Five Small School Prospects Who Could Get Drafted: Defense

North defensive tackle Khalen Saunders of Western Illinois (99) sacks South quarterback Will Grier of West Virginia (7)Photo: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Whether its FCS, D2 or D3, small school players never seem to generate the level of interest they deserve.

Here are five players who have surely drawn the interest of NFL scouts and are likely to hear their name called during the 2019 NFL Draft weekend in Nashville.

DT Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois

Saunders made quite the impression at the Senior Bowl, opting to compete in it while his wife delivered the couple's first child (a little girl named Kambridge), turning heads with an impromptu gymnastics routine following practice in which the 320+ pound completed a dazzling over-head backflip and flashing the initial quickness and lateral agility which helped him earn a reputation as the "Aaron Donald of the FCS." Built like a refrigerator, Saunders possesses a stubby, square-ish frame which gives him a natural leverage advantage. As his flip and eye-popping production (204 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, 18 sacks and four forced fumbles) suggest, Saunders is a fantastic athlete, projecting as a middle round prospect who may very well outplay some of the more traditionally-built defensive tackles selected ahead of him.

DE John Cominsky, Charleston (WV)

It is easy to understand why Cominsky fell through the cracks on the recruiting trail as he signed on with the Golden Eagles as a 218-pound option quarterback before building himself into a rock-solid 286-pound monster in the weight room. One has to dominate at the D-II level to earn an invitation to the prestigious Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine and that is precisely what Cominsky did, racking up an eye-popping 140 tackles, including 39.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks over the past two seasons. An imposing, broad-shouldered frame with excellent overall weight distribution and no extra flab, Cominsky is a stout run defender with the upper body strength and length to handle containment responsibilities. He is the first player from Charleston to ever be invited to the Combine and would be the first player ever drafted into the NFL from this program, as well, projecting best as a two-gapping defensive end for an odd front.

CB Corey Ballentine, Washburn

Ballentine was a man amongst boys at the D-II level, winning the Cliff Harris Award as the best "small school" defensive player in the country. He looks the part of an NFL cornerback with above average size, including broad shoulders, a tapered, athletic frame and disproportionately long, well-built arms, measuring in just a hair under 32" inches. A fluid mover with light feet and loose hips, showing good change of direction and top-end speed to remain in the hip pocket of receivers. Ballentine is a physical player with good closing speed and bad intentions when it comes to run support, showing toughness in fighting through blocks and an accurate strike zone as a tackler. With his length, speed, proven ball-skills and physical nature, he appears likely to join former Washburn cornerback Cary Williams (229th overall in 2008) and defensive tackle Trey Lewis (185th overall in 2007) as the only Ichabod players drafted into the NFL this century.

CB Jordan Brown, South Dakota State

Brown owns rare size with good overall weight distribution. He has a thick frame that makes him looks more like a safety than a corner, though his hips are certainly corner-caliber. Shows an easy transition from backpedal to vertical, smoothly changing directions to stick in the hip of receivers in man coverage. A touch high in his backpedal but chops his feet and breaks downhill quickly. Good route awareness, overall, anticipating receivers' cuts and keeping his frame between the quarterback and his intended target. Brown shows poise, timing and at least average hands for the position with the ball in the air, turning back to locate it and competing. He’s willing to take on hard-charging blockers but shows little form in doing so, simply sacrificing his body rather than challenging the block in the hopes of blowing up the play. Corners with his size and fluidity are a valued commodity but to stick, he'll need to improve as a tackler.

FS Nasir Adderley, Delaware

The Philadelphia native covers a tremendous amount of ground, displaying natural instincts and hard-hitting ability, along with the ability to score with the ball in his hands. He has started every game for the Blue Hens the past four seasons - the first two at cornerback, the final two at free safety. He possesses ideal build for the position with broad shoulders, long arms and a tapered frame. Legitimate NFL athlete, with impressive initial quickness, change of direction and acceleration - including impressive closing speed when delivering tackles. Adderley has impressive NFL bloodlines, as his cousin, Herb Adderley, won three Super Bowls with the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980. His grandfather, Nelson Adderley, played at Ohio State and in the CFL. Nasir checks every box except level of competition. The tape shows a complete safety with the range, reliable tackling, physicality and ball-skills to warrant top 50 consideration.

*For more in-depth scouting reports, order your copy of the 2019 NFL Draft Bible, featuring 400+ player profiles and over 1,000 players ranked. Available exclusively at NFL Draft Scout.

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