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Small Schools, Big Talent

4da5c882b6973d8b36010000.jpg managing editor Jay Adams digs a little deeper into the Falcons' draft history, specifically under general manager Thomas Dimitroff, to see if there are any trends that could help determine what those in the war room come the NFL draft might be thinking

In the college football conversation, there are some conferences we always hear about. The SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10 or 12 or whatever it is now, always seem to come up in the conversation when the topic is on college football's best conferences.

What makes those particular conferences some of the best college football has to offer? The players.

So, you would think by that logic that those conferences would also produce some of the best players the NFL has to offer.

Well, that isn't necessarily a hard-and-fast rule. True, there are some great players that come from the big college football conferences. But, for one reason or another, the NFL seems to level the field a little bit when it comes to big school players and small school players.

While I won't bore you or bog you down with tons of NFL stats on big school players vs. small school players, I will focus a bit on how this conflict affects the Falcons.

If you look back at general manager Thomas Dimitroff's draft choices, you'll see he's taken players from big schools like Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi and Southern Cal. But what you should also notice is where some of his other picks have come from: Montana, Richmond, San Jose State and Furman.

Prior to the Dimitroff era in Atlanta, you'll see schools like Washburn, Maine, UAB and Tennessee Tech.

The Falcons are simply a microcosm of what happens throughout the league during the days of the draft. Fact is, there's plenty of talent available from smaller schools, and NFL teams aren't afraid to take a chance on it.

Think about it this way: Dimitroff has drafted two players from the Big Sky Conference, one from the Atlantic 10 and one from the Southern Conference — all FCS conferences.

Know how many Big 10 players Dimitroff has drafted?


That doesn't bode well for anyone rooting for the Falcons to take players like Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi or Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward.

Does this trend necessarily mean the Falcons won't draft a player from the Big 10 in 2011? Not at all. But the fact that the Falcons haven't taken a player from a big conference like the Big 10 and yet have scooped up players from much smaller schools in the draft does underscore the argument that the NFL, as a whole, values small school talent as much as the bigger schools.

Perhaps that's why it's no surprise to me that Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith, among others within the football operations side of things, flew to Troy this week to conduct a private workout with Troy wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan.

Jernigan (pictured above), if you don't know much about him, is a spectacular small school talent who has been overshadowed in the media by plenty of other bigger school wideouts available in the draft. Even so, he's popular among teams and he's expected to be a high second-round selection.

For some good highlights of Jernigan, check this video out by clicking here. I feel you'll particularly like the one-handed, behind-the-helmet catch he makes. Oh, and he can run as a Wildcat back AND he can throw the ball.

Say what you want about smaller schools, but Troy is one that has pumped out a pretty good level of talent to the NFL: CB Leodis McKelvin (Bills), DE DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys), DE Osi Umenyiora (Giants).

Again, just a small example of the big impact small school players can have. So if the Falcons, or any other team for that matter, put themselves in prime position to select Jernigan in a few weeks, don't be too surprised.

What's your take?

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