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Grant Cohn: NFL draft prospects at QB shine spotlight on smaller programs (w/video)

  • Central Florida QB Blake Bortles led Knights to a 12-1 record in 2013. (Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

]For the past five years, every quarterback who was chosen in the first round of the NFL draft went to a major-conference college. Meaning a college in the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC or ACC.

Forget that trend.

Draft gurus expect three quarterbacks who went to non-major-conference colleges to get drafted in Round 1 this year — Blake Bortles from Central Florida, Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville and Derek Carr from Fresno State. For the sake of this article, call non-major-conference schools “small” schools.

Three more quarterbacks who went to small schools probably will get drafted before Round 5 — Jimmy Garoppolo from Eastern Illinois, Brett Smith from the University of Wyoming and David Fales from San Jose State.

Only one quarterback who went to a college-football powerhouse has a chance to get picked in the first round — Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M.

What has changed?

“If I were coming out in the draft today, maybe I would be a third- or fourth-round consideration because of my ability,” former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said in a telephone interview.

No quarterback symbolizes the NFL's evolving philosophy toward drafting college quarterbacks better than Garcia. No team wanted him when he entered the draft in 1994, even though he started three years at San Jose State and broke the school's total yardage record for quarterbacks. So he played five years in the Canadian Football League before Bill Walsh brought him to the 49ers, where he was a Pro Bowler three seasons in a row. He was a Pro Bowler in 2007 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Coming out of San Jose State, I felt like I was ready to compete in the NFL had I been given that opportunity,” said Garcia. “I had been invited to the East-West Shrine Game. I was MVP of that game. I competed against some of the best in the country. I felt like I rose to the level, if not above the level of the competition in that game, and I felt like that's how I always played.”

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