MOBILE, Ala. – The oversized banners draped down from the ceiling at Senior Bowl Media Day speak to the power of possibility. There’s Russell Wilson, an undersized prospect who ended up as a third-round pick in 2012 and, eventually, a Super Bowl champion. There’s Dak Prescott, who wowed the coaches here with his leadership and earned the Senior Bowl MVP in 2016.
And, of course, there’s the patron saint of small-school quarterbacks – North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. He shined so brightly at the Senior Bowl that it solidified him as a prospect and he ended up as the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL draft. In his first meeting with his team at the Senior Bowl, Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien evoked Wentz’s name.
“In the end, in this league, it really doesn’t matter where you came from,” O’Brien told Yahoo Sports this week. “It’s what you do once you get there. Whether you came from Brown, the University of New Hampshire or Notre Dame.”
In the spirit of agnostic school size, here’s four prospects from outside the Power Five worth watching in the Senior Bowl on Saturday afternoon.
KYLE LAULETTA, QB RICHMOND
In Lauletta’s first team meeting on Sunday night, he started to feel queasy. He spit into a bottle to avoid vomiting and then informed a Tampa Bay Buccaneers scout during an interview that night that he may have to bolt for the restroom. He finished the interview, sprinted to the bathroom right afterward and threw up.
He ended up in the emergency room with a stomach virus.
Lauletta eventually recovered enough to impress scouts this week, as he’s expected to go somewhere between the third and fifth round. So what’s it like to wait your entire life for a job interview and then get sick right as it starts?
“I don’t want to make that as an excuse,” Lauletta told Yahoo Sports. “I’m good to go.”
Lauletta’s unique college experience has prepared him for nearly every possible scenario. He played for four different offensive coordinators, finishing his career as the program’s all-time leader in passing yards. He shined his final year, totaling 3,737 yards and 28 touchdown passes.
“I’ve seen every play in the NFL,” he said. “Looking at the playbook from the Texans and just being exposed to some NFL concepts, I’ve seen it all. There’s nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t seen before.”
The other thing that stands out about Lauletta is that he stuck around Richmond for his final season to play for first-year head coach Russ Huesman. While Huesman had run a more quarterback run-based system in his former job at Chattanooga, he adapted it to allow Lauletta to take more deep shots and throw the ball over the middle more.
“It would have been very easy for him to go be a grad transfer somewhere else at a bigger place,” Huesman said. “He stayed because of his teammates and the University of Richmond. That’s a loyal kid right there. A lot of people wouldn’t have done it.”
BRANDON SILVERS, QB TROY
Silvers led Troy to an 11-2 record this season and a 7-1 mark to tie the top of the Sun Belt. But for decades around Troy, he’ll be remembered as the quarterback who won at LSU.
“I felt bad for who was cleaning after that day,” he said of the postgame locker room in Baton Rouge. “There was water and Gatorade thrown everywhere.”
What stood out to Silvers most about that 24-21 upset on Sept. 30 is that the final score wasn’t indicative of the tenor of the game.
“Controlling the whole game is better than winning it,” he said. “It wasn’t like we went in there and got lucky. It was just wild. The whole night was really wild.”
In his fourth year as a starter, the LSU victory gave Silvers a defining moment and some national recognition. He’s capitalized on it this week at the Senior Bowl, as he has played solid and maintained his reputation as an accurate passer.
“Arm talent-wise, he’s as good as anyone in the draft,” said Troy coach Neal Brown, who watched Tuesday’s practices in Mobile. “In terms of accuracy and making all the throws.”
Silvers checked in at nearly 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, and his 64 percent accuracy rate as a senior give him a shot at getting drafted. “I feel like I’m accurate, I’m composed in the pocket,” Silvers said. “I’ve had five or six game-winning drives the last two years. If I was on a different stage, a lot of people would know my name.”
On Saturday, he has a chance to be known as more than the quarterback who beat LSU.
MARCUS DAVENPORT, DE UTSA
Of NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s top 50 prospects for the NFL draft, Davenport is the only one in the top 10 to play in Mobile this weekend. So far in practices, when scouts do most of their homework, he has justified the hype with consistently dominant performances getting to the quarterback. He has also shined in team meetings as a cerebral sort, including a devotion to poetry.
“Music is just poetry but sometimes to a different beat or rhythm,” he said. “I just find security in myself there, that I can be me.”
Davenport will be hard to miss Saturday, as he’s 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds. He finished the season at UTSA with 8.5 sacks and 17.5 TFLs.
Scouts will be focused on his ability to stop the run Saturday. “People said I was like a pass rush specialist. I didn’t really care for that name,” he said. “I always thought I played the run hard. Maybe I didn’t have the weight, but I feel like now I do.”
MICHAEL JOSEPH, CB DUBUQUE
He’s the only Division III player in the game, which doesn’t begin to hint at his underdog story. Joseph entered high school at 5-foot-2 and 92 pounds and said he never played a meaningful snap his whole career at Oswego High School in the Chicago suburbs. “I got in at the end of the game when we were up, they threw me in for a couple of snaps,” he said.
When he arrived at Dubuque, he was just 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds and told he couldn’t walk-on. He played flag football instead. “Technically it wasn’t a redshirt,” he said. “I wanted to be on the team, but they basically said I was too small.”
They eventually let him lift with the team in January of his freshman year. His first year in the program, he was on the scout team the whole year and didn’t play in games. Eventually, he started for three years and grew to 6-foot-1 and 186 pounds.
By this fall, nearly every NFL team sent a scout through Dubuque. This year, he’d run a 4.47 and intercepted eight passes. What kept him going when even playing at Division III looked like a pipe dream? “My love for football,” he said with a smile. “I loved football since I can remember.”
Despite his sleight build, Joseph held his own at the Senior Bowl this week. He’s expected to be drafted, which will complete his underdog story for the ages.