Atlanta Falcons Draft Preview: A Small-School Primer

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

A few names worth brushing up on for the casual draft fan.

In the weeks leading up to this year's draft, much of the focus has naturally fallen on the big-name, major D-I prospects expected to come off the board early. We've literally spent months reading about Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews and Khalil Mack (#MACtion is a big name, baby).

However, a look back at Thomas Dimitroff's drafting history shows that the Falcons have also not been afraid to spend early picks on small-school products that typically fly under the radar through much of the pre-draft media circus.

In 2009, it was Chris Owens out of San Jose State and Lawrence Sidbury from Richmond. In 2012, the Falcons picked up Lamar Holmes, who played at Southern Miss. And, of course, last year's second-round pick (Robert Alford) played his college ball at Southeastern Louisiana.

So what are a few smaller names Atlanta could be considering this year?

RB Terrance West, Towson

I discussed West briefly in my mock draft, but I'll do so again. He put up some ridiculous rushing numbers at Towson, setting the single-season FCS rushing record last season with a 2,509-yard junior campaign. He's a thick, well-built runner that can grind out those tough yards in the middle, but he can also catch the ball fairly well.

He's a patient, heady one-cut running back that almost reminds me of Alfred Morris. He would be more than suited to fill Jason Snelling's old spot-role as a rookie.

OT Billy Turner, North Dakota State

Should the Falcons wait to address offensive tackle until the second day of the draft, Turner might be an option. He was an experienced left tackle on a North Dakota State team that absolutely dominated the FCS level and probably deserved more recognition than he received.

Turner is lean, athletic and plays with a mean streak. From what I saw, he looked sound picking up defenders at the second level, and there were a couple of instances there where he could just light guys up. However, he also plays tall at times, and he'll have to maintain better leverage in the NFL to be an effective pass blocker.

OT Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, McGill

That name sounds like something out of Star Wars, but it turns out LDT is Canadian. Same thing, really.

He's a project player expected to go later in the draft, but you can't teach what he has going for him: size, strength and a nasty side on the field. By all accounts, his coaches have put in a few great words about his work ethic, as well. The competition he faced in Canada is a big question mark, but most are still projecting LDT to go somewhere in the third or fourth rounds.

DT Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech

Ellis may not be as big as Daniel McCullers, but he's still a very, very large man (6'2, 334 lbs). L.A. Tech lined him up in just about every spot across the defensive line, and for good reason: he's an excellent attacker with good technique that managed to make so many plays end in a mass of bodies at the line of scrimmage.

DT Zack Kerr, Delaware

Like Ellis, Kerr is a mountain of a man. He should wind up going later, but he has the sort of athleticism and pocket-pushing ability as a pass rusher in the middle to intrigue several teams. Great effort, and a player who is very aware of where the play is going and will go. Both he and Ellis could serve as quality backups to Paul Soliai early.

OLB Jordan Tripp, Montana

The Falcons have already drafted two Montana defenders under Dimitroff (Kroy Biermann, Shann Schillinger). And like Biermann, Tripp could wind up playing in a small handful of spots at the NFL. Some (Dave) even think he could be an inside linebacker in the pros, which would be an interesting possibility.

What makes Tripp so appealing are his coverage abilities and his instincts. He simply has a knack for making plays, and on top of that he is a sound yet physical tackler. He's projected to go somewhere in rounds three or four.

FS Marqueston Huff, Wyoming

Most would be furious surprised if the Falcons waited this long to address free safety, but you can't rule out Huff potentially being in play. He's projected more as a Day Three pick, mainly due to concerns about his speed and his three years of experience playing cornerback.

Still, most reports dubbed Huff a "winner" at the Senior Bowl, where the Falcons coaching staff got a good look at him. Perhaps that gives the team hope that he can develop into something greater.

And that wraps up my list. Anyone I've missed that you'd like to discuss? Sound off in the comments.

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