REBECCA RENNIE BIG BOARD: SMALL SCHOOL TOP 50
By Rebecca Rennie
As with every draft class, there is exceptional talent to be found outside the FBS. This presents my Top 50 of those small school prospects. This is year two of producing this form of content. Though less extensive than the Top 150 presented last year, I believe the process and resulting content is much better this time around. Surprisingly, the near 22,000 word count actually exceeds that of last year’s big board write up.
The first four pages provide profiles on the Top 40 small school prospects. Page 5 contains the full Top 50 Big Board as a list. There is a lot of high quality prospects in the 2021 class from the FCS and beyond. Those appearing near the bottom on the list are fully capable of enjoying a pro career with the right opportunity. There are a number of players also absent from this list. I’ve attempted to watch as many as possible but know that a few will have been missed.
There is a lot of content within this project, and would be surprised if many intend to read this start to finish. However, whether used pre-draft or after your team has picked up one or more of these players during or after the draft, I hope this provides some useful information or reference.
1. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State. Grade: 1st Round
Height: 6’4”. Weight: 224 lbs.
Pros: Lance came to prominence following a spectacular redshirt freshman season. Much of the early buzz surrounding the Bison QB centered on his exceptionally rare stat of going the entire 2019 season without throwing an interception. That 28:0 ratio did the rounds on social media as many draft fans’ first introduction to Lance.
Without any context, that had potential negative connotations in addition to the obvious positives. Playing in a favorable run-establishing play-action offense, his no picks may raise questions of a conservative approach. The film reflects otherwise though, with Lance taking his share of riskier deep throws and into tight coverage windows. There certainly were turnover-worthy throws on film not capitalized on. That’s no bad thing though as someone willing to take shots and the arm strength to succeed.
Lance features an outstanding frame and physical tools. The size, strong arm and mobility contribute to the high ceiling on offer. Arguably, and provided he proves mentally strong, Lance also has a much higher floor than he is often credited for, despite his status as a redshirt sophomore from the FCS level. NDSU are well-reputed for handing more pre- and post-snap responsibilities to their quarterbacks than most systems. Lance executes well from the pocket with great feel as he navigates and sets himself in the backfield. He shows instinctive reads and recognition, understanding of pressure and coverage, all within a quick processing speed.
In addition to the high IQ and complimentary work ethic, his mobility creates a challenging accountability conflict for defenses. From designed rollouts and called runs to taking off when plays break down, Lance has playmaking layers that both expands the playbook in preparation and provides adaptability in the moment. Not only quick, Lance is both shifty and powerful through contact, and shows good feel for when to take off. The footwork within the pocket is equally encouraging. Lance is sharp from under center, in his drop-backs, resetting his feet and stepping into throws.
Cons: Lance played in one game in 2020 against Central Arkansas. It was a shaky performance for the most part that was not fully reflective of his best, particularly as a passer. Despite that, he was devastating as a runner to lead NDSU to the win. Regardless, it was unusual circumstances during an otherwise cancelled season. It does not detract from or supersede the far more expansive film available from 2019.
The earlier references to his responsibilities and execution are exceptionally important context. It can still be noted however, that Lance does have limited game action. Entering the draft as a redshirt sophomore is a rare occurrence, before accounting for doing so from the FCS level. It is true that he has not faced the high-level competition other QBs in this class have seen. Lance missed out on an opportunity to showcase himself against Oregon to open the 2020 season.
Lance has the arm mechanics and velocity to threaten all areas of the field. His film features some outstanding completions down the field. However, his deep ball accuracy is a notable area of inconsistency in his game. A proportion of his passes downfield were open but if contested, could have been challenged in the air by better defensive backs.
Wrapping Up: Lance receives some scepticism based on his experience and competition levels. There is an argument to be made though, that he projects with a higher floor than he is typically attributed. Meanwhile, the upside is obvious with an ideal skill set both from within the pocket and as a runner. Though he has further development required, the fundamentals and instincts are present in his football IQ and processing. All prospects, often more so at QB, have associated risk. However, Lance is fully deserving of being discussed in tandem with the top names in the 2021 draft class.
2. Dillon Radunz, OT/IOL, North Dakota State. Grade: 2nd Round
Height: 6’6”. Weight: 301 lbs.
