By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
It would be foolish to dismiss a wide receiver prospect just because he played at a less prominent college program.
Jerry Rice, after all, went to Mississippi Valley State before becoming one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Still, when somebody like Western Michigan’s Corey Davis arrives on the scene, it’s not easy for pro teams to evaluate him.
“It is a projection, to some extent. You like the all-star games for those reasons, because you can get everyone on the same playing field,” Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “Corey’s a good football player, like the other small-school football players that are out there.”
Davis will be one of the more interesting players to watch when the draft starts Thursday night. He’s the career FBS leader in yards receiving, but in the Mid-American Conference, he wasn’t facing the type of competition players in the ACC and SEC went up against week in and week out.
“Corey dominated his competition in the MAC and then in those instances where Western got a chance to play up against bigger opponents, those are games that people will really study,” Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage said. “Obviously, he made a number of plays against Wisconsin at the Cotton Bowl, and I think that really solidified his stock as most likely the top wide receiver.
“I think I like him the best of this group.”
WMU went unbeaten in the regular season and made it to the Cotton Bowl, where the Broncos lost 24-16 to Wisconsin. Davis, a first-team All-American, had six catches for 73 yards and a touchdown in that game.
“I think the drawback with him is just the fact that after the season, he had an ankle surgery, and it’s untested,” Savage said. “This is where an organization’s going to really have to lean and depend on their doctors and medical staff, to really forecast when he will be able to return and at what level he’ll be at once he gets back on the field.”
If Davis is the first receiver taken, it will be a nice moment for WMU and the MAC. There are also a handful of other receivers from smaller programs who are hoping to succeed in the NFL despite playing college football outside the Power Five conferences.
COOPER KUPP, EASTERN WASHINGTON
Kupp wasn’t just outside the Power Five, he was at the FCS level, putting up some staggering numbers for EWU. Davis may have set the FBS mark with 5,285 yards receiving in his career, but Kupp dwarfed that total, finishing with 6,464 another level down. Kupp’s father, Craig, and grandfather Jake both played in the NFL.
TAYWAN TAYLOR, WESTERN KENTUCKY
Taylor and the Hilltoppers won the Conference USA title, scoring at least 44 points in each of their final 10 games. Taylor had a chance to test himself against Alabama early in the season, and he caught nine passes for 121 yards against the Crimson Tide.
ZAY JONES, EAST CAROLINA
Jones holds an FBS career record of his own with 399 catches. He had 158 of them in 2016, setting the single-season mark as well.
CARLOS HENDERSON, LOUISIANA TECH
Henderson was a standout both on offense and special teams this past season, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns.
KRISHAWN HOGAN, MARIAN
If you’re looking for a real out-of-nowhere story in this draft, Hogan certainly fits. He played at Marian University in Indianapolis, and he helped the Knights to an NAIA championship in 2015. He previously played at Division II Walsh University in Ohio.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., contributed to this report.
More AP college football: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 .
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