NFL Draft: 5 small-school studs with the traits to dominate at the next level

Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen (LB02). Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen (LB02). Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2022 NFL Draft class has some freakish prospects. Here are five small-school standouts who possess traits to dominate at the next level.

Teams know the risk they take when they dip into the talent pool at the FCS level. Prospects that come from a non-Power Five football program usually carry a certain amount of risk. However, there’s that sweet spot in the NFL Draft when they become a solid gamble.

In recent years, non-Power Five schools have produced some impressive NFL football players. Cooper Kupp, Darius Leonard, and Maxx Crosby are a few examples. While there isn’t guaranteed to be a small-school player like this in each class, these five have all the traits to be successful at the NFL level.

WR Christian Watson

Christian Watson might be coming from an FCS school, but he’s got elite NFL upside. The North Dakota State wide receiver certainly flashed on film. At 6’4” and 208 pounds, Watson has 4.36 speed and recorded an 11’4” broad jump at the NFL Combine.

There are only ever a few elite deep threats at a time in the NFL, and it’s incredibly rare to find one who can win down the field like he does with his size and catch radius. Watson has recently drawn some late-first-round buzz, and I wouldn’t be shocked if a team pulls the trigger on him early in the 2022 NFL Draft.

OT Matt Waletzko

Matt Waletzko is one of my favorite mid-round prospects in the NFL Draft this year. The North Dakota offensive tackle was excellent during one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl as he held his own against some of the top edge defenders set to enter the class.

Waletzko has freakish size (6’7 5/8”, 312 pounds) and length (36 1/8” arms) to keep defenders at bay, but he also tested as a 99th percentile athlete, according to Relative Athletic Score. Waletzko needs to get in an NFL weight room, but he’s a high-upside developmental OT prospect with potential as a starting left tackle down the line.

CB Zyon McCollum

If you are searching for a high-upside developmental cornerback in the middle of the NFL Draft, look no further than Zyon McCollum. The Sam Houston CB comes from a very small school in the Southland Conference, but he has traits that could translate.

McCollum is 6’2 1/8” and 199 pounds with 4.33 speed and fantastic overall athleticism. He tested as a 100th percentile athlete compared to NFL cornerbacks, according to Relative Athletic Score. McCollum is a project with elite traits and great ball skills, but the reward could greatly outweigh the risk if he hits.

IOL Cole Strange

Cole Strange is another one of my favorite prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. Strange really stood out at the Senior Bowl this year, as he anchored against some powerful defensive tackles. Strange has the flexibility to play either center or offensive guard in the NFL.

At 307 pounds, the Chatanooga product is a bit light when you consider that he’s nearly 6’5”, but he has the frame to put on NFL mas. Strange is also a phenomenal athlete and his movement skills can easily be seen on tape.

LB Troy Andersen

In a linebacker class that is pretty strong on day two this year, Troy Andersen might be the most interesting player of the bunch. Andersen played his college ball at Montana State and started out as a duel-threat quarterback before making the switch to linebacker.

Andersen is going to need some grooming (especially being relatively new to the position), but his upside is off the charts. He came into the Combine at 6’3 1/2” and 243 pounds and possesses 4.42 speed. Andersen’s elite athletic traits and ability to flow effortlessly to the ball make him one of the most intriguing developmental prospects this year.

Next. 3 biggest first-round boom-or-bust prospects of the 2022 NFL Draft. dark

Teams should be well aware of these five players as we approach the NFL Draft. These guys each have something to work on, but they could be the next in line of non-Power Five football players who excel at the NFL level.