Pros: The Bison have had a strong recent run of developing quarterbacks but have quietly also put several solid offensive linemen into the league. While the likes of Billy Turner and Joe Haeg have become steady contributors, Dillon Radunz has the potential to be a high-level starter. One of several small school prospects in attendance, Radunz had an inconsistent start to Senior Bowl week. He quickly adapted however, and showcased his appealing skill set, complimenting his outstanding NDSU game film.
Radunz appears on film to be of modest tackle size. His measurements were always set to be among the more interesting to watch for. The Senior Bowl saw him over 6’5”, a shade over 300 lbs, and scraping above 33” arm length. His pro day weigh-in included a longer 34” arm measurement. Nothing to get overly excited for but above commonly referenced thresholds for playing outside. Ultimately, he could still be a better fit inside, dependant on team and scheme fit. He has legitimate potential to start at any of the five O-line positions. Either way, there is a lot to like about the projectable floor for Radunz as a pro.
The small school standout finished his Bison career with 32 straight starts at left tackle. He impresses with his technical proficiency and the consistency with which he applies it snap-to-snap. Radunz plays with good form, pad level, a stout base, plus footwork and hand placement. He can continue to add strength but makes himself more challenging to move through the foundation he sets, stacking that with fantastic aggression and motor.
He continually maximized his skill set and dominated the FCS level in both pass pro and run blocking. Radunz was rarely beaten in the former and nasty in the latter, often driving defenders out of frame. He controls the point of attack and finishes to the floor as necessary. His sharp footwork includes efficient changes of direction and overall mirror ability. Added to excellent control and balance, he routinely makes it difficult to disengage once establishing his block. His high IQ, awareness and anticipation are frequently on show in his blitz pickups and reactions to counters. Combination blocks on the second level contributed to the ground success of the Bison.
Cons: There have been some slightly conflicting measurements for Radunz. Some teams may not see him at tackle, potentially lowering his value in those cases. He could be an interior lineman only on some boards. If so, his nice athletic traits, energy and commitment will excel in certain systems and could thrive as a pulling guard.
While dominating at the FCS level for NDSU, Radunz has sufficient but maybe not top-end core strength. He certainly compensates with his form and leverage, alongside the battling qualities in the trenches. For what it’s worth, his 24 reps on the bench was a solid result. Though most of the time his hands are on point, he is not infallible to misses that can leave him on the back foot. At the very least it’s an area to continue to work on to be even more dependable.
Wrapping Up: Radunz has garnered divergent opinions amongst draft fans and media since the summer. It feels as though he has answered many questions over the pre-draft process. The opinion here is overall a highly positive one. His instinctive, smart play stands out, as does his smooth movement, control, balance and technique. His best fit may be debatable but should become a plus starter somewhere on the line.
3. Quinn Meinerz, IOL, Wisconsin-Whitewater. Grade: 2nd-3rd Round
Height: 6’3”. Weight: 320 lbs.
Pros: One of the biggest winners during Senior Bowl week, Meinerz was a late addition to the roster. He proceeded to impress with his measurements, on-field performances, and by all accounts with his attitude and interactions throughout. Concerns on film with his build and length were eased by appearing with a better distribution of bulk on his frame and solid 33” arm length. Practices saw the D3 prospect dominate 1-on-1 reps and during scrimmages. Finally, his work while not playing this year to teach himself how to play center will pay off significantly. His competence at that spot gives added versatility and value across the interior O-Line.
Meinerz proved a better athlete than expected from 2019 film, including running sub-5 seconds at his pro day. He shows good straight-line quickness working upfield to the second level. A factor in his run blocking success, the Warhawks lineman frequently blows open holes in the run game. Much of the blocking concepts apparent on film appear somewhat simplistically head-on and blinkered. However, there’s flashes of more nuance to torque and seal off defenders that can be further developed. He has noted in media interviews that he feels he is taking well to coaching relating to more complex designs.
Noteworthy from the Wisconsin-Whitewater film is reliable footwork, leverage and overall form. Regularly owning the point of attack, Meinerz gains the upper hand early, controls the action and creates backward movement. Once he has established an advantage, he rarely allows an opponent to recover and reverse the momentum. A high school wrestler, that background shows up in his hand usage and ability to sustain blocks post-contact. The 2019 Wisconsin-Whitewater team captain was a D3 1st team All-American as a junior.
