By Rebecca Rennie

Welcome back to another season of small school NFL Draft coverage on The Touchdown! We’re reworking the format for this year. Availability for writing makes it difficult to get a full weekly review out until Fridays. So instead of just a lookback at performances from the previous week, when a new game week has already begun, this instead will be a mix of content.

There will be some focus given to prospects who stood out in recent performances, but also include some names to watch out for in contests for the upcoming Saturday games. The writeups on each prospect may also be slightly shorter and punchier than some of the previous long profiles provided. Those will certainly continue when it comes time for the final Small School Big Board!

Excited to continue with the content and getting to highlight more under-the-radar small school prospects to know for the NFL Draft. Enjoy the new season of action.


Photo Credit: FAMU Athletics

Last season, this series began with a big wide receiver performance in a losing effort against FBS opposition. Western Illinois’ Dennis Houston has since gone on to be a camp surprise for many with the Dallas Cowboys. Rattlers’ receiver Xavier Smith has pro potential of his own and looked the part in a high-profile matchup with North Carolina.

FAMU moved the ball well on offense throughout the contest, with Smith an active and reliable target over the course of the game. While he totalled a relatively unspectacular 78 yards, his 10 receptions showcased traits that can translate. Smith’s polished routes and suddenness as he redirects saw him consistently work open as a reliable underneath target on short to intermediate routes, over the middle and to the outside.

In addition to his sharp execution and soft hands to secure the football, Smith impressed with his field awareness, body control and footwork. A tight sideline grab during the second half highlighted that savvy instinctive feel among his double-digit grabs. While smaller at around 5’9, 170 lbs, the shifty pass catcher plays bigger. Early in the first quarter against the Tarheels, Smith flashed his abilities running after the catch, lowering his shoulder and breaking tackles with nice balance.

That skillset with the ball in his hands has seen Smith used on special teams as a returner, adding to his versatile usage. UNC are the only top division team on Florida A&M’s schedule for the season. This strong performance becomes a key one for Smith’s eventual evaluation for the draft. He can continue his positive start to the season though with another good matchup this weekend. The Rattlers will face Deion Sanders’ Jackson State at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami this Sunday.


Photo Credit: Alabama State University Athletics

One of the most anticipated matchups of Week 0 saw Alabama State take on Howard in the MEAC SWAC Challenge between the two HBCU schools. Unfortunately, significant weather delays took away from watching it live. Ultimately, it was called short with just over 2 minutes left in the game, with the Hornets declared the 23-13 winners. It proved worth going back and watching in full the following day, however. Both teams feature pro prospects who performed well, as the next two players discussed will attest to.

Hornets cornerback Keenan Isaac was already on the radar, and put together positive game film last season in a matchup with Auburn. Despite being beaten for a long touchdown, overall, Isaac looked the part athletically against SEC opposition. With a long 6’2 frame and outstandingly smooth, fluid movement and transitions, the rangy defensive back has upside in coverage. What consistently stood out, despite his 182 lb listing, was his intensity and effectiveness in run support. Isaac hits like a 240 lb linebacker, while using solid technique and taking effective angles.

Those traits showed up again in another good outing against the Bison to open the 2022 season. Isaac totalled 7 tackles including a half-TFL, alongside two pass breakups in coverage. His awareness and closing speed contributed to the first pass defended in the opening quarter. Early in the 4th quarter, Isaac used excellent positioning relative to the receiver and sideline to force a difficult throw. Then, with nice ball tracking and timing, challenged well at the catch point to help force the incompletion. Isaac is an early personal favorite small school prospect for the 2023 NFL Draft.


Photo Credit: Howard University Athletics

Though in a losing effort, the Bison’s best defender impressed individually in the HBCU matchup. Edge defender Darrian Brokenburr’s stat line may only have included 5 tackles, but the play throughout better reflected his impact. The senior defensive end burst into the backfield early and often in the first quarter. He met the running back in the backfield for a stop, with the Hornets’ ball carrier only just forcing his way back to the line of scrimmage for no gain. Later in Q1, a sharp inside move again positioned him to take down the runner for zero yardage. A pair of tackles were inches away from a couple tackles for loss.

