The focus of the football world shifts back to Indianapolis this week, for a little job fair known as the NFL Scouting Combine.
The likely top picks are well-known, with guys from the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big 10 and ACC bound to go one after the other in the first round. But over on the Santa María that is NFL.com on Tuesdsay, there's a breakdown of the best prospects from some of the lesser college football entities out there.
Chad Reuter writes that a player such as Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama, who the Cowboys have to consider at pick No. 14 overall, doesn't come with a small-school stigma, since he transferred from Florida. But many of the athletes who will be working out in Indy have a lot more to prove, because their level of competition the last three or four years has been fairly questionable.
Talent can come from anywhere, as the Cowboys' own Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois), Miles Austin (Monmouth) and DeMarcus Ware (Troy) have proven. It's just that in more recent years, the Cowboys aren't hitting on small-school prospects at a very high rate.
Romo and Austin were undrafted players, lesser commodities, while Ware was a first-round pick, but all of those players came to the Cowboys in 2006 or earlier. In the five drafts since then, the team has swung and missed with numerous picks used on guys from college football's lower ranks.
Of the 2007 class, only seventh-round defensive back Courtney Brown (Cal Poly) was a true small-school player. Middle Tennessee State's Erik Walden was a sixth-rounder for the Cowboys in 2008, and though he's enjoyed some success with the Packers, he never played a game in Dallas.
The team's most disastrous small-school pick in recent years was the third-rounder it used on linebacker Jason Williams (Western Illinois) in 2009, followed later in the round with the selection of offensive lineman Robert Brewster (Ball State).
The 2010 fourth-rounder, defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah of Indiana (PA), quickly flamed out, but seventh-rounder Sean Lissemore of William & Mary has shown some upside.
David Arkin, the fourth-rounder from last season, was not physically ready for pro ball after a career at Missouri State.