A look at the Combine experience for prospects from small programs:
For every Eli Manning, there's a Phil Simms.
For every Lawrence Taylor, there's a Harry Carson.
For every Frank Gifford, there's a Roosevelt Brown.
The best draft prospects are gathered in Indianapolis this week for the annual NFL Scouting Combine. Whether they came from Ole Miss or Morehead State, UNC or South Carolina State, USC or Morgan State, everyone can say they were good enough to be invited. But as we know, fairly and unfairly, the powerhouse programs have a leg up.
So what does it take for a prospect to get drafted from non-Power 5 conference? Let's use Forrest Lamp of Western Kentucky as a case study.
STEP 1: PLAY UP TO THE COMPETITION
Because of a new emphasis on strength of schedule, playing cupcakes in early September are becoming less flagrant in college football. But it's still a time for the Oklahomas to play the Tulanes of the world. While the big programs use it as a de facto preseason, players on the other side are testing their mettle. Lamp, one of the top interior offensive linemen here at the combine, is a perfect example. During the Hilltoppers' 38-10 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide last September, Lamp put himself on the map by more than holding his own against future NFL players.
"Conference USA is a great conference and we have some great competition," Lamp said this week. "But SEC is everybody's favorite conference, so if you go compete against them, it raises your stock a little bit."
"The best single tape in the last five years that I've seen against Alabama's defensive front was Lamp's," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.
STEP 2: WOW AT THE COMBINE
Lamp is checking all the boxes. After an impressive week at the Senior Bowl, he followed up with great numbers at the combine. At 6-foot-4 and 309 pounds, he did 34 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, ran the 40-yard dash in 5 seconds flat, completed the three-cone drill in 7.55 seconds, had a broad jump of 111 inches, and a vertical of 27.5 inches. All but the vertical were in the top five among offensive linemen.
STEP 3: BE A MAN AMONG BOYS
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, a former pro personnel director for the Giants, explained this week how he evaluates players from smaller programs. The number one thing: be a man among boys.
"Let's say I'm in Pennsylvania, I've got to picture that kid starting at Penn State," Gettleman said. "I mean, no doubt, walking on, scholarship, starting at Penn State. If I'm at Kent State, I've got to picture this guy starting at Ohio State. The biggest thing is at that level, once you get below Division I, they have to be a man among boys. That's what you're looking for.
"The best example that I can give you that I was involved with was John Mobley. John Mobley played at Kutztown (Pa.). So I go to Kutztown, watch film and he's linebacker. He's the tailback in their goal line offense. He's their punt returner. So you look at all these things and, fortunately for us, John went to the Blue-Gray game when they had it back then. Because he played so well, he goes to the Senior Bowl. Now it made it a lot easier for me to stand in the Denver draft room and say he's a first-round draft pick. You've got to picture them having that kind of ability at the Division I level."
STEP 4: SHOW VERSATILITY
Lamp is following the blueprints of Ali Marpet, Cody Whitehair and Zack Martin, all left tackles in college who bumped inside in the pros. That's what Lamp has heard throughout the draft process, so he watched their tape all year.
"Sides don't affect me," Lamp said. "I played left and right guard at the Senior Bowl. I think I even played right tackle. I've played left tackle. Biggest difference is going from guard to tackle. It's so much quicker inside. At tackle, you might have 3 or 4 seconds before you touch the guy. At guard, it's a split second."
STEP 5: HAVE AN ATTITUDE
Every player has a chip on his shoulder, and being from a non-Power 5 conference is Lamp's. He'll need that confidence when he reports to training camp and is going up against All-Americans from schools that passed on him.
"Everybody says the Alabama front, all three of those guys, are going to get drafted in the first round," Lamp said. "So if I can block those guys, why couldn't I block anybody?"
NOTABLE PROPECTS FROM NON-POWER 5 CONFERENCES
- WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
- WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
- WR Zay Jones, East Carolina
- TE Gerald Everett, South Alabama
- TE Antonio Garcia, Troy
- TE Adam Shaheen, Ashland
- OT Taylor Moton, Western Michigan
- OL Dion Dawkins, Temple
- DT Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte
- LB Haason Reddick, Temple