Small-School Gems: Offense

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

With a week to go, it’s time to look at small-school sleepers on the offensive side of the ball. My criteria was simple: I narrowed it down to players who did not participate in the Senior Bowl or Shrine Game and were not invited to the combine. Then I looked for prospects who could be selected late in the draft or immediately signed once the seven rounds were completed. Here are the five players that stand out.

Connor Jessop/QB/Shepherd: Jessop, a Virginia Tech transfer and first-year starter who saw spot duty in 2016, really caught my eye when I scouted Billy Brown a year ago. He has NFL size and arm strength and the ability to make all the throws but needs time to work on his accuracy and pass placement. The Chicago Bears have shown a lot of interest in the strong-armed passer, who should make a practice squad this fall.

Trenton Cannon/RB/Virginia State: Cannon’s film is like a weekend highlight reel, as he consistently breaks long runs and alters games with big kick returns. He’s dangerous in the open field and shows the ability to cut back against the grain and run to daylight. With a host of offensive coaches attending Richmond’s pro day to watch quarterback Kyle Lauletta work out, Cannon stole the show by timing 4.39 in the 40 and turning in a terrific workout. Cannon has had official visits with the New York Jets and Denver Broncos and has garnered lot of interest from the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. He could slide into the late rounds.

Clayton Wilson/TE/NW Missouri State: Wilson has the computer numbers (6-foot-4, 235 pounds, 4.68 40) to play at the next level and comes from a winning program. He plays to those numbers and is a solid pass catcher with natural receiving skills. His production was spotty, but Wilson has enough upside to earn a practice squad spot this fall.

Vyncint Smith/WR/Limestone: Smith was a dominant small-school receiver whose ability to consistently win out for contested grabs really caught my eye on film the past two seasons. He comes with natural receiving skills and does the little things well. I questioned Smith’s speed, and he responded by timing 4.33 during South Carolina’s pro day, which he was invited to participate in. Smith must learn to play to that speed but has had official visits with the Houston Texans and New York Jets and was worked out by the Dallas Cowboys. He’s another who could hear his name called during the late rounds of the draft.

Matthew Gono/OL/Wesley: Gono was a prospect I liked coming into the season and someone I liked even more off the 2017 film. He’s well-built, explosive and nasty and works to annihilate opponents at the point of attack. He has an NFL build and growth potential. Gono, who made an official trip to visit the Minnesota Vikings  as well as the Chicago Bears and received visits from offensive line coaches from the New York Jets and Detroit Lions to be worked out, is getting late-round buzz.