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Jaguars turn to small-college players in NFL draft

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)

Gene Smith played football at a small college, graduated from a small college and visited countless small colleges during his 15 years as an NFL scout.

Clearly, Jacksonville's general manager hasn't forgotten his roots.

Smith continued adding small-college players to Jacksonville's roster during the final day of the NFL draft, selecting Mount Union receiver Cecil Shorts in the fourth round Saturday and Middle Tennessee State cornerback Rod Issac in the fifth.

Those picks came a day after the Jaguars chose Lehigh guard Will Rackley in the third round. The no-name selections shouldn't really come as a surprise since Smith has shown a penchant for drafting players from small colleges in his three years as Jacksonville's general manager.

''It's just my perspective,'' Smith said. ''I go back to grading the player, not the school. Let's put it this way: There are certain positions in the draft that don't get over-drafted. There are certain schools in the draft that don't get over-drafted, smaller schools.''

Between cornerback Derek Cox (William & Mary), tight end Zach Miller (Nebraska-Omaha), running back Rashad Jennings (Liberty), defensive end Larry Hart (Central Arkansas), defensive end Austen Lane (Murray State) and kick returner Scotty McGee (James Madison), Smith's draft resume is filled with guys from outside major college football.

In fact, half of the 20 players Smith has drafted since 2009 aren't even from Football Bowl Subdivision programs. And only six of those 20 are from schools in the six power conferences that have BCS bids.

Saturday's picks were just the latest.

Shorts, a 6-foot, 193-pound wideout who dominated the Division III ranks, had 70 receptions for 1,196 yards and 18 touchdowns despite missing three games last season.

The two-time team captain should help the Jaguars overcome the loss of starting receiver Mike Sims-Walker, an unrestricted free agent who won't return next season. Coach Jack Del Rio said Shorts could end up being the team's No. 3 receiver, behind starters Jason Hill and Mike Thomas.

''We need that third guy to emerge,'' Del Rio said. ''We think he'll be in the mix for that.''

Shorts is expected to compete with Jarett Dillard, Tiquan Underwood and Nate Hughes for playing time.

Shorts, who played one season at Mount Union with Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon, has experience. He played in 55 games at Mount Union, finishing with 259 receptions for 4,705 yards and 63 touchdowns. He also had 492 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on the ground, as well as two punt returns for touchdowns and a kickoff return for a score.

He proved he could match up with players from biggest conferences at the East-West Shrine Game and at the NFL Combine.

''I played with a chip on my shoulder and I was so excited to just go out there and compete and just show that I can play,'' Shorts said. ''Yeah, I'm from a Division III school, but in between these lines, it doesn't matter where you're from. You can either play ball or you can't.''

The Jaguars believe their small-college players can match up with the big boys.

They selected Issac, a 5-foot-11, 196-pound defensive back, with the 147th pick. Issac had 54 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles as a senior last season, and was named to the All-Sun Belt Conference team.

Jacksonville believes Issac will be a contributor on special teams and compete for the nickel cornerback spot.

''I love to tackle,'' Issac said. ''That is one of the points of my game that I put an emphasis on.''

Issac was the second defensive player drafted by the Jaguars this year, joining fourth-round pick Chris Prosinski from Wyoming. The 6-foot-1 safety will vie for a starting spot this fall.

''Really I feel I like I am pretty dynamic as far as playing free safety or strong safety,'' Prosinski said.

Tagged: Jaguars, Will Rackley

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