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South Boston Online
South Boston Online
  Thursday, March 26, 2015
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By Paul Noonan

It is the same pattern through most of the sports world.  A star athlete picks an elite (athletic) college, hopefully maintains his status as a star then, when the time comes, the professional ranks will come calling.  This thinking has been a major factor in developing the ‘big name colleges.’  USC, Ohio State, etc., benefit more from their name than for their play on the field.  Meanwhile, less popular schools struggle to get any above average athlete to play, and more often hope they can find an unpolished diamond or two that can help attract some of the spotlight.  With each passing year this trend is starting to reverse.  Since athletes continue to grow in number and ability, there is less room at the top so players have started spreading out more.  This had lead to more parity in college sports.  As last weekend’s NFL draft showed, the professional ranks have noticed this trend, too.

              I must admit I do not follow the NFL draft too closely.  I have a loose interest, but overall I watch something else.  Yet, last weekend I could not help but notice how little I saw words such as Ohio State, USC, LSU, etc.  I also could not help but notice some of the school names in their place:  Troy, Tennesse State, Delaware, East Carolina.  More surprising still was that this began in the first round.  The rise in ‘success stories’ has sped up this trend.  The Marques Colstons of the NFL have made teams rethink their drafting strategies.  Instead of worrying about how much juice they can squeeze from the elite teams, scourging their depth charts, NFL execs are starting to realize that the overlooked kids from those schools you have to look up can play, too.  In some cases they can play better.  Teams now care just as much about the wide receiver playing for Appalachain State as they do the one playing for Michigan.  If that player happens to be better than the one from Michigan then he will be picked.  The name is no longer the biggest seller of talent.  Just as consumers have come to realize CVS cough medicine is comparable to Tylenol, NFL teams have come to realize that a skilled player on Delaware is comparable to a skilled player on BC.

              The funny part of all of this is how fragile it is.  For now, NFL teams want those gems and are determined to find them.  Unfortunately, for every success story there are plenty of failures.  Many of the kids will not hack it in the NFL.  If that rate grows to large teams will rethink this strategy.  If Leodis McKelvin, Dominique Cromartie, Joe Flacco and Chris Johnson never solidify there careers it will leave a black spot on the smaller schools.  NFL teams will begin to think it is not worth the gamble again, and the likes of those players will be relegated to the later rounds once again.  For now, the accomplishments of these players should be celebrated.  However, there may be more pressure on them to succeed than that kid taken first overall.  What was his name?  

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