Best ’09 draft prospects from outside the BCS? McRath, duo of MAC QBs lead the way

In April, there were three prospects from non-BCS schools that were drafted in the first round, in Troy’s Leodis McKelvin (#11 to the Buffalo Bills), Boise State’s Ryan Clady (#12 to the Denver Broncos), and East Carolina’s Chris Johnson (#24 to the Tennessee Titans), and the first wide receiver taken, Donnie Avery (#33 to the St. Louis Rams), hails from the C-USA member Houston.

Next April, many prospects from non-BCS schools that should hear their names called in the 2009 NFL Draft, with a few having the chance to follow the likes of McKelvin, Clady, and Johnson as first-round picks.

These aren’t the only non-BCS prospects that will be drafted, as there are several prospects who either just missed my top 25 or might come on the radar in 2008. A few of the juniors on this list may not end up declaring, and there are a few juniors who I don’t have listed that could very well end up declaring, like Southern Mississippi’s Damion Fletcher or Boise State’s Jeremy Childs.

But, without further rambling, here are my top 25 non-BCS prospects for the 2009 NFL Draft.

1. Gerald McRath, LB, Southern Mississippi: After redshirting in 2004 and receiving a medical redshirt in 2005, McRath’s career has really taken off in the last two seasons, as he’s proven himself to be one of the nation’s elite playmakers. Last season, McRath had 139 tackles (12 for loss), and 4.5 sacks and was Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year.

NFL Draft Scout has him as their top outside linebacker for the 2010 class, but he’s eligible for the draft this year, and has been as high as a top-5 pick in early 2009 mock drafts. Round Projection: Top 20 pick, at worst.

2. Nate Davis, QB, Ball State: Davis has thrown for 5,642 yards and 48 touchdowns in his first two seasons at BSU, with only 14 interceptions. Above anything else, that decision-making ability might stand out the most to scouts, GMs, and coaches.

He’s not as productive with his legs as Dan LeFevour, but he can make things happen on the run (235 yards, 5 TD rushing in ’07). Round Projection: Late first, early second, at worst.

3. Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan: LeFevour might be the best pass-run QB prospect since Vince Young, who he followed as the only QB in I-A history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in the same season, when he did it last year.

He’s a leader and a fighter, which he’s shown since his first game at CMU, against Boston College, when he nearly led the Chippewas back from a 21-point deficit in the 4th. The Chippewas play the likes of Georgia, Purdue, and Indiana this season, so LeFevour will have a chance to prove to the masses that he’s one of the best in the country. Round Projection: Late first, early second at worst.

4. Joe Burnett, CB, Central Florida: Burnett was going to enter the 2008 draft, but elected to return for his senior season. If he has another strong season, he should be one of the first cornerbacks taken in next year’s draft.

Burnett has decent size (5’11, 190), and is big playmaker in the secondary (six picks last year, 12 for his career). He’s also a weapon as a punt returner, with three punt return touchdowns in his career. Round Projection: Second round, with a chance at landing in the first.

5. Darius Hill, TE, Ball State: Hill is one of Davis’ top targets and one of the nation’s best pass-catching tight ends. In the last two seasons, he has 107 catches for 1,667 yards and 21 touchdowns, and had a solid performance in the International Bowl against Rutgers, with nine catches for 89 yards and two scores.

At 6’6, 236, he might be more of a receiver in a tight end’s body, but who doesn’t love tight ends who can stretch the field? He’s got a good shot to be a first-day pick, and there’s a good chance he could land in the first round when it’s all said and done. Round Projection: Second with a chance to move into the first.

6. DeAndre Wright, CB, New Mexico: Wright is an intriguing prospect because he’s still very much learning the cornerback position. He didn’t play defense before going to New Mexico, but he’s a quick learner, as he was a freshman All-American at safety as a redshirt freshman in 2005. He moved to corner in fall camp in 2006, where he was a second-team All-MWC pick in 2006 and a first-team pick in 2007. He’s still raw, but he’s got first-round potential. Round Projection: Second with a chance to move into the first.

7. Brennan Marion, WR, Tulsa: Marion established himself as one of the nation’s top big-play receivers last season, when the JC transfer caught 39 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns, leading the nation in yards per catch (31.9). He’s got good size (6’1, 185) and blazing speed, and though he’s still somewhat flying under the radar, another big season could see his stock fly up. Round Projection: Second or third round, could jump into first with another huge year.

8. Dallas Reynolds, OT, BYU: The 6’5, 330 pound Reynolds is a key part of why BYU had a 3,000 yard passer and 1,000 yard rusher in 2007, and why that should happen again in 2008. Round Projection: Second.

9. Londen Fryar, CB, Western Michigan: Western Michigan’s defense will be one of the best in the MAC this season, and Fryar will be a key part of that unit. Fryar had 16 pass breakups last season, including six in one game against Akron. NFL Draft Scout has him as their 74th best prospect right now, but another season like last year could see him make a push into the top 50. Round Projection: Second.

10. Bear Pascoe, TE, Fresno State: The 6’5, 260 pound Pascoe is not only adept as a blocker, but he’s also a weapon in the passing game, as he caught 45 passes for 553 yards and four touchdowns in 2007. He’s currently rated as the #3 senior tight end by NFL Draft Scout. Round Projection: Second or third round.

