By Bucky Brooks
February 27, 2008

It's fitting that in the same year two small college legends (Emmitt Thomas and Darrell Green) will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, two small school cornerbacks are regarded as the gems of the 2008 draft class at that position.

Troy's Leodis McKelvin and Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have vaulted up the charts since the end of the season and will likely be first-round selections in April. After that, the sky's the limit.

McKelvin entered the season with a third-round grade by scouts, based largely on his outstanding skills as a punt returner. He fortified that reputation by ranking fourth in the nation in punt returns last season (17.4 yards per return), and finished his career with seven punt return touchdowns. He also had two interceptions last season and nine pass break-ups. In fact, his improved cover skills are the reason he has risen up the charts so fast.

An outstanding athlete with great speed, quickness and burst, McKelvin has all the physical tools that lead many scouts to envision him developing into a lockdown corner on the next level. Plus, his excellent performances against Georgia and Oklahoma State alleviated scouts' concerns about his ability to match up against top competition. With coaches and scouts placing more value on a small school prospect's games against elite programs, it is important that the prospect excels in those games.

"If a guy can cover guys in the ACC, SEC or Pac 10, you feel confident that he can cover guys in the NFL," says Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. "The measurables are essential, but seeing a guy execute the fundamentals and skills against the big boys gives you the confidence to take a chance on a small school guy."

Rodgers-Cromartie, on the other hand, solidified his status with a MVP-caliber performance at the Senior Bowl. His stellar play during the game (four tackles, one interception and a break-up) capped an impressive week of practices against the best players in the country. "His play during Senior Bowl week proved to everyone that he was capable of excelling at the next level," said a scout for an AFC South team.

Rodgers-Cromartie, who also excels as a kick returner, entered the season projected as a mid-round prospect. But his combination of size (6-2, 190 pounds), speed and athleticism is rare for the position, and scouts have been encouraged by his developing cover skills this season. He has all of the tools to be an ideal "press" corner as a pro, but his improved footwork and cover skills have scouts envisioning him becoming a standout cover corner.

"It doesn't matter the level of competition, you have to grade the player for his skills and Rodgers-Cromartie's skills rank up there with the top players at big programs," a Jaguars scout said.

Rodgers-Cromartie had the luxury of working under former pro Randy Fuller during his four years at Tennessee State, and Fuller believes that his protégé is ready for the next level. "He is a good kid and his work ethic will give him a chance to make the move to the pro game".

With the game tape evaluation process nearly complete, the two small school wonders were under pressure to deliver outstanding performances at the combine, and both responded with excellent workouts. Rodgers-Cromartie dazzled scouts by running the fastest 40 among defensive backs (4.28), and displayed fluid footwork, movement skills and burst during the positional drills. McKelvin ran a 4.43 in the 40, and also impressed scouts with his movement skills during the positional workout.

If McKelvin and Rodgers-Cromartie continue to impress during their on-campus workouts over the next month, the league will see two small school stars come off the board in the first round.

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