Cons: Meinerz is next in line of a talented group of Division 2 and 3 offensive line prospects in recent draft classes. Ali Marpet, Alex Cappa and Ben Bartch lead the names of coveted prospects from those levels. Unlike those prior prospects however, Meinerz’s college film shows hints of the potential but did not feel it was as consistently dominant as the others displayed. Prior to his Senior Bowl exploits, the film alone would have Meinerz grade up to several rounds lower on its own.
His body composition and conditioning looked poorer on film during that 2019 season. Given his revamped look and the results shown since, this eases some consistency questions raised from his junior film. The 2019 game film suggested some athletic limitations, particularly when moving laterally and changing directions. Again however, that looked improved upon reaching the Senior Bowl, further emphasizing the extent to which Meinerz has boosted his projection through this pre-draft process.
Wrapping Up: Meinerz epitomizes a genuinely deserving riser through the pre-draft process. His junior film is solid, at times dominant, but was far from flawless. The positive weigh-in, the added versatility at Center, and proving he belonged by owning the competition in Mobile was hugely important. The power, physicality and stout base are starting caliber traits.
4. Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa. Grade: 3rd Round
Height: 6’8”. Weight: 311 lbs.
Pros: Brown stands out for his desirable frame. In addition to being 6’8”, he measures in with a wingspan to match, big hands and nearly 35” arms. He has succeeded in putting weight onto his frame during his time in college. Likely factoring into to his lesser recruitment, Brown was a 230 lb tight end and defensive lineman out of high school. Northern Iowa saw the potential to develop as an offensive lineman. Brown redshirted in 2016 as he learned his new position and worked on his frame. His play time increased from 2017 through to his full-time starting role at right tackle in 2019.
Length is an obvious advantage that Brown makes use of to win. However, it is encouraging that he is not solely reliant on it. Taking good initiative out of his stance, he is aggressive in delivering an impactful initial punch. There are more agile and explosive tackle prospects, but Brown shows sufficient baseline athleticism, aided by active and nimble feet. In most instances, the Northern Iowa lineman utilizes his kick slide width to keep in phase with outside rushes. When required, late extension as rushers corner can create enough angle and distance to buy his QB additional release time.
The Panthers prospect could do so more consistently but generally shows effective form. He keeps his pad level low enough to absorb attacks into the body and maintain his balance. Brown is capable of creating movement when driving in the run game. He runs his feet through contact and shows enough power in straight-line situations at the FCS level. Still developing at tackle, he has potential to continue to add strength as a pro.
Reiterating the above, Brown may show flaws and is unquestionably raw but the trajectory is pointing upwards. Over the brief time period of the Senior Bowl, the gradual improvements over the week are indicative of his abilities to work hard, learn and take coaching. The strides he made were evident and surely helped his stock as a result.
Cons: As suggested, for all the good flashes, Brown has some ways to go. Inconsistency is applicable throughout his play and execution. He remains vulnerable to giving up quick pressures in pass protection and missing opportunities and assignments as a run blocker. He has generally been able to compensate through his size and length at the FCS level but faces a steep learning curve. Given how high he’s projected to be drafted, he might be expected to contribute early but could need some time.
While able to use his stride length and solid footwork to track pass rushers outside, he shows vulnerability to counters and inside moves. Though generally holding up at the point of attack he has his moments of being worked in the opening exchanges and being subverted through those mid-rush counters and switch-ups. When knocked back as a result, he can struggle to recover and reset.
The technique is decent considering his relative rawness. However, he is prone to raising his already naturally high pad level. Hand placement and punch fall under the inconsistency umbrella. Too often he will miss with his hands and lunge in attempts to search out contact. The upper body technique issues can leave him inconsistent in sustaining blocks. He can slip off a defender’s frame and can allow rushers to cross his face as they work into the backfield. His mental game is improving but can appear a little lost at times if left searching out blocks in space, including on broken plays.
