The Las Vegas Raiders took a flyer on a familiar school when they drafted Malcolm Koonce this year. Is the team doing its part to break the stigma associated with small, lesser-known programs?
Big-time NCAA programs are generally the ones associated with impact players that come into the NFL. Schools such as Alabama, LSU, USC, and other household names come to mind. We’re not necessarily knocking institutions such as Buffalo or Eastern Michigan. Rather, these football programs aren’t usually seen as football powerhouses by many people. At least not in a traditional sense but this doesn’t mean these programs can’t produce quality NFL players. The Raiders for their part, have certainly proven this, who remembers them selecting a certain player at number five back in 2014? Like Khalil Mack, the team drafted another Buffalo standout in Koonce this year, can the team go two for two?
Can the Raiders strike gold again?
Besides Koonce, the team has regularly delved into the market for small school standouts, especially during Jon Gruden’s current run. Since 2019, the Raiders have drafted five players from schools that aren’t exactly NFL factories. Quinton Bell, Isaiah Johnson, Maxx Crosby, Amik Robertson, and Koonce fall into that category. We all know drafting isn’t an exact science and coming from a major program doesn’t guarantee anything. Funny enough, Mack turned out to be a generational talent, however, placing that type of expectation on Koonce would be unfair. Best case scenario, the Raiders strike gold again as they did with Crosby’s selection, drafting a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in the fourth round.
Regarding small school status and what it means, Koonce spoke on it recently with Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com. Koonce alluded to Crosby’s success which creates excitement for him knowing that if ’98’ can do it, so can he. Comparisons to Mack and Crosby aside, Koonce is his own player and is certainly capable of making his own mark. He surely has the motivation in the early going, citing that he’s had the same chip on his shoulder for his whole career; always ready to work. Whether Buffalo’s an elite program or not, the Raiders have proven this doesn’t foretell how a player will pan out. Koonce definitely sounds like a Gruden grinder and if placed in a position to succeed, could end up continuing to cease small school stigma.
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*Top Photo: AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski