Senior Bowl Preview: 10 Small School Sleepers to Keep an Eye On

Senior Bowl. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Senior Bowl. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /
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2022 NFL Draft Prospect and Senior Bowl attendee Tariq Woolen. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
2022 NFL Draft Prospect and Senior Bowl attendee Tariq Woolen. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images) /


Troy Andersen, LB, Montana State

Height: 6’4     Weight: 235 lbs

Troy Andersen played both sides of the ball in high school, at an extremely high level. He won Defensive Player of the Year while simultaneously making All-State as quarterback.

Andersen committed to Montana State and played both sides of the ball again, en route to being named the 2017 Big Sky Freshman of the Year. He returned to campus for the 2018 season in an entirely different role. Andersen was now the starting quarterback for the squad. He claimed first-team All-Big Sky at quarterback, clearing 100 rushing yards on nine separate occasions. He added a school-record 21 rushing touchdowns.

As a junior he played outside linebacker, his third position in as many seasons, and put up solid numbers all around. He set a new career high with 6.5 sacks, showing a pass rushing element that few knew he possessed.

In 2021 — following a canceled 2020 — Andersen opened the season at a new position yet again. He took over the “MIKE” linebacker role on the defense, the position often coined as the “quarterback of the defense”. That fit like a glove because Andersen flourished in the new role, recording 150 tackles and claiming the FCS Defensive Player of the Year.

Troy Andersen has had quite the journey to the Senior Bowl. I can’t say for certain which position he will land at, but I am confident in saying he is an NFL player. He has the versatility and football IQ to fit nearly any scheme.

A team should give him a shot to compete for snaps on the edge, because that is where Andersen is at his best. He has a natural burst that helps him gain leverage on linemen and is still adding new moves to his pass rushing repertoire. There is even a chance that a team drafts him with plans to use him in a Taysom Hill role. It’s cliché but the options are endless with a prospect like Troy Andersen.

Dominique Robinson, DE, Miami (OH)

Height: 6’4     Weight: 256 lbs

Dominique Robinson was recruited to Miami (Ohio) as a quarterback and wide receiver. He was a full time offensive player for most of his first three seasons at the school.

Late in the 2019 season, coaches decided to flip Robinson over to the other side of the ball and let him rush the passer. He totaled a couple sacks in three starts on the defensive line in 2020, but didn’t make much noise until the following season.

In 12 games as a senior, Robinson tallied 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks for the RedHawks defense. This grabbed some national attention, landing him firmly on the Senior Bowl radar.

To say Robinson is raw would be an understatement. He has been learning on the fly, using his sheer talent and athleticism to beat opposing offensive tackles. The athleticism is legitimate, as he is considered one of the best athletes at the position, but it begs the question: will he be able to do the same against premier talent?

The beauty of the draft process is that we are going to find out. I would bet a defensive coordinator falls in love and views Robinson as a ball of clay that can be molded in their vision. If he can blend improved technique with his physical traits, the sky is the limit.

D’Marco Jackson, LB, Appalachian State

Height: 6’1     Weight: 230 lbs

D’Marco Jackson grew up on a farm in rural South Carolina and drew little fanfare during his high school career. He did manage to catch the eye of nearby Appalachian State, though.

Despite only starting six games over his first two seasons, Jackson was given the starting role in 2020 and never looked back. In his final two seasons, he started 26 games at linebacker. D’Marco finally started feeling at home, settling in with 91 total tackles as a junior before exceeding that by 29 to set a new career mark for tackles in a single season (120).

He wasn’t only a tackling machine over that span, he brought down the quarterback on eight different occasions and intercepted three passes too. Jackson solidified himself as a playmaker, capable of wrecking a game at any moment. It feels like the football is magnetized to D’Marco the way he is constantly and relentlessly chasing the play.

I do worry about his instincts in coverage at the next level. At times, he gets caught watching the backfield and lets pass catchers shake free. Size raises a flag but is less of a concern with Jackson because he plays much bigger than his measurable’s indicate.

He profiles as a SAM linebacker in a 4-3 with the ability to kick inside and play ILB in a 3-4. The scheme versatility and tenacity that he plays with will earn him plenty of respect in draft rooms across America.

Zyon McCollum, CB, Sam Houston State

Height: 6’4     Weight: 201 lbs

Zyon McCollum posted some astonishing numbers as a high school senior and I am not even talking about stats. He has a verified time of 4.40 in the 40 yard dash, along with a mind-boggling 4.03 shuttle run. This should paint a picture of what kind of player McCollum is.

He got very few offers before committing to Sam Houston State of the FCS. There he saw immediate action as a true freshman, starting ten games as an outside cornerback. McCollum was an impact player from day one, averaging 11 passes defended and three interceptions in each of his first three seasons.

Teams started targeting him significantly less in 2020, leading to more modest numbers. However, in 2021 McCollum again lived up to his ball hawk moniker by intercepting three passes to bring his career total to 13. He was also credited with 54 passes defended over the five seasons.

McCollum is uber confident and has said in interviews that he loves being out on an island by himself. Sam Houston State deployed a defense that was predominantly man coverage, which gives scouts an ample amount of film. He is as good as anyone I have evaluated in man coverage.

The problem is that nobody on the tape is playing on Sundays right now, so it’s crucial that he performs well next week. If all goes well, I expect McCollum to become a fan-favorite for any franchise that takes the chance on him.

Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA

Height: 6’4     Weight: 205 lbs

Tariq Woolen was recruited to the University of Texas-San Antonio as a wide receiver. Woolen stuck at the wide receiver position through 2018, and much of 2019, before moving over to the cornerback room for the final three contests of the season.

He took over the starting cornerback role for good the following year and made 16 starts in his final two seasons for the Roadrunners, breaking up nine total passes and hauling in two interceptions.

Woolen has a teammate with him at the Senior Bowl in offensive tackle Spencer Burford. Both players are looking to get drafted in 2021, which would match the total number of players EVER drafted from UTSA. (2016, Round 6: TE David Morgan ll) (2018, Round 1: DE Marcus Davenport)

Tariq is pound for pound the best athlete in the entire draft. His frame is massive for the position, which leads some to believe his future is at safety. If he improves his technique and rids himself of his wide receiver tendencies, I see no reason to move him from cornerback. He sticks with receivers in man coverage with ease and shows promise as a zone defender.

Woolen must improve his tackling. That’s the biggest red flag and it’s not particularly close. Too often, he will take terrible angles and flail at defenders rather than using proper form to wrap them up. These are things that can be attributed to his lack of experience at the position, but they do need addressed nonetheless. At worst, Woolen will be a depth piece as a safety going forward. At best, he will be a household name.