While it was more a case of right place, right time, Brokenburr was there to catch the ball out of the air on a special teams blocked punt late in the first half. At 6’3, 265 lbs and solid looking arm length, Brokenburr has sufficient size for the next level. While not an elite athlete, he moves well with applicable bend and changes of direction. What consistently stands out from his film last season and to begin 2022 is the ferocity and physicality at the point of attack and in the run game. Brokenburr brings an effective punch and power with aggressive hands to work off contact. He forces himself into positions to make plays and finishes forcefully as a tackler.

Though arguably a better run defender than pass rusher currently, Brokenburr flashes well at creating backfield pressure. Good technique is evident in his rush attempts. On a couple of occasions against Alabama State, forceful application of his rip move helped shorten the angle into the backfield to quicken the process for the Hornets’ QB. Using a long arm and good power at the point saw him force the opposing quarterback to scramble from the pocket early in the second quarter. The Bison edge defender has well-rounded physical traits, a high motor and aggressive play style, with sharp technique. He makes for an interesting under-the-radar defensive prospect to watch this season.



Photo Credit: Mercer University Athletics

While his listed size of 5’8 and 165 lbs make him something of an outlier, Harper is not one to dismiss as a potential pro prospect. The undersized but tenacious receiver is far from afraid of contact and has explosiveness to threaten quality defenses. Ask Alabama, who Mercer took on in 2021, in which Harper made an impression. The speedy playmaker worked open against the Tide for a 60-yard touchdown play.

Harper will get another opportunity against SEC opposition this upcoming Saturday against the Auburn Tigers. Though the game may ultimately turn into a blowout win for the Power Five school, the Gardner-Webb transfer is one to keep an eye on. It’s fun watching him take on blocks and lower his shoulder into contact despite the smaller frame. More importantly for the next level, his acceleration and shiftiness in the open field can threaten a big play on any touch.

The Bears standout has already began the season well. In Week 0 against Morehead state, he took one of his two receptions for a 29-yard score on offense. More notable was on special teams, in which the dynamic Harper returned a kickoff 93 yards for another score. That ability as a returner could aid in an attempt to stick in the NFL despite his lighter frame.


Photo Credit: University of South Dakota Athletics

These early weeks of the season are fantastic opportunities for FCS prospects to take on more high-level competition during the non-con schedule. One of the most interesting matchups of the first full weekend slate will provide a key test for South Dakota offensive tackle Alex Jensen. The Missouri Valley team will take on Kansas State to open their campaign. The Coyotes’ lineman is one of the most intriguing FCS prospects in this upcoming class. Jensen could see a significant number of snaps facing a highly regarded prospect in his own right, in Felix Anudike-Uzomah of the Wildcats.

The offensive line talent pool from small schools has been strong in recent seasons. Several of those talents have converted to the position as initially under-recruited tight ends, but with upside based on length and retained athleticism. Jensen is another former TE with developmental upside to watch this season. Listed at 6’6, 295 lbs, he has hopefully continued to add bulk to a lean frame. While still growing as an O-lineman, Jensen has built up good experience to this point. The Coyotes tackle enters his redshirt senior season with 28 consecutive starts.

In addition to requiring additional bulk and power at the point of attack, overall technique is a work-in-progress. There’s a tendency to compensate by lunging into contact and losing ideal form in his pass protection. Footwork off the edge can improve, though his impressive quickness is an atoning factor. The movement throughout his play is such a standout trait that creates intriguing upside. If he can put together some good reps when facing Anudike-Uzomah, it will only elevate Jensen’s draft standing.

Feature Image Credit: FAMU Athletics.

Rebecca Rennie

rebecca rennie


Rebecca is an NFL Draft analyst focusing primarily on the FCS and Group of Five conferences, and a fan of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Stanford Cardinal. You can find her other articles here and follow on Twitter @bex_r86.