Wrapping Up: Though far from a finished product, it is very obvious that Brown offers a high ceiling. Given the variance between the good but raw and inconsistent film with the potential he could reach, it’s no surprise that he will grade high with many and more conservatively with others. Neither stance is unreasonable. Brown has all the tools to be a starting pro tackle but is not without risk.
5. Elerson G. Smith, EDGE, Northern Iowa. Grade: 4th Round
Height: 6’6”. Weight: 262 lbs.
Pros: An intriguing late round developmental small schooler off 2019 film, Smith’s projection is arguably worthy of earlier investment entering the final stages of the draft process. A tight end and defensive end in high school, the well-rounded athlete competed in a range of sports, including track & field, basketball and wrestling. He took a couple years to see any action as he added weight to his 190 lb listing entering college. He quickly asserted himself once able to take the field with a productive final two seasons.
Smith has an impressive frame with length, alongside excellent athletic traits. A little lean however, his primary issues on film revolved around his light, lean build. Reportedly playing around 245 lbs, he was limited by a lack of power. In spite of that, the Panthers edge produced to a high level including 21.5 TFLs and FCS-leading 14 sacks. Now, Smith has bulked up to over 260 lbs, with the added weight benefiting his ability to win in multiple ways. Smith excelled at the Senior Bowl in both practices and the game. His added bulk also allowed for some solid reps moving inside in addition to his staple outside alignments.
Smith’s length is complimented by positive athletic traits. While not overly explosive, he has a nice first step, quickness and burst for his size. More notably, Smith is highly agile and loose hipped for his frame. After initially having some concerns over his balance from 2019 film, the weight increase appears to have provided added stability to his base. More flexible than most at his size, Smith shows ability to bend, dip and turn the corner effectively. The overall footwork is functional throughout.
Despite the issues on film with power, the effort and high motor consistently stood out. Smith was often able to compensate with good extension and with his impressive ability to get skinny and slip off blocks. Regularly proving difficult to contain beyond the initial block, Smith found ways to disengage. Though more finesse in nature, the UNI defender flashed good hand use to deflect and swipe away block attempts.
The added bulk should assist Smith in his play versus the run. Even at his skinny playing weight, the Panthers’ rusher hustled his way to 63 tackles in 2019. He generally wrapped up well when in position, utilizing his length. His pursuit led to plays made to the sidelines with good closing speed. Multiple examples on film show Smith making good 1-on-1 open field tackles in space. There was plenty to like in setting himself up positionally against the run and looked situationally aware.
Cons: There is an element of uncertainty in Smith’s projection. As referenced, his 2019 film is unquestionably flawed. Despite the strong Senior Bowl showing, it’s unknown how he’ll fully adapt his game at the heavier build. It should be an overall positive though, provided he has not compensating on his advantageous agility. While he flashes upper body technique, he remains raw as a rusher. Until progressing more defined and refined rush moves, he could take time before finding consistent production at the NFL level.
The game film shows Smith getting owned often from a physicality aspect. He was frequently overpowered and controlled against the run. Limited at the point of attack he often could not solidify his base and moved backward. At times lining up at 5-tech in a 3-man front, he looked out of place in such a role. Encouragingly however, some inside reps at the Senior Bowl showed are stouter base to hold up at the point of attack.
Wrapping Up: An ascending prospect, Smith may only be scratching the surface of his potential. The added bulk to go with his length and agility combine for an intriguing physical profile and set of tools. Continuing to develop the technical aspects of his game could see him maximize his skillset and smart play. He may grade higher than most here yet could still prove a bargain should he reach his ceiling.
6. David Moore, IOL, Grambling State. Grade: 4th Round
Height: 6’2”. Weight: 330 lbs.
Pros: There is a deep group of small school OL prospects in the upcoming 2021 class. While the likes of Radunz and Brown were discussed frequently over the summer, it was Grambling’s David Moore who was among the earliest accepted Senior Bowl invites back in October 2020. Though he was unable to play out his 2020 Senior season, his 2019 film is dominant. As with his small school OL peers, he also excelled during Senior Bowl week. Moore was voted top OL on the American team by the opposing defensive line group.
