find actual game tape on them, it is time for me to release my early top-10 small school prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft.
1. Kyle Dugger, SAF, Lenoir-Rhyne (6-2, 220, RS-Senior)
A name that's been fully on the rise since the summer, Dugger is a true versatile play maker. Playing safety, linebacker, running back, and the teams primary return specialist, wearing all of those hats continuing to thrive weekly is exactly what is expected out of a small-school prospect that sits atop most small school boards. A heartfelt video upon receiving his invitation to the Reese's Senior Bowl, there are plenty of questions that remain with the talented Division II prospect, but many of those could come to an end with a strong showing in Mobile.
2. Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton (6-6, 255, RS-Senior)
One name that has quietly been on fire on the FCS trail is Trautman. Coming to campus as a quarterback, he quickly made the transition to tight end following his redshirt season. Already the program record holder for receptions and touchdown catches in a game (four), Trautman is the classic versatile tight end that is also a high-end blocker, but also a very valuable pass catcher. Possessing a large frame and speed for his size (4.76) and in only his third season at the position, there's a lot of intrigue surrounding the Flyers tight end.
3. Jabril Cox, LB, North Dakota State (6-3, 233, RS-Junior)
The lone non-senior prospect on this list is Cox. A part of one of the most storied college programs in FCS history, the Bison are once again on track for a National Championship winning season. A large reason behind that is the reliability of Cox. Making the move to WILL (weak-side) linebacker this year has lessoned the role on his shoulders quite a bit, but the flashes of tremendous play are there. Possessing the prototypical size for the modern day linebacker in today's NFL, he contains high amounts of upside because of his athleticism, comfort in coverage, and physicality when filling downhill as a run defender.
4. Jeremy Chinn, SAF, Southern Illinois (6-3, 212, Senior)
Chinn has been the staple of the Salukis defense since stepping foot on campus. Starting out his career at cornerback, but he transitioned to safety soon thereafter and flourished. His physical prowess combined with his ball skills have helped him record three interceptions in four consecutive seasons. NFL teams will be highly interested in a player with his traits combined with consistent ball production.
5. Kyle Murphy, IOL, Rhode Island (6-4, 302, Senior)
After starting his career at left guard, he has gained experience at both tackle spots -- now fully entrenched as the teams starting left tackle, but future home will be along the interior. Murphy's athleticism, nastiness, and high football I.Q. pop off of the screen very quickly. What's to like most about him though is his versatility and ability to fill in at any spot and not lose playing speed or operating levels. Murphy remains a relatively unknown, but the 2018 CAA Football First Team All-Conference selection is well on his way to an All-American type of season.
6. Ben Bartch, OT, Saint John's (MN) (6-6, 305, Senior)
A name that comes completely out of left field, that's already the case with Bartch. A former tight end who opted to bulk up and utilize his traits at offensive tackle has completely revamped his playing style and it has paid off in the long run. Already accepting his invitation to the Senior Bowl, scouts and evaluators will want to see how well he adjust to the speed of his counterparts. If so, he could finish in a similar situation as Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Ali Marpet -- another former small-school standout, who went on to become drafted in the second-round.
7. Alex Taylor, OT, South Carolina State (6-9, 305, Senior)
During my summer scouting, I received a lead on Taylor from many peers in the industry. One thought was common -- he's raw and a huge project. My favorite quote being, "he's tall, and still figuring things out, but he's as raw as a grocery store steak". That sums up Taylor to a T, but also why many evaluators will be intrigued by him. Having a well documented basketball background, it shows up often in his game as he has fluid feet, but severely low levels of strength.
8. James Robinson, RB, Illinois State (5-10, 220, Senior)
Prior to this season, Robinson has accumulated 2,223 rushing yards and 25 total touchdowns. This year, much of the same come as he's already up to 963 rushing yards and a career high 14 touchdowns through nine games. His mixture of balance, vision, and run strength could make him an intriguing late-round option. The biggest question that remains is his straight line speed and just how explosive he truly is.
9. Charlie Taumoepeau, TE, Portland State (6-3, 245, Senior)
Throughout his career with the Vikings, Taumoepeau has been a big play machine. Averaging 16.6 yards per catch during his career, it holds true on just how much of an asset his is in the passing game. Doing damage in the deeper parts of the field, he's also an advanced route runner that possesses fluid hips that enable him to get in and out of his breaks effectively. Oddly enough, he has been forced to play both ways this season as a defensive end due to injuries and lack of depth, but it has helped him in the physicality department as a blocker on the other end.
10. Aaron Parker, WR, Rhode Island (6-3, 190, Senior)
The Rhode Island receiver has shattered every record imaginable during his four-year career, but the accomplishments have continued to pile up as he's already recorded career highs in catches (66) and receiving yards (1,016). Parker is another prospect that has flown severely under the radar and one that could explode with more post-season all-star game invitations. His entire game revolves around his catch comfort and ability to separate at all three levels of the field.