Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the top three finishers for the 2013 Walter Payton Award have turned their goals to playing on Sundays.
The two former FCS standouts won't have to wait until September, either. This Sunday is one of the more important days for Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the 27th Payton winner, and Towson running back Terrance West, who was third in the voting for the nation's outstanding player award.
As the NFL Combine begins on Wednesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, over 350 draft prospects will try to impress representatives from the 32 teams in a variety of ways, including their medical checks, measurements, interviews and psychological testing.
But the on-field workouts carry more weight for players coming from FCS programs and other small schools. None are more prominent than Garoppolo and West, who are both expected to be second-day selections during the May 8-10 draft in New York.
On Sunday, both players will join other quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers when their positions are evaluated with on-field timing, stations and skill drills. NFL Network will televise the positional workouts from Saturday to Tuesday, beginning at 9 a.m. ET each day.
The small-school label of facing lesser competition always hurts FCS prospects, so they often have to outshine players from FBS programs at the Combine. FCS cornerbacks, wide receivers, offensive linemen and defensive ends (who often convert to linebacker because of their size) tend to fare better in the NFL than quarterbacks and running backs.
Garoppolo, who holds many of the passing records within the same Eastern Illinois program that produced Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, has watched his draft stock rise following impressive weeks at both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl last month. They provided opportunities to evaluate him on equal terms with FBS prospects.
He isn't physically imposing - just under 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds - nor does he have a cannon for an arm, but Garoppolo's decision making and ability to release the ball quickly and in good catchable spots rate highly with scouts.
"The first tape I watched," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, "he ripped apart San Diego State, and I thought, 'Wow! Quick release, good feet, big, strong, good-looking kid.' So when I got to the East-West game, I was really anxious to watch him. And what I saw on tape, I saw that weekend and the following week at the Senior Bowl.
"I thought he handled himself well and I thought he helped himself as much as any kid in the country did for the two-week period of the East-West and the Senior Bowl. He kind of went from a mid- to late-round question mark to a guy who could conceivably go in the second or third round. And teams are looking at him as potentially a starting quarterback."
West's 356 rushing yards against Eastern Illinois in the FCS quarterfinals in mid-December helped bring Garoppolo's college career to an end. West's numbers as a junior (FCS single-season records of 2,509 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns) might have exceeded Garoppolo's (5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns through the air) after he led Towson to the national championship game.
Having turned 24 last month, West walked away from his final season of eligibility - including a chance to shatter the all-time FCS touchdown record - to enter the draft early.
His talent is unquestioned - the 5-foot-11, 223-pounder is a powerful runner who is noted for his footwork and vision - but he enters the draft at a time when, as Mayock points out, running backs are devalued because offenses put an emphasis on passing the ball. West was evaluated with a third-round grade from the NFL's draft advisory board, but could climb to the second round with a strong 40-yard dash at the Combine.
"I think that the tailback at Towson is really interesting," Mayock said. "His production was off the charts. I enjoyed watching his tape."
Having trained alongside one of the draft's elite quarterback prospects, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., West impressed with his approach to the game (the proverbial chip on the shoulder is common with FCS draft hopefuls) as much as his physical skills.
"Terrance is the guy who really opened my eyes with his talent and work ethic," Bridgewater told USA Today.
"Once Terrance was done with his running back drills, he'd come spend an extra hour catching. That's the kind of guy you want around."
That last thought is what Jimmy Garoppolo and Terrance West hope NFL teams are saying about them.