Moore features a short but broad, powerful frame. Previously listed at 320 lbs, he weighed in at Mobile at a substantially bulkier 350 lbs. His subsequent pro day weigh-in included a drop to 336 lbs. Regardless of his ultimate playing weight, there’s no question that he has outstanding power within his muscular frame. Power is a big factor in how he wins but should not be undersold as an athlete either. The Grambling standout has good explosion out of his stance. He shows impressive overall quickness, agility and flexibility to go with the core strength.
During reps when his base and technique are solid, Moore is balanced and difficult to move backward off his spot. Built lower to the ground with natural leverage, his anchor is generally excellent. The Tigers lineman can land some heavy-handed punches to jolt back defenders. Though his form can let him down, Moore regularly shows ability to maintain his blocks and recover through his battling qualities and physical advantages over most FCS opposition.
There is so much to like about the play style overall. He brings a motor and mauling, overpowering effort. Up for a fight with anyone, Moore thrives in the physicality of the trenches and finishes emphatically. He could excel as a pulling lead blocker, with lateral agility and quickness onto the second level. In the run game, he is constantly looking for someone else to take out if unengaged.
Cons: Moore measures in at a shorter height than most NFL lineman at under 6‘2”. This is a minor note though due to better arm length, while exploiting his leverage advantage and power well. The fluctuating weight that is suggested from various measurements is not ideal, hopefully finding a more consistent playing weight. Currently, Moore’s physical tools generally lead to more wins than through his technical execution. The consistency of his hand placement and arm extension can improve. The punch at the point of attack is impressive when it hits the mark. Other times however, he can miss his target.
Moore does not consistently lock down rushers after initial contact. Some speed rushes and quick second-phase counters can see him allow disengagement and pressure. Natural balance is good, but his coordination and form can deteriorate as the play progresses and under increasing duress. On film he can lunge, overextend and bend at the waist while attempting to stay engaged. He has worked on those since that 2019 season, however.
Wrapping Up: It is noteworthy that Moore was a relatively late starter to football. There is rawness in his game and technique but is an ascending prospect. While sitting out the 2020 season, he has worked with NFL legend Bruce Matthews. Particularly, he has reportedly focused on flexibility, lower body technique and maximizing his core power. He projects well as a potential future NFL starter.
7. Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State. Grade: 4th Round
Height: 5’11”. Weight: 184 lbs.
Pros: With eight straight playoff appearances, the Jackrabbits are a leading FCS program, featuring a strong offense. Over the past twenty years though, Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert is the lone offensive draft pick out of SDSU. That surely changes in 2021 however, with Johnson looking worthy of a mid-round selection. The standout small school receiver may lack size but ticks most other boxes.
Johnson has put together two seasons of proven production and dominance over the competition faced. He backed that up by excelling against a higher talent level at the Senior Bowl. The former walk-on consistently separated from coverage over the week and finished at the catch point. His high positional IQ and quick-twitch athleticism rounds out the skills set on offer. A dynamic returner, he brings added special teams value. Pro day testing included high 4.4 to low 4.5 speed, 35” vertical, 9-6 broad jump and 11 bench reps.
Johnson excels at getting open through his suddenness in short areas, burst and sharp footwork. Adding in the combination of route-running savvy and situational awareness contributed to his consistently high production. From his initial acceleration off the line to dropping his hips and effectively breaking down at the top of his routes, he is tough to keep in check. The Jackrabbits receiver stands out for his ball tracking, hand-eye coordination, timing and reliable hands.
A factor all over the field, Johnson impresses as a downfield target on deep passes, making plays over the middle, taking short receptions and running after catch. He finds space versus zone defense as effectively as he works off man coverage. Executing a varied route tree, he contributes with chain-moving quick-hitters and breaking big-gain plays. Johnson transitions efficiently into a ball carrier after securing the catch. In addition to separating as a route runner, he shows the shiftiness to make defenders miss as a runner with the ball in his hands.
Though small, there is no questioning the toughness that Johnson plays with. He’s a high effort blocker when asked and shows no fear catching in traffic. The regularity with which he outfought bigger DBs at the catch point is noteworthy. Prior to becoming the leading target, the FCS All-American returned two kicks for touchdowns as a freshman.
