Hello StampedeBlue, here is an article about small school NFL hopefuls at the Running Back position. Some of these guys are fairly unknown in the scouting community and will have a lot to prove. While guys like Giovani Bernard from University of North Carolina and Eddie Lacey from University of Alabama are blowing up in the media prior to the draft; these RBs listed further down will most likely get drafted in the 6th-7th Rounds or they might not get drafted at all; it’s possible that they might not even get a training camp invite from a NFL team.
Don’t think for a second that a late-round or Undrafted small school RB can’t be productive at the ultimate level of football. These guys were most likely never invited to the NFL Combine and play games that aren’t even televised on sport network channels, their own schools don’t even have Pro Days for scouts to gather information about them and seek out their skill-sets; these guys have to attend Pro Days at larger school programs to even get some type of notoriety . This is where true "NFL gems" are found ladies and gentleman. The RB position in the NFL is an "A dime a dozen" position which can be filled quite easily with anyone.
I think the Indianapolis Colts have fared well with small school RBs compared to ones being signed from larger schools with decent football programs. I’ll like to provide some detailed examples:
In 2001, Dominic Rhodes was signed by the Colts after two solid years at Midwestern State as an UDFA. It was then Rhodes made a name for himself by being the first and so far only undrafted rookie RB to rush for 1,000 yards (he finished the season with 1,104 in just 9 games). During Super Bowl XLI, Rhodes finished the game with 113 rushing yards and 1 TD, a performance that helped the Colts defeat the Bears. Rhodes has had a very productive career as a Colts backup RB. I have always considered Rhodes as the most underrated RB in Colts history as well as one of the most underrated RBs in the NFL during his tenure.
Coming from a Super Bowl winning season, after Rhodes had signed with the Oakland Raiders; the Colts saw a slight emergence in another small school RB named Kenton Keith. Keith went undrafted out of New Mexico State University and quickly caught on with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. After a failed stint with the New York Jets in 2004, he headed back to the CFL where he had several standout seasons. He was later signed by Bill Polian and brought in to the Colts in 2007 where he won a roster spot as the #2 RB, he was able to rush for 533 yards on 121 Carries, averaging 4.4 yards with 3 rushing TDs while catching 13 receptions for 77 yards and one receiving TD. Not too shabby for a backup RB who only started 1 game (Week 5 against Tampa Bay).
A few honorable mentions will have to be Chad Simpson from University of South Florida/Morgan State University, Devin Moore from University of Wyoming, and Chad Spann from University of Northern Illinois.
Here is a few small school RBs who have the potential to make a name for themselves at the NFL level:
I would have to say that my favorite small school RB who I hope the Colts give a tryout to is Michael Hill from MWSU, he was the MVP in the Raycon Senior Bowl All-Star game going against D1 talent and showing good productivity
Just to give everyone some insight of how small school players could have a big impact on NFL teams, here is a list of the following NFL RBs who came from small universities, but have had a lucrative career in the NFL:
Bills Fred Jackson- Coe College
Chargers Mike Tolbert- Coastal Carolina
Giants Brandon Jacobs- Southern Illinois
Falcons Michael Turner- Northern Illinois
Packers James Starks- Buffalo
Cardinals Tim Hightower- Richmond
Panthers DeAngelo Williams- Memphis
Giants Ahmad Bradshaw- Marshall
Patriots Danny Woodhead-Chadron
Saints Chris Ivory-Tiffin
If there is a small school RB prospect that you consider a personal favorite, please add their name and what school they attend. If you can find any highlights of them, I will gladly add them to the fanpost and give credit to the member who found them.