MOBILE, Ala. — Dallas Goedert grew up in Britton, a tiny town of roughly 1,200 people in the northeast corner of South Dakota, the kind of place few college coaches mark as a regular stop on their annual recruiting trips.
When Goedert graduated Britton-Hecla High School, he had just one scholarship offer to Northern State, a Division II school 60 miles away in Aberdeen, S.D.
Goedert chose to walk on at FCS-level South Dakota State instead, but despite all of his disadvantages, he had one improbable goal in mind when he started his college career.
"I always knew my goal was to be an NFL football player," Goedert said.
Goedert is now 6-foot-4, 260 pounds and ranked the No. 1 tight end prospect in this April's NFL Draft by ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, a lofty spot for a guy who played nine-man football in high school.
"In high school, we didn’t have a great weight program," Goedert said. "I was just kind of underdeveloped, but talking to different coaches, they said I had the body style and the frame for an NFL tight end, so I started looking them up online and comparing their times to my times, their size to what I thought I could be."
Goedert is one of a handful of prospects from small schools who have a chance to break up the Power Five party in the first round, a round typically dominated by guys from schools like Ohio State, LSU, Alabama, USC and college football's other traditional powers.
New Orleans, like just about every team, has stuck mostly to the traditional powers, or mid-majors with a history of success, as the Saints have rebuilt their core foundation with great drafts the past two years.
But there have been exceptions over the years. New Orleans used a third-round pick on Florida Atlantic's Trey Hendrickson last year, a fourth-rounder the year before that to pluck David Onyemata out of Canada. Five years ago, the Saints and the rest of the NFL discovered the freakish athleticism of Arkansas Pine-Bluff tackle Terron Armstead at the NFL scouting combine, which will be held this week in Indianapolis.
For players like Goedert and UTSA pass rusher Marcus Davenport, the goal is to prove they belong among the big guns from the power conferences.
"I think my athletic ability correlates well with all the tight ends from the league," Goedert said. "I’m not a finished product, for sure, but I think I have all the things I need to be successful at the next level."
Whether or not Goedert hears his name called in the first round likely comes down to a tight end-needy team like the Saints deciding there's first-round value at a position that projects as one of the deeper positions in this draft.
Davenport, on the other hand, has widely been projected as a potential top-16 pick due to a lack of elite edge rushers in this draft class.
At 6-foot-6, 259 pounds, Davenport no longer looks anything like the 198-pound senior from San Antonio's John Paul Stevens High that chose UTSA's fledgling FBS program years ago.
"UTSA wasn’t my first choice," Davenport said. 'I’m pretty sure they would say I wasn’t their first choice either."
Unlike Goedert, Davenport wasn't always focused on the NFL as a realistic opportunity. That recognition came late in his college career, before he ripped off 8.5 sacks and shot up draft boards this season.
"Late junior year, my coach told me there was a possibility (to play in the NFL), but I had a lot of work to do," Davenport said.
For players like Davenport and Goedert, the Senior Bowl in late January was a chance to showcase their skills against top competition, even though both players took on Power Five programs several times during their college careers.
Small-school or not, both players have designs on big things at the NFL level. Davenport says he studies Calais Campbell, Von Miller and J.J. Watt; Goedert compares his game to that of stars like Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz.
And beyond the guys who have first-round chances, there are a lot of small-school players who will be vying in Indianapolis to prove they belong among the big boys and convince a team to take them in the middle rounds, where the Saints grabbed Hendrickson and Onyemata.
Players like Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta.
Examples like the guys the Saints have, or quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo, or the dozens of other small-school prospects who became NFL starters, are proof that the size of a player's program is no indicator of his ability to play at the NFL level.
"There’s been so many guys that have played a high level that have come from an FCS school," Lauletta said. "I’d say look at those guys, and wherever you come from, if you have what it takes and you have the skill set, I think you can play in the NFL."
And play at a high level.