Cons: While he makes up for it elsewhere, Johnson’s frame will likely limit how early he is drafted. In addition to being under 5’10, he measured in at the Senior Bowl lacking ideal length. His 29” arms and 71.5” wingspan results in a reduced target window and catch radius on offer. Though tricky in space and willing to take hits, he also has a limited physical presence. Johnson is unlikely to break too many tackles at the NFL level once defenders get contact on him.
Wrapping Up: After initially considering a Power 5 transfer following the cancellation of SDSU’s 2020 season, Johnson chose instead to enter the draft. While scouts might have liked to have seen that happen, he impressed vs Minnesota in 2019 and stood out consistently at the Senior Bowl. His smart instinctive execution, sharp movement and outstanding hands will offset some concern over his smaller frame. An early Day 3 pick should yield a fantastic return on investment.
8. Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas. Grade: 4th Round
Height: 6’0”. Weight: 193 lbs.
Pros: Rochell has the physical and athletic tools to match the majority of top cornerback prospects in the 2021 class. Though not yet fully developed, Rochell showed potential as a versatile 3-phase player out of high school. It appears to simply have been a case of a talented athlete slipping through the cracks. In fairness, he did require time and a redshirt year prior to seeing the field. After breaking into the lineup however, Rochell has continued to improve, impress and produce.
The Bears defensive back has clear advantages over most of the opposition faced at the FCS level. When technique is not on point, his athleticism and length can compensate. Recovery speed is present to restore position after allowing separation. He has arguably proved to be at his best at the catch point. Tracking and timing consistency can improve but frequently is set up well to make plays on the ball. The playmaker creates turnovers, including 9 interceptions over the past two seasons.
Technique overall is a work-in-progress, but Rochell has the requisite strength and length to get good extension and punch during initial interactions out of press. He can open up his stride smoothly to cover ground working deep. Physical application is inconsistent but Rochell occasionally flashes with some impactful tackles, demonstrating ability to provide run support.
Cons: Emphasizing the development still required, Rochell had some ups and downs during his time at the Senior Bowl. In particular, some rough reps during 1-on-1s saw losses to pass catchers of differing skill sets. Whether shiftier receivers such as Kadarius Toney or bigger bodies like Josh Palmer, Rochell had his share of losses. While still measuring in close to 6’ tall and with over 32” arms, the FCS defensive back was a little smaller than anticipated.
Rochell has some lax technique in coverage that leads to allowing fairly easy separation at times. In particular, he is prone to lateness reacting to breaking receivers, losing a step at the top of routes. He can display some wasted motion and loss of momentum as he redirects in addition to slower reactions that bring anticipation into question. He can compensate and recover in most situations at the FCS level. However, that will prove more challenging in the pros. The UCA corner makes some good run stops at times. Other times he appears hesitant to commit to the tackle when in position.
Wrapping Up: An invite to both the Senior Bowl and Combine, the NFL has plenty of intrigue in Rochell. The appeal is understandable and the upside undeniable. Despite some early-round hype that has been present since last summer, Rochell arguably remains a developmental prospect at this time. Questions relating to technique and recognition will be emphasized more in the pros. Physical advantages over FCS opposition likely no longer compensate to the same extent. He ought to translate as a core special team contributor while he develops however, giving him time to finesse his overall game. The eventual payoff could be significant.
9. Zach Davidson, TE/P, Central Missouri. Grade: 4th Round
Height: 6’7”. Weight: 245 lbs.
Pros: One of the more unique stories among 2021 prospects. Davidson has spent more time as a punter than he has at his projected primary position of tight end. Playing in an option offense through high school, he was under-used and under-recruited as a result. Central Missouri recruited him as a special teamer but also saw his athletic potential to develop elsewhere. After some rotational action at tight end in 2018, he exploded as a breakout star in 2019. The Mules playmaker put up 894 yards on just 40 catches, an average of 22.4 yards per catch. Dominating in the red zone and on breakaway runs after the catch, he added 15 receiving touchdowns.
Even factoring in Division 2 opposition, Davidson’s enticing athleticism is obvious regardless. If accurate, his pro day testing reflects the tools shown on film. An unofficial 4.62 dash and 6.95 cone time, alongside a 37.5” vertical were among the standout numbers. Few at his 6’7” length offer his level of mobility, agility and quickness. Davidson shows fast releases, acceleration and good top speed.
