Division 3 players can make it to the NFL, it’s just a lot harder.  If you dominate your competition and have top-level measurables, you have a shot at joining the small fraternity of Division 3 football players in the NFL.

Pierre Garcon was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. (ICON Sports)

As of today, the last Division 3 players to get drafted to the NFL were Andy Studebaker (Philadelphia Eagles), from Wheaton College, and Pierre Garcon (Indianapolis Colts) from Mount Union, in 2008.

If you pay close attention to the path these players took to the NFL, you’ll discover some patterns that you can use to tell if you have a serious shot at playing in the NFL if you’re a Division 3 football player.

I now present to you, the 4 Things Most Division 3 Football Players in the NFL Have in Common.  There’s always going to be exceptions to the rule, but you’ll find that Division 3 football players in the NFL have at least two or three of these experiences in common.

1. Participate in one of the Big Three College All Star Games.

If NFL scouts really think you have what it takes, you’re going to get invited to one of the major college all star games, because they want to see how you perform against the big school guys.

The Big Three college all star games:

∙ The Senior Bowl

∙ East-West Shrine Game

∙ Texas vs. The Nation (was cancelled in 2012, will resume in 2013)

Update: There are quite a few other games that have players that will at least make it into NFL camps as undrafted free agents.

Among them, are:

NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
Casino Del Sol Bowl
The Battle of Florida
Player’s All Star Classic

Both of the Division 3 players that were drafted into the NFL in 2008 played in major all star games.  Both Andy Studebaker and Pierre Garcon played in the Texas vs. the Nation game. 

This year, Cecil Shorts, a wide receiver out of Division 3 Mount Union, has been projected to go as high as the 5th or 6th round in the draft.  He played in the East-West Shrine Game.


2. Scouts will visit you.

If NFL teams are really interested in getting a closer look at you, a scout from their team is going to come pay you a visit on campus. 

By the way, you might be surprised to find out what scouts look for when they pay you a visit.

Playing at a D3 school, your games aren’t on national television, and they have little respect for the competition you play against in practice and in games. 

So if they’re interested, NFL teams have to pay you a visit to see you in person, to get a feel for your abilities.  And that goes for any player they’re interested in, not just small school guys.

Have you seen any scouts with NFL logos on their shirts at your practices?  Ask your coaches if any NFL scouts have stopped-by to watch film on you. 

If the answer is “no” to both of these questions, I hate to tell you this, but you’re probably not headed to the NFL; at least not right out of college.   

You might have to start out in a lesser league, like the Arena Football League, or maybe even the IFL.  If you have to play arena ball, don’t hang your head, there’s quite a few former Arena Football League players that made it to the NFL eventually.

NFL teams hardly ever draft a player from any school, let-alone a Division 3 school, that they didn’t send a scout to visit in-person first.


3.  You’ll get invited to an FBS (D-1A) or FCS (D-1AA) School’s Pro Day. 

As I said before, there’s always exceptions to the rule, and this year that exception was Cecil Short.

Cecil’s only Pro Day showing was at his own school, at Mount Union.  I’m sure this was partly due to the fact that Mount Union is a perennial Division 3 football powerhouse that recently produced another NFL wide receiver in Pierre Garcon.

Not to mention that he was not only invited to the NFL Combine, but he performed fairly well there, too, so he had very little to prove at his Pro Day.

In 2008, Andy Studebaker participated in Northwestern’s Pro Day.  Pierre Garcon’s was at Mount Union, but like Cecil Short, he was invited to the NFL Combine and did well, running a 4.42. 

Michael Allan, who was drafted by the Chiefs in 2007, held his Pro Day at his home school of Whitworth, but like Pierre and Cecil, he was invited to the NFL Combine, and did well, running a 4.71 in the 40.


4. Your Stats and Measurables Need to Equal or Surpass that of the Big School Prospects.

Division 3 football players that make it to the NFL generally outperform or match  their peers from Division 1A schools stat-wise.

As they say, numbers don’t lie, so let’s compare the 2008 stats and measurables of Pierre Garcon, who was rated as the #24th ranked wideout going into the Draft, versus Devin Thomas, who was the #1 ranked wideout going into the Draft, from Michigan State.


Pierre Garcon, Mount Union,  #24 Ranked WR in Nation – 2008

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 220

40: 4.42


20 yard dash: 2.56

10 yard dash: 2.56

Vertical Jump: 36 1/2

Broad Jump: 10’5″

20 yard shuttle: 4.19

3 cone: 6.90

Senior season: 67 catches, 955 yards, 14 TD’s


Devin Thomas, Michigan State, #1 Ranked WR in Nation – 2008

Height: 6’1″ 7/8

Weight: 215

40: 4.40

225: Didn’t test

20 yard dash: 2.50

10 yard dash: 1.47

Vertical Jump: 28

Broad Jump: 10’6″

20 yard shuttle: 4.26

3-code drill: 7.15

79 catches, 1260 yards, 8 TD’s

Do you know any Division 3 football players in the NFL that didn’t mean at least one of the above criteria?

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