SMALL SCHOOL NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS: SENIOR BOWL SPECIAL
By Rebecca Rennie
This series began with highlighting prospects to watch during the year who will feature during draft season. That time is now! The Senior Bowl is next up on the All-Star circuit. Only 6 small school prospects are attending this year (barring late call-ups); we take a look at each.
The almost league-wide need for offensive line upgrades and depth is as prevalent as ever. The search for those with the physical traits and upside has unearthed a Division III standout in Bartch. A struggling tight end for two years, his conversion to the offensive line has been a resounding success. Bartch arrives at Mobile with as much potential as anyone to dramatically improve their draft stock with a strong week.
It would not surprise if the significant step-up in competition results in some early struggles. Showing progress throughout the week will be encouragement enough that there’s something to work with. Arriving at St John’s at 220lbs, he’s up to over 300lbs as a Senior. Already well proportioned, Bartch has good weight distribution currently and enough lower body bulk with room to add more to his long frame.
Given the competition level, analysis of Bartch’s game film must be taken within context. However, there’s plenty to gleam from the available footage as a base analysis and projection. He looks the part immediately with the long arms to match his sizable frame. Many of the desired athletic traits are also present. Bartch demonstrates good initial pop out of his stance and quick first step.
His hands follow suit, getting an early punch on first contact. However, his primary technical issue currently is the inconsistency in his hand placement that can limit the impact of that initial punch. His length aids him both in his upper body extension and in the depth he achieves with his long strides to track speed rushers around and behind the pocket. The small school tackle displays impressive footwork, coordination and balance in his abilities to stop and redirect, changing direction efficiently.
The smooth footwork combines with flashes of good recognition and football IQ to identify and handle pressure and late blitzes. An appealing balance of brain and brawn, his smart play is joined by a propensity to deliver some nasty finishes to his blocks in both pass protection and as a run blocker. He hasn’t been overly challenged physically at the D3 level, however. Bartch’s core strength and ability to hold up against elite power are among the biggest questions as yet unanswered.
Should that prove an issue at the Senior Bowl, it would reflect the likelihood that Bartch could need some time to develop more physically before being ready to start in the NFL. It should not be forgotten that he is not long removed from his days as a much lighter tight end. Some struggles at the All-Star event would be expected and would not tank his draft stock.
He’ll also get looks at multiple spots and is listed at guard on the Senior Bowl roster. It could take time, but there’s a high potential ceiling for the small school offensive tackle prospect. Whether he’s a Day 3 investment or can work his way into Day 2 consideration will be a storyline to watch, beginning here at the Senior Bowl.
Dugger is another who has an opportunity to strap a rocket to his already lofty draft stock. More so than Bartch, he is also an easier projection to finding a role on a pro roster. Despite the fact that there are questions as to his best position fit, the elite athleticism and playmaking ability of the D2 star will surely lead to an impactful role. A safety throughout college, he might fit better at linebacker. More likely, he should take on a fluid hybrid role within the back seven of a defense. A special teams standout, he can also factor in as an early contributor there too.
It’s understandable to question how a player of his obvious physical abilities ended up at Lenoir-Rhyne. The answer lies in his late participation into high school football and being significantly under-developed physically at the time. Now that his frame has fully matured, Dugger has a cut physical build with long arms and big hands. His explosive athleticism will see him be one of the Combine standouts in testing.
The competition faced on film is not ideal. As wanted though, Dugger dominates throughout. The athleticism is evident early, even taking into account the relative abilities of others on the field with him. His straight-line closing speed is of particular note, along with sideline range. At times he can look a little tight hipped in some of his lateral movements and in his backpedal. He’s not lacking in his change of direction quickness though, in addition to his ability to close in a flash. When required, his recovery speed impresses.
Dugger is at his best working downhill as a hard-hitting imposing tackler. Already featuring a frame bigger than most for the safety position, the momentum as he flies to the ball carrier results in some crunching hits on contact. With his ability playing facing the action, his run support in the box, sideline range and general tackling skills, the projection to linebacker is logical.
His film suggests a player who is much more comfortable playing downhill and versus the run than he looks in coverage. Though his quickness aids him against the pass, there’s rawness to his positioning, anticipation and some late reactions in coverage. Either way and as previously referenced, he’ll be a versatile player in the back seven with 4.4 speed who can be deployed to multiple assignments.
Turning 24 years old prior to the draft, the 6th-year senior is a little older than ideal. Added to his potential to require time to transition to the higher level of competition, it may put some teams off a little. Dugger is up there with some of the more exciting small school prospects of recent years, however. A good Senior Bowl week should solidify a top 100 draft selection, if not higher.
There’s not a clear-cut prospect among the small school talents to be the first off the board in 2020. Trautman, who was previewed in this series a few weeks ago, has as good a chance as any with a strong Senior Bowl week. A commonly stated draft narrative has suggested this to be a weaker tight end class but there’s arguably a lot of depth and potential to the group. Trautman has some rawness to his game but has the upside to match most at his position in this class.
After improving his statistical impact each year of college, he finished with his most productive season yet as a senior. Trautman totalled 70 receptions for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns over the 2019 season.
The appeal as a prospect is apparent immediately on film; Trautman looks the part. With an ideal combination of size, strength and speed, he ticks off all the boxes in terms of measurables. An outstanding mover, the Flyers senior has excellent upfield burst off the line with quickness over short areas and long speed to stretch the field. Trautman moves around the formation from inline and the backfield, to the slot and out wide.
Tempering the initial excitement over his potential, Trautman is very much still a developmental project. The contributions and effort as both a receiver and blocker showcase an all-round impact at the position, but is technically unpolished in both primary areas. Currently, he is still able to win consistently as a result of his rare athletic ability at his size.