While the route running and footwork can improve, he shows quickness in-and-out of breaks, maintaining speed after changing directions. He flashes the ability to separate over the middle. Davidson frequently impresses in maximizing run-after-catch opportunities. He offers a wide catch radius and ability to high point over most coverage.
Despite only one season of full-time action at tight end, his versatile deployment was encouraging. Central Missouri moved Davidson around in a variety of alignments. He was used in-line, at H-back in the backfield, from the slot and occasionally out wide. The lean-framed athlete lacks bulk and power currently but gives his all as an aggressive blocker. Generally, coaches can work with those who are willing to put the effort in at blocking.
Cons: As good as his 2019 season was, Davidson remains a raw prospect with limited experience, all from a significantly lower competition level. Even more so than many small school prospects, there is the potential to require time to adapt and develop, both physically and technically. There is the option of adding more weight to his lean build. Improving his strength and resulting physicality ought to benefit his game.
Davidson wins often at the D2 level through his athletic advantages, despite some raw technique. Precision with route depth and timing will benefit his execution in the passing game. At times, there are unnecessary stutter-steps and wasted motion at the top of routes that can be cleaned up. In addition to the power deficiencies as a blocker, Davidson will often bend at the waist as blocks progress in an attempt to maintain contact.
Wrapping Up: There are several highly coveted names at the top of the 2021 tight end class. Outside of those prospects, there is no obvious consensus for the remaining options. Arguably, few offer as much upside as Davidson does with his rare length and athletic profile. Davidson reportedly met with around two dozen NFL teams at the Gridiron Showcase event. It doesn’t hurt that his background as a punter gives added roster value, even if just as an emergency backup option.
10. Christian Uphoff, S, Illinois State. Grade: 5th Round
Height: 6’2”. Weight: 209 lbs.
Pros: Uphoff’s projected path as a pro could follow a similar pattern to his college career. Prior to a breakout 2019 season, the Redbirds DB took time to develop and incrementally increase his impact on the field. Initially a backup, he stood out as a special teams contributor before impressing in his solo season as a starter. Uphoff offers developmental traits with the potential to eventually become a starter. He helped his cause at the Senior Bowl, also receiving a Combine invite.
The safety prospect has an appealing combination of size and athletic tools that reflect a well-rounded skillset for the position. Arm length is modest at 30 3/4”, but otherwise features a strong, muscular frame. While still refining his footwork and technique, the burst and range are clearly evident on film. Uphoff has the required movement and agility to handle coverage duties. The playmaking flashes and area of influence he can affect factors into the moldable attributes.
Uphoff has proven himself as a versatile defender, contributing on all levels. His production versus the pass has included 13 breakups and 3 interceptions the past two seasons. Totalling 70 tackles in 2019, he is capable of closing quickly downhill in run support. Some highlights include crunching physical tackles in meeting ball carriers on the second level. Frequently lining up off the edge and used in blitzes, his burst into the backfield added to his contributions.
Cons: While Uphoff has the size, strength and speed profile desired, he does not yet apply those abilities consistently. Inefficient footwork includes some wasted motion as he navigates toward the action. A proneness to false step alongside some late or incorrect reads can leave him a step behind. Much of the inconsistencies against the run center around some poor angles taken to the ball carrier. Finally, he has his share of missed opportunities as a tackler due to some careless tackling technique.
Without context, Uphoff’s pro day athletic testing numbers do not read as overly impressive. It is important to keep in mind the conditions, however. Cold and wet weather were significantly detrimental to testing relative to standard Combine settings. Despite that, Uphoff still put together a solid workout that reflected his fundamental athleticism. It would have been useful to have gotten more reflective numbers, but the film suggests good football speed and agility.
Wrapping Up: The terms inconsistent and raw are applicable to Uphoff. He has positive instincts but needs to sharpen his reads and his overall technique. Footwork and tackling technique stand out in particular as areas to improve. That said, Uphoff offers an appealing blend of physicality, range and frame that contribute to the desirable developmental upside. As with his time at Illinois State, an early special teams and rotational role could be the precursor to an eventual starting position down the road. He likely hears his name called during Day 3 of the draft.
Feature Image Credit: Photo Credit: Tim Sanger