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Ranking the top non-FBS players
Occasionally, I get some emails from folks wanting to hear more about non-FBS football. The subject doesn’t usually get much time in the spotlight, outside of a little coverage during the FCS playoffs in December or when there’s a rising prospect flashing on the NFL radar come draft time.
So this week’s list is dedicated to the subject: the top 10 non-BCS players (at four-year schools) that college football fans should know about in 2011:
1. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Terry Bowden’s latest pickup transferred to the D-2 school after getting dismissed from the Florida Gators in April, following his arrest on misdemeanor marijuana charges. Jenkins’ run of off-field problems have been well-documented, but his on-field skills will give the NFL a whole lot to think about. The All-SEC pick in 2010 has been touted by many as a future first-round talent.
2. Charles Deas, DT, Shaw (N.C.)
The former Top-100 recruit from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – who some may recall from a few years back for his spectacular lavender ensemble that, quite frankly, merited four-star status on its own – has resurfaced at CIAA powerhouse Shaw in Raleigh, N.C. The 6-foot-4, 313-pound Deas was dominant at times, earning first-team all-league honors, making 56 tackles and 11.5 TFLs. Shaw DC Robert Massey, the former Saints defensive back from NC Central who knows a thing or two about making the jump to the NFL, expects Deas to get a long look from the pros.
“He has those small ankles, long arms and has that basketball background,” says Massey. “He’ll do pretty well in the weight room, but he’s more country strong, where he’s really more powerful than that. He has an engaging personality off the field, and a nastiness and a mean streak on the field, but it’s controlled.”
In the spring, NFL scouts came to Shaw and clocked Deas around a 5.1-5.2 in the 40, Massey says, adding that the big lineman is now a few pounds lighter than he was back then. “He’s raw, but he’s a good kid with a lot of untapped talent.”
3. Brad Sorensen, QB, Southern Utah
After high school, the California native served a two-year LDS mission in Spain before beginning his college career at BYU. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder redshirted in 2009, then transferred to San Bernardino Valley College and started to blossom. He completed 60 percent of his passes and had a 17:4 TD-to-INT ratio.
But it’s been at Southern Utah where Sorensen has started to turn some heads, as he made big strides over the final six games of the season for the Thunderbirds, connecting on over 76 percent of his passes and recording a 14:3 TD-to-INT mark while throwing for a school-record 3,231 yards for the Great West Conference champs. Southern Utah offensive coordinator Paul Peterson has a pretty interesting perspective on the quarterback after having started ahead of a similarly sized quarterback at Boston College: Matt Ryan.
“They’re actually very similar,” says Peterson. “Brad’s got terrific arm strength and the same quick release and he’s probably a little bit better athlete.” Peterson said the key for his protege is to continue to get better at taking what the defense gives him.
4. Brian Quick, WR, Appalachian State
A former prep basketball star, Quick has good speed to go with great size at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. For a guy who plays on a team that doesn’t throw the ball around too much, Quick sure does make a ton of plays. He’s caught 108 passes over the past two seasons. In 2010, he averaged 18 yards a catch and had nine TD receptions. Not bad for a guy who only played one season of high school football. Quick is a lethal kick blocker as well.
5. Trumain Johnson, CB, Montana
At 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, Johnson has intriguing size for a corner. The former high school QB also has displayed some uncanny playmaking skills as evidenced by his 13 career INTs. In 2010, he had four INTs and took two of those back for touchdowns.
6. Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern
This guy sure looks like he could play in the Big 12, at 6-foot-3, 325 pounds. He had a breakout season in 2010, notching nine sacks and 17 TFLs and winning All-American honors in just his second collegiate season of action. The former high school basketball player also displayed some of the explosiveness that enabled him to finish fifth in the state of Missouri in the discus in 2006.
Williams was a nonqualifier coming out of high school and spent a year at prep school. He could’ve opted for the junior college route, but instead signed with Missouri Southern, and that program is thrilled that he did. “I’ve coached a lot of D-2 guys who have had shots at the NFL and played in the NFL, and he’s as good as any of them,” says Missouri Southern coach Bart Tatum. “He’s just so tough and strong. He’s a 500-pound bencher and broke every weight room record we have here.”