As a blocker, the Dayton standout is aggressive and imposing in the run game. Though technically ragged, he flashes the ability to dominate at the point against overmatched opposition. He is frequently capable of driving defenders out of frame and knocking his opponent to the turf. To do so more consistently, he’ll have to improve his leverage, base and hand placement.
As a receiver, Trautman is most impressive at the catch point, consistently winning in contested and jump ball situations. With good use of his big frame and catch radius, he positions himself well, high pointing with timing and a fantastic vertical leap.
There is plenty room for improvement as a route runner. Trautman can separate through his athletic pluses and can theoretically be dynamic in his route breaks. However, there’s some inefficiency and wasted motion as he breaks at the top of his routes and is a bit green in his spacial awareness, including working through traffic over the middle of the field. It’s encouraging to see the strong motor. Trautman never seemed to coast on his physical advantages over those he took the field with over his college career.
A convert to the position from quarterback, given the refinement that his all-round game requires and the step up in level from the Pioneer League to the NFL, there’s a possibility that Trautman doesn’t have a major role early in his pro career. That said, with his measurables and athletic gifts, should he land in a great situation with the right team, he could make the transition look easy.
This series on small school draft prospects began in the early stages of the 2019 season with a look at the Missouri Valley conference. At that time, Chinn was only briefly mentioned, citing his outstanding discipline and IQ. However, it also referenced concern over whether his athleticism would hinder that play translating to the pro level. He’s earned a spot on the Senior Bowl roster, giving him a big opportunity to prove himself.
Returning to Chinn’s film to re-evaluate, the assessment here remains much the same. The positives are unquestioned and certainly worthy of a day 3 selection. That said, his explosiveness and speed could still be a limiting factor. His testing at the Combine will be one to watch.
With the right team and scheme fit however, he can contribute well. There’s not many college safety prospects, let alone from a small school, that have his consistency in his reads and positioning. He did also have an issue with plantar fasciitis in his foot during part of the season, which would not have helped his mobility.
The instincts, quick deciphering of plays and getting an early jump on the action aids his ability to be consistently active around the ball. He is rarely caught out of position or recovering from false steps. Working downhill, he takes ideal angles to the action. Chinn works well off contact when navigating through bodies and blocks, being physical with good hands when creating his path to the ball carrier. When in position, he hits with a combination of force and solid wrap-up technique. Despite the athletic questions, he’s very reliable at the FCS level in making tackles in space.
The high IQ and positioning extend to his play in coverage. Chinn tracks the ball well, challenges at the catch point and regularly appears late to jump a pass and make a play on the ball. With at least three picks every season in college, he leaves the Salukis with 13 career interceptions. The tough, physical and high effort playmaking safety will not only be one to keep an eye on in practices but is the type to likely show up in the game itself to close the week.
The lead-off prospect featured in our look at the MEAC earlier this season, Taylor joins Ben Bartch as a small school offensive line candidate taking part in Senior Bowl week. He looks to be the next SC State Bulldog to earn a draft selection, after Darius Leonard and Javon Hargrave in recent years.
A two-year starter at right tackle, the Appalachian State transfer found the regular playing time that he sought after being stuck as a backup during his time with the Mountaineers. His length and overall size stand out immediately on film. It’s no surprise that he has a basketball background, which he had planned to return to upon transferring. Whether he loves the hard court more than football could be a question he’s asked by scouts, but there’s no doubting the potential upside.
While the length is exciting, an offensive tackle can be too tall, and Taylor’s film does occasionally flirt with being hindered by the high pad level naturally occurring with his frame. He can struggle to gain consistent leverage and is prone to some bending at the waist as he engages in his pass pro blocks. For the most part though, he shows good flexibility to lower his pad level. The advantage the reach of his extension provides is a significant positive.
Being late with his hands is a frustrating technical inconsistency that needs work to maintain that edge over pass rushers. When he is beaten, it’s often a result of losing the initial exchanges at the point of attack where Taylor has failed to connect.
His frame is currently fairly lean, with the potential to add further bulk and muscle without reducing his mobility. Given that his core strength already appears to be in place, the potential to dominate physically at the next level is there also. The Bulldogs’ right tackle regularly flattens defenders in the run game, with some devastating highlight blocks on the second level. A solid overall athlete, Taylor maximizes his stride length to gain depth in his pass pro sets and to find blocks in space upfield.
Though not quite as impressive physically as the toolsy Adam Trautman, Taumoepeau is an intriguing late round tight end prospect in his own right. Expect him to be the epitome of consistent execution throughout the Senior Bowl week.
He missed some time early this season with hamstring tightness but took advantage of an SEC matchup against Arkansas to start the season, flashing his abilities. He returned to complete the season with 36 receptions for 474 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Featuring sharp execution in everything he does, Taumoepeau may not have the length and reach of some big-bodied tight ends but is versatile in his usage. The Vikings lined him up both inline and in the backfield, as well as playing slot receiver and even outside receiver on occasion.
He may not be overly explosive, but is a very smooth athlete, aided by good footwork and minimal wasted motion in his route breaks. His route running is backed up by clever use of his broad frame with his positioning and boxing out covering defenders. Taumoepeau thrives over the middle of the field.
Taumoepeau’s great hands result in few plays being left on the field. He shows impressive concentration in traffic, tracking the ball through a sea of hands if necessary. As a blocker, he squares up well at the point of attack, and plays with consistent form, width and pad level to anchor down or create movement.
CFB/NFL DRAFT analyst
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.