After the 2006 draft, I spoke with a college scouting director about why receiver Marques Colston fell to the seventh round of that year's event. Colston did have surgeries on both shoulders, but had a great week at the East-West Shrine Game and worked out very well at the Combine--I figured he would be a fourth or fifth round selection.
The scout's answer was quite surprising to me: "my GM said, 'I'm not taking a wideout from Hofstra."
That sort of thinking is wasn't necessarily prevalent throughout the league at that time, and certainly his two 1,000-yard seasons the past two years has made teams more willing to overlook a player's level of competition if they see enough raw talent to select them high in the draft.
As I've often said (and heard said by others): "either a guy can play or he can't play."
Despite some administrators' biases, the first round every draft since at least 1976 included a player from outside the traditional Bowl Championship Series conferences (using current alignments, and including Notre Dame).
Since 2000, 2.6 players from non-BCS schools (including all lower divisions) have snuck into the first, including four in last year's draft: RB Ryan Matthews (Fresno State, #12, San Diego), OG Mike Iupati (Idaho, #17, San Francisco), CB Kyle Wilson (Boise State, #29, New York Jets), DE/OLB Jerry Hughes (TCU, #31, Indianapolis).
This year, however, may more closely resemble the 2009 class, where only one player from the "have-nots" of college football made it into the initial stanza (DE/OLB Larry English, Northern Illinois, #16, San Diego). Even in that year, however, six non-BCS conference prospects were selected in the second round: very close to the 6.3 average for 2001-2010 period.
As for players from outside the Football Bowl Subdivison like Colston, most drafts over the last decade did not include a first-round pick from "small schools" but one or two are picked in the second round.
The addition of TCU to the Big East and Utah to the Pac-10 over the next couple of seasons will change the regularity of intrusion by talented players from lesser-hyped programs in the top two rounds (8.9 average from 2001-2001)--but for now, expect this year's group to hover around the recent average.
I'll be watching for the following prospects to be picked early:
Possible first/easy second round picks:
1. DL Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple)
The junior played well for the Owls, then excelled at the Combine (4.96 40, 27 reps, 4.59 short shuttle). Teams looking for a five-technique in the late first could snap him up.
2. OL Marcus Cannon (TCU)
Cannon could be the surprise first round pick if power-blocking teams like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia feel strongly he fits their system as a guard or tackle--and don't want to wait until the late second to bring him in.
Solid second round picks:
3. WR Jerrel Jernigan (Troy)
Though he measured in a shade under 5-9, 185 pounds, Jernigan's quickness, toughness over the middle, and return ability give him an excellent shot to be a second-round pick.
4. CB Davon House (New Mexico State)
Teamed with Kyle Wilson on the 2009 All-WAC first team, and was named all-conference again in 2010. Though he isn't quite the player Wilson was in college, measuring over six-foot, 200-pounds with a 4.44 40 cemented his spot in the second round.
5. OL Ben Ijalana (Villanova)
If Ijalana were not dealing with a sports hernia, people would be discussing the versatile player (who is more athletic than former UMass Vlad Ducasse, last year's second round pick of the Jets) more frequently as a top 64 selection.
6. DL Kenrick Ellis (Hampton)
Another massive athlete with very good athleticism, Ellis' past may prevent him from going as high as his talent indicates--but 3-4 teams looking for an athletic 340-pounder who could play on the nose and at five-technique should jump on his talent in the mid-to-late second.
Possible second rounders:
7. QB Andy Dalton (TCU)
Dalton's excellent win-loss record and solid character could earn him a spot in the second round, but his lack of size and arm strength could make him available to teams early in the third--not unlike Colt McCoy last spring.
8. CB Brandon Burton (Utah)
Burton did not rip up the Combine, but he has enough size, speed, change of direction ability and toughness to be selected by New England, Pittsburgh or Chicago late in the second.
9. OLB Dontay Moch (Nevada)
We all knew Moch's 4.4 speed would show itself at the Combine, but he will take time to translate to the linebacker position at the next level. Unless Raiders owner Al Davis loves Moch's speed enough to pick him early in the second or the Colts, Seahawks, or another team fine with a 6-1 3/8, 248-pound rush end takes a shot late in the second, teams may wait until the third to see if he can develop.
Could be outside looking in:
10. WR Titus Young (Boise State)
Since the player to which Young is most often compared, Philadelphia Eagles star receiver DeSean Jackson, fell into the second round due to off-field concerns, Young's own issues and slightly-less explosive game could land him in the third.
11. QB Colin Kaepernick (Nevada)
Athleticism and arm strength aren't questions; longish pitcher delivery, need to clean up footwork, and thin frame are. He could sneak into the second round because of the need for QBs, but often fans and media overestimate teams' willingness to use a valued second on a player not likely to be ready to contribute for two or three years.
12. OLB Chris Carter (Fresno State)
His exceptional Combine (4.58 40, 27 reps, 6.88 3-cone) and production for the Bulldogs could make him a late second-round pick. Carter's tape does not portend great consistency, however, so a top 64 slot is no sure thing.
--Contributed by NFLDraftScout.com Chad Reuter