The small-school ranks can be fertile ground for defensive back talent. Here's a look at some of the best who could find their way on to NFL rosters.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State – Rodgers-Cromartie has ideal size, long arms and the recovery speed to be a playmaker at the next level. He boasts 4.4 speed that he hopes to showcase at the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26 in Mobile, Ala. Rodgers-Cromartie needs to get better against the run and work on his backpedal. A standout week of practice in Mobile could push him into the first day of the draft.
Antwaun Molden, Eastern Kentucky – He has the best size among the small-school defenders (6-1, 195 pounds) and possesses solid cover skills. Had two interceptions and ran in the 4.5 range last spring. Could merit a mid-round grade.
Steven Williams, Harvard – Williams had eight interceptions and 15 pass breakups this past season. He also returned kickoffs and punts. He is an experienced defender with man cover skills and 4.5 speed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds.
Brian Witherspoon, Stillman (Ala.) – Witherspoon has been timed at 4.22 in the 40-yard dash. He was his team's primary return specialist. Some scouts wonder if he can use his straight-line speed as a productive defensive player. He will get an extended evaluation in the postseason to see if his 40 times are legitimate and how much progress he can make with his technique as a cover corner.
Al Phillips, Wagner (N.Y.) – Has the size/speed ratio that captures scouts' attention (5-10, 190, 4.5 in the 40), but did not show the same straight-line speed at the East Coast Bowl last month. He's more of a hitter than a wrap-up tackler at times, but can make good plays while the ball is in the air.
Brandon Carr, Grand Valley State (Mich.) – Carr has good size (6-1, 200) and ran in the 4.5 range last spring. He has played mostly in a zone coverage, which could limit the teams that evaluate him.
Cary Williams, Washburn (Kan.) – The Miami native has created a stir thanks to his size (6-1, 185 pounds), ball skills and return ability. He has to impress in the postseason. Some say he has 4.4 speed, others say closer to 4.6.
Denatay Heard, Stillman (Ala.) – Heard has been timed in the 4.38 range in the 40-yard dash. He had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at the East Coast Bowl. He has good recovery speed, but could struggle against physical receivers.
Maurice Leggett, Valdosta State (Ga.) – Leggett has 37 tackles, seven pass breakups, three interceptions and a pair of blocked kicks for a team in the Division II semifinals. He needs to bulk up.
Craig Turner, Southern Illinois – Turner set the Gateway Conference mark for career punt return yards and is second all-time at the school for kickoff return yardage. He is a well-built, good open-field tackler who exhibits an extra burst on returns.
Kyle Arrington, Hofstra – Arrington is a hard-working, willing tackler. He has a compact body (5-9, 190), but good strength. He could surprise on Pro Day with times in the 4.4 range.
Michael Niklos, Robert Morris – The younger brother of former NFL fullback/tight end J.R. Niklos, Michael has made a name for himself by timing in the 4.4 range. He is a willing hitter and could help himself thanks to his play on special teams.
Scorpio Babers, Sam Houston State – Babers did not play this season after off-field issues. He was all-conference as a junior with 46 tackles and eight pass breakups. He has verified 40 times as fast as 4.35 to 4.39 at 5-10, 190 pounds.
Chris Hemphill, Central Washington – A transfer from Washington, Hemphill led his team to the Division II semifinals. He has rare size (6-5, 225) to go with estimated 4.5 speed and long arms that allow him to make plays. Has played both linebacker and safety during his career.
Lamar Herron, Texas Southern An Oregon State transfer, Herron played safety and returned kicks for the Beavers before finding a bigger role with the Tigers. He has good size (6-0, 212), shows good instincts and the ability to make plays against the pass or the run. Estimated to run the 40 in 4.45 to 4.5. Special teams ability could help him.
Henti Baird, Hampton – Baird has been timed in the 4.4 range, while playing mostly strong safety. He boasts a 38-inch vertical.
Bobbie Williams, Bethune-Cookman – A free safety type who likes to play the field and attack the ball when it is in the air. Tends to freelance too much and is not overly aggressive against the run. He will need to impress at postseason workouts.
Chris Frank, Ursinus (Pa.) – A Connecticut transfer who played his final two years in Division III. He is aggressive, reads and attacks the run quickly and shows good range and speed. Has a very strong upper body (20 reps of 225 pounds) and has been timed in the 4.5 range at 6-0, 212 pounds.
Rafael Price, Indiana State – The Purdue transfer has been timed in the 4.45 to 4.48 range at 5-11, 195 pounds. Was converted to wide receiver as a senior. Does not always play as fast as his 40 times.
Tony LeZotte, James Madison – LeZotte is just over 6-0, 201 pounds. He will be best if used more in the box and on special teams. Impresses scouts with his desire.
Kye Stewart, Illinois State – A Buck Buchanan Award finalist as an outside linebacker, but likely will be converted to strong safety. A solid wrap-up tackler, he shows good instincts and his hustle leads him to a lot of plays. Estimated at 4.6 range in the 40 at just under 6-0, 210 pounds.
Corey Lynch, Appalachian State – Blocked the potential game-winning field goal against Michigan. Needs to get stronger and more aggressive, but he gives you a great effort. Lacks ideal speed and range.
Jose Yearwood, Brown – Big, physical defender who is better playing closer to the line of scrimmage than if given deep coverage responsibility. Will have to show he can make an impact on special teams in order to receive anything more than a free agent look. Has been timed in the high 4.6 range at just under 6-1, 223 pounds.
Derrick Ray, North Carolina Central – The South Carolina transfer is a combination defender who has played both outside linebacker and strong safety. Did not run because of a hamstring injury at the East Coast Bowl, but flashed good instincts and showed a willingness to come up hard versus the run.