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Drafting Small School Players: Much Ado About Nothing

For the third year in a row, Gene Smith has gone to the "small school" well for some of his draft picks. For the third year in a row, it's garnered much hand wringing from some Jacksonville Jaguars fans. If you listen to local Jacksonville sports talk radio, you'd get the sense that if the Jaguars don't draft a player from the SEC or ACC, it's considered taking someone from a "small school". I remember last year when the Jaguars selected Tyson Alualu10th overall, there were complaints about him being from a small school (Cal.. in the Pac-10) and I just had to laugh.

Am I afraid Gene Smith is going to go to the "small school" well one to many times? Sure, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get upset about it before the players hit the field.

Part of the problem is, I'm not sure many fans understand what's considered a small school. Is it just a non-BCS school? Is it a non-Division I-A school? To me, a small school is one that cannot qualify for bowl games... AKA anything beyond the Division I-A level.

By my count, Gene Smith has drafted 9 out of 20 players from "small schools" by my definition. The vast majority of which came in his 2009 draft class. Here's a list of "small school" players he's drafted in total:

  • Rashad Jennings - Liberty (he originally attended Pitt and kept LeSean McCoy behind on him the depth chart but transferred to be with his family, thanks JPQ! for reminding me)
  • Zach Miller - Nebraska-Omaha
  • Derek Cox - William & Mary
  • Scotty McGee - James Madison
  • Deji Karim- Souther Illinois
  • Austen Lane - Murray State
  • Larry Hart - Central Arkansas
  • Will Rackley - Lehigh (thanks Nuke, he slipped me)
  • Cecil Shorts - Mount Union

Some people consider Rice (C-USA), Wyoming (MWC), Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt), Temple (MAC), and Louisiana Tech (WAC) as "small schools", but they're not. They're all Division I-A schools. They can all qualify for Bowls and potentially, though very unlikely, BCS bowls.

A lot of people are already pinning the 2010 draft as "another Gene Smith small school draft" when really the only small school players he drafted were Cecil Shorts and Will Rackley. The rest of the players are all Division I-A college football players. Just because you've never seen Wyoming or Middle Tennessee State play a game, doesn't mean they're small schools. Would anyone say a player from TCU was a small school player... ? I highly doubt it, yet they play in the same conference as Wyoming.