Many watching the NFL Combine will be primarily interested in seeing the Alabama guys, the Oregon guys, the Michigan guys — big-name players from big-name programs.
Yet the guys from the smaller Group of Five schools will be just as important to scout — and potentially bigger NFL stars — than some of their blue-blood counterparts.
The Silver and Black roster already consists of stars that made a name for themselves from Group of Five schools – including Fresno State's Derek Carr and Eastern Michigan's Maxx Crosby. With Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler conducting their first draft together as Raiders, they'll be busy at work next week trying to secure their guys for the 2022 season. The two have great experience in finding gems – having drafted seven non-Power 5 school players in the past five seasons with the New England Patriots, including their current starting safety Kyle Dugger from Lenoir-Rhyne.
Here's a trio of top Group of Five talent that could shine among the rest at the NFL Combine, assuming they accept the combine invite.
Romeo Doubs, WR, Nevada
Nevada's quarterback Carson Strong has received a lot of attention throughout the draft process, but his right-hand man Romeo Doubs should receive the same amount of notoriety.
The Los Angeles native was a force to be reckoned with in the MWC his junior and senior season – combining for 20 receiving touchdowns and over 2,1000 receiving yards in that span. The connection he developed with Strong led to two winning seasons for the Wolfpack and a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win in 2020.
The NFL Combine will give Doubs another opportunity to separate himself from the shadow of his star quarterback. In the 2022 Reese's Senior Bowl, Doubs had two catches for 18 yards in a victorious effort for his National Team. What makes Doubs such a viable prospect is his ability to utilize his speed and instincts to separate himself on routes. The 6-foot-2, 200 pounder also has good size to go with his skillset.
Travis Jones, DT, Connecticut
The name Travis Jones has come up more often by the day – making him a fascinating guy to look at.
The Raiders will be looking to improve this offseason in the interior defensive line and Jones is starting to become a great Day 2 prospect who could help with that. For starters, he's massive. Jones currently measures at 6'5, 330 pounds and has used every bit of that size and strength in his time in the American conference. In three seasons as a hometown Husky, Jones had 134 total tackles,19 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks – while consistently drawing double teams. His stock rose more during Senior Bowl week, finishing with three total tackles, one and a half tackles for loss and a sack in the showcase.
Jones already has NFL size with a productive resume behind him. He'll be fun to watch at the combine on the bench press.
Isaiah Likely, TE, Coastal Carolina
Despite not winning this year's John Mackey award, I truly believe Isaiah Likely is the best tight end in this year's draft class.
What makes Likely such a great prospect is exactly what makes Raiders tight end Darren Waller a star in this league. He has elite speed, good hands and exceptional route-running abilities. He came on heavy his senior season as a Chanticleer with 912 receiving yards, 12 receiving touchdowns and nearly 60 catches. He was a huge part of Costal Carolina's immediate success after joining the Sun Belt Conference – winning the conference championship in 2020 with an 11-0 regular season record and a Cure Bowl victory in 2021.
The one knock on Likely is his size, with his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame being a bit undersized for the modern NFL tight end. However, he possess all of the skill set to be a great modern tight end – especially within the two tight-end offense Josh McDaniels runs. The NFL Combine could clear up a few concerns anyone would have about Likely, who had a 93.3 overall PFF grade last season.
View the top 50 prospects leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft, according to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah.