NFL 2017: Small School Success Stories
Small School Success Stories

They may not come from big-time schools in major NCAA conferences, but their NFL contributions cannot go unnoticed. These productive players from small schools are proof-positive of the old adage, 'If you can play, the NFL will find you.'

"I tell all these guys when I talk to them, whether they are playing for some big school or some small school, I don't care where you came from," says Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson. "If you can play football, if you can buy into our philosophy, our style of football, then you can play for the Tennessee Titans."

Arizona running back David Johnson -- who last year led the NFL with 2,118 scrimmage yards and was named to his first Pro Bowl -- was drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Northern Iowa.

NFL teams continue to scout at all levels looking to find talent. The Philadelphia Eagles traded up and used the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State.

"The jump is a big jump no matter where you are coming from -- Division III, FCS, FBS, SEC -- it doesn't matter. Everyone is bigger, faster, stronger in the NFL. Obviously, we believe at the FCS level that there is a lot of good talent, and you are playing a lot of good competition." -- Carson Wentz

"I always had confidence in myself. The biggest thing is when I went to the Senior Bowl and I was able to size myself up against those guys. I didn't have a chance until I went to the Senior Bowl. But after the Senior Bowl, I knew for a fact I was going to be able to be successful." -- David Johnson


Most Productive & High-Profile Small-School Stars in the NFL Today

Player Team College Career Highlight
(Source: NFL)
S Mike AdamsPanthersDelawareNamed to 2 Pro Bowls; led Colts with 79 tackles in 2016
S Antoine BetheaCardinalsHowardThree-time All-Star; started all 162 career games
CB Justin BethelCardinalsPresbyterianThree-time All-Star
CB Malcolm ButlerPatriotsWest AlabamaNamed to 2016 Pro Bowl; had game-sealing INT in SB XLIX
CB Brandon CarrRavensGrand Valley State15 career INTs; started all 144 career games
WR Victor CruzBearsMassachusettsSet NYG season record with 1,536 receiving yards in 2011
LS Zak DeOssieGiantsBrownTwo-time All-Star as long snapper
QB Joe FlaccoRavensDelawareSuper Bowl XLVII MVP; club-record 182 career TD passes
LB Jerrell FreemanBearsMary Hardin-BaylorHas 100+ tackles in 4 of 5 career seasons
LB Junior GaletteWashingtonStillmanRecorded 10+ sacks in 2013 (12) and 2014 (10)
WR Pierre Garçon49ersMount UnionNFL-best 113 rec. in 2013; 600+ rec. yards in 8 of 9 seasons
CB Brent GrimesBucsShippensburgFour-time All-Star; has 4+ INTs in each of past 4 seasons
DE William HayesDolphinsWinston-Salem StateSecond on team with 5 sacks last season; 34.5 career sacks
WR/RS Tyreek HillChiefsWest AlabamaLed NFL with 3 return TDs (2 PR, 1 KR) as rookie last season
CB Janoris JenkinsGiantsNorth AlabamaNamed to 2017 Pro Bowl; has 13 career INTs
RB David JohnsonCardinalsNorthern IowaLed NFL in TDs (20) & scrimmage yards (2,118) in 2016
FB Kyle Juszczyk49ersHarvardNamed to 2017 Pro Bowl; has 6 career TDs
P Marquette KingRaidersFort Valley StateRanked 2nd in AFC last season with 48.6 yard punt avg.
CB Josh NormanWashingtonCoastal CarolinaHas 49 passes defensed since 2014 tied for 2nd-most in NFL
CB Dominique Rodgers-CromartieGiantsTennessee StateHad career-high & team leading 6 INTs last season
WR Adam ThielenVikingsMinn. State-MankatoLed team with career-high 967 rec. yards in 2016
TE Julius ThomasDolphinsPortland StateTwo-time All-Star; posted 12 TD receptions in 2013 & 2014
FB Mike TolbertBillsCoastal CarolinaNamed to 3 Pro Bowls, incl. each of past 2 (2016 & 2017)
K Adam VinatieriColtsSouth Dakota StateThree-time All-Star; has 4 Super Bowl victories
TE Delanie WalkerTitansCentral MissouriTwo-time All-Star; has 800+ rec. yards in each of past 3 seasons
S Lardarius WebbRavensNicholls StateHas 13 career INTs, incl. at least 1 in each of past 7 seasons
QB Carson WentzEaglesNorth Dakota StatePassed for 3,782 yards & 16 TDs as rookie in 2016
RB Charcandrick WestChiefsAbilene ChristianLed Chiefs with 634 rush yards in 2015
RB Danny WoodheadRavensChadron StateHas 16 rec. TDs since 2012, most by NFL RB
LB Paul WorrilowLionsDelawareLed Falcons in tackles in 3 of past 4 seasons

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