11. Larry English, DE, Northern Illinois: English has been wreaking havoc in the backfield the last two seasons, with 33 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks, and has 196 tackles and 40 TFL over the last three seasons. Another fine season for the Huskies, and he could solidify a first-day pick. Round Projection: Second or third.

12. Jarett Dillard, WR, Rice: The C-USA speedster jumped into the spotlight in 2006, when he caught 21 touchdown passes for the Owls. Last year, he caught ‘only’ 14 touchdown passes. Dillard is only 5’11, 185, but he plays a heck of a lot bigger, with the leaping ability he has. Round Projection: Second or third round.

13. Antonio Baker, FS, Louisiana Tech: Baker established himself as one of the nation’s top safeties, as he made 118 tackles and picked off three passes for the Bulldogs. Baker is just a junior this year, but he could very well elect to enter the draft a year early if his stock is high enough. Round Projection: Second or third round in 2009.

14. Rusty Smith, QB, Florida Atlantic: Smith’s monster sophomore season was a big reason why FAU won the 2007 Sun Belt title and the New Orleans Bowl in only their third season as a full I-A member, as he threw for 3,688 yards and 32 touchdowns. He does need to up the completion % (58.7 last season), but he doesn’t make many horrible throws (only 9 picks in 479 attempts in 2007). Round Projection: Third if he comes out in 2009, but that could go up with another year like last year.

15. Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State: When healthy, Johnson is without a doubt one of the nation’s best running backs, and with Jeremy Avery taking some of the load off of him this season, he should have a chance to showcase himself fully again. His health issues might raise some question marks with a few teams, but he could be a first-day pick if he has an injury-free, productive 2008. Round Projection: Third right now, second if he stays healthy.

16. Ray Feinga, OT, BYU: Feinga is another big body up front for BYU, coming in at 6’5, 330 like Reynolds. He was suspended one game last season for a violation of team rules, but that shouldn’t affect his draft status much or at all, provided he doesn’t have any issues of that sort this season. The 2007 All-Mountain West first-team selection could be a candidate for All-American honors this season. Round Projection: Third.

17. Chris Owens, CB, San Jose State: The last two seasons, he’s formed one of the nation’s top corner duos with Dwight Lowery, but the spotlight is on Owens now as he enters his senior season. Owens had six interceptions last season and has 12 for his career.

At 5’10, 175, Owens might need to bulk up a little on the next level, but he’s got terrific speed, and we know that he can cover with the best of him. Just how well he does as a senior will determine if he’s got a chance to be a first-day pick or if he lands in the middle rounds like Lowery (4th round to the Jets) did. Round Projection: Third or fourth round.

18. Jamarko Simmons, WR, Western Michigan: Simmons, at 6’2, 234 pounds, is quite a matchup for opposing defensive backs. Last season, he caught 84 passes for 980 yards and six scores, and if QB Tim Hiller rediscovers his consistency in 2008, Simmons could easily top 1,000 yards. Will he stay at receiver in the NFL, or will someone try to move him to tight end? Round Projection: Third or fourth round.

19. Shawn Nelson, TE, Southern Miss: Nelson has had at least 30 catches in the last three seasons, and goes into his senior year with 104 catches, 1,497 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Round Projection: Third or fourth round.

20. Andrew Hartline, OT, Central Michigan: Hartline has started all of CMU’s 39 games over the last three seasons, garnering all-MAC honors each of the last two seasons and freshman All-America honors as a redshirt freshman in 2005. He’s played both right and left tackle in his career, so that versatility is a plus. Round Projection: Middle rounds.

21. Will Dunbar, FS, UAB: Dunbar was one of the nation’s top tacklers last season, averaging 12.2 tackles per game for the Blazers. He was a partial qualifier at the start of his collegiate career, but he was able to earn back a year of eligibility, which could do wonders for his draft stock if he has another stellar season. Round Projection: Middle rounds.

22. Chase Holbrook, QB, New Mexico State: Holbrook’s stock took a hit last season, when he threw 18 interceptions after throwing only nine in 2006. The fact that his team isn’t very good, and that he plays in a pass-first, pass-second, run-maybe offense might not endear him to a lot of teams, but the 6’5, 240 pound gunslinger has the tools and the talent. Round Projection: Mid-to-late rounds.

23. Daniel Holtzclaw, LB, Eastern Michigan: Holtzclaw has been very productive over his first three seasons at EMU (330 tackles, 14 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 7 INT). He may not be drafted as high as teammate Jason Jones (2nd round by Tennessee) was this year, but that productivity could land him in the first three rounds. Round Projection: Mid-to-late rounds.

24. Mark Parson, CB, Ohio: While his interception numbers aren’t eye-popping (four in three seasons), Parson has shown himself to be a quality cover corner (23 pass breakups over the last two seasons). He’s not the biggest guy (5’10, 190), but his speed (4.3 range) will keep him in a lot of matchups. Round Projection: Mid-to-late rounds.

25. Jervonte Jackson, DT, Florida Atlantic: After an impressive sophomore season (46 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks), Jackson’s numbers dropped off as a junior (28 tackles, 2 sacks), but a big senior season and pre-draft workouts could see the 6’5, 300 pounder be a top-100 pick. Round Projection: Mid-to-late rounds.