7. Brent Russell, DT, Georgia Southern
Even though he was just a sophomore in 2010, most of the folks who played against the 6-foot-2, 291-pounder are convinced he was the best defensive tackle they played all season. Russell’s stats would back that up, as 71 tackles, 18.5 TFLs and eight sacks are a mouthful for any interior D-lineman. “He has tremendous strength and leverage,” says one rival coach.
Some of those attributes were honed back in his days as a Georgia state heavyweight wrestling champ, when he posted a 56-1 record. He also led his high school, Madison County, to back-to-back state playoff appearances for the first time in 20 years.
8. Rishaw Johnson, OG, Cal (Penn.) University
As some of you may remember, I covered Johnson’s heatbreaking childhood story in Meat Market. He picked the Ole Miss Rebels and had more than his share of off-field issues in Oxford. He flashed some freakish athleticism on occasion – he once set a team record in the power clean by hoisting 372 pounds – but Johnson eventually got booted from the team last September for a “violation of team rules.” He left Mississippi and opted to resume his playing career for the D-2 Cal Vulcans after considering Abilene Christian.
Credit former Vulcans QB Josh Portis for the recruiting job in convincing Johnson how good their coaches were at dealing with transfers. So far the move is going well for the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Johnson, who reports that he made the Dean’s List for the first time in college and he’ll graduate in December. He’s spending part of the summer back home in Louisiana training with some New Orleans Saints, including former Alabama star Mark Ingram. He’s also trying to convince his friend Robby Green, the former Crimson Tide safety, to join him at Cal U.
Johnson is confident he can catch the eyes of some NFL scouts now, too, after a few pro personnel people dropped by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference school in the spring. Asked what he tells people who are skeptical after the way things went for him at Ole Miss, he says, “If I had to do it all over again, I would’ve listened to all of the good people in my life who were trying to help me,” says Johnson. “I was young and just didn’t listen. Being here, I’ve realized it’s crunch time. Time to grow up and be a man.”
9. Asa Jackson, CB, Cal Poly
A four-year starter whose 4.40 40-time at Cal Poly’s NFL Junior Day in the spring was the fastest time on the team, Jackson is one of those guys that makes you wonder how the bigger schools missed on him.
He was an outstanding quarterback in high school at Christian Brothers High in Sacramento. He had legit speed, having qualified for the state in the 400-meter and 4x400-meter relay. Grades? He made the honor roll seven times. Background? Both of his parents are doctors and, according to his bio, he nurses abandoned and injured penguins back to health through the Arctic ASPCA.
He took a visit to Notre Dame and Georgetown, but both trips were for track. He reportedly thought about walking on at those schools for track before a Cal Poly assistant sold him on their football program. That’s worked out pretty well for the Mustangs. His coach at Cal Poly, Tim Walsh, has told reporters that Jackson is the best cornerback he’s ever had in 25 years. The 5-foot-11, 189-pounder is also a terrific punt returner, averaging almost 13 yards per return in 2010.
10 (tie). Andrew Pierce, RB, Delaware
This guy was a revelation for the Blue Hens in 2010. Pierce is a former walk-on who came to the 1-AA powerhouse after a prolific prep career in New Jersey both as a runner and as a javelin thrower. Some college scouts, though, were skeptical if the 5-11, 200-pound back was a bit too stiff. Pierce, who has wowed his coaches with his instincts, certainly didn’t look stiff as he ran all over the CAA, slashing his way to 1,655 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. And don’t expect him to slow down in 2011 since the Blue Hens have four starting O-linemen back as well as their tight end.
10 (tie). Bo Levi Mitchell, QB, Eastern Washington
The former SMU QB no longer has standout running back Taiwan Jones in the backfield, but he still has a good offensive line and three very big wideouts, led by 6-foot-5 Brandon Kaufman, to pile up some big offensive numbers. The 6-foot-2 Texan had a strong first season at EWU, throwing for almost 3,500 yards to go with 37 TDs. His team will get tested early with three consecutive road games to start the year, including the opener at the Washington Huskies
By Bruce Feldman, ESPN