FCS players play an important role in the NFL, even if they get overlooked come draft season. In recent years, we’ve seen guys like Cooper Kupp, David Johnson, James Robinson, and Darius Leonard come in and dominate immediately. With that being said, there’s only been 98 FCS players drafted into the NFL since 2015. Only 3 of the 98 FCS players drafted since 2015 have been taken in the first round. Two of them are quarterbacks from the same school, Carson Wentz and Trey Lance, and the other is Texans offensive tackle Tytus Howard. From 2015 to 2019, there was an average of 17 FCS players drafted per year, but it’s drastically decreased the last few years. In 2020-2021 there were 6 FCS players drafted each year, a number that had never dipped below 14 in any season since they shortened the draft in 1993. Nevertheless, FCS talent is more abundant than ever and there’s still plenty of future superstars, including the guys we have listed below, who are on the fringes of the NFL scouting radar and have not received a Senior Bowl invite.
Draft-Eligible FCS Prospects
(Sr.) Troy Andersen, LB, Montana State
Best NFL trait: Andersen’s best NFL trait is his versatility. The former dual threat quarterback has experience with playing the other side of the ball and has shuffled between inside/outside linebacker during his time.
One of the most interesting prospects in this year’s draft is Montana State’s Troy Andersen. The standout linebacker has played multiple positions during his time which has presumably helped him become a better linebacker. He’s coming off a season in which he had 116 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 7 pass breakups. Andersen has received strong grades in coverage at 89.5 and is currently one of the highest graded linebackers in the country.
(Sr.) Eric Barriere, QB, Eastern Washington
Best NFL trait: Barriere’s best trait is his mobility. Although he doesn’t always take off and scramble, his ability to move through the pocket and extend plays is up there with any QB in this draft class.
Record breaking statistics and eye popping numbers have made Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere one of the best FCS QB prospects in recent memory. He finished his historically great career with over 10,000 total yards and was once again nominated for the Walter Payton Award.
(Sr.) Dai’Jean Dixon, WR, Nicholls State
Best NFL Trait: Dixon’s best NFL trait is his size which he uses to out leverage defensive backs and win at the point of attack
Coming off a season in which he produced 71 catches for 1000 yards and 8 touchdowns, Dai’Jean Dixon has established himself as one of the top wideouts in the FCS. Dixon’s got nearly 4,000 career receiving yards, and ranks second all time in Southland conference history in receptions.
(R-Jr.) Decobie Durant, CB, South Carolina State
Best NFL trait: Durant’s athleticism is his best trait and what gives him the ability to stick with guys down the field.
It’s been another strong season for South Carolina State’s Decobie Durant, yet he still hasn’t been able to garner the attention that his play would suggest. He proved he could handle top competition against Clemson where he intercepted two passes and allowed just 34 yards on 9 targets in coverage. The previous two seasons Durant was the highest graded CB in the FCS receiving grades of 85.6 in 2019 and 90.2 in 2020.
Former Top FCS Prospects
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
Best NFL Trait: Cooper Kupp’s route running ability is what’s really separated him and turned him into one of the best receivers in the NFL. He can line up outside, in the slot, or even in the backfield and find ways to get open.
Most great FCS players that succeed at the higher levels of football usually put up historic levels of production during their college time, and Cooper Kupp is no different. His eye popping collegiate career began in his redshirt freshman season where he put up nearly 1,700 yards receiving and had a ridiculous 21 touchdowns. He was a runaway favorite for the Jerry Rice award given to the top FCS freshman every year. Over the course of the next 3 years, Kupp went on to set FCS records in receiving touchdowns, career receptions, and even set the NCAA record for career receiving yards.
Even with his absurd levels of production, Kupp wasn’t able to parlay that into a round 1 or 2 selection in the NFL Draft. Physically, there wasn’t much in Kupp’s game that really stood out. Scouts thought he was big enough to be an outside receiver, but they didn’t feel he was athletic enough due to his 4.62 40 time. We knew that he was a great route runner, but no one knew how much of that success came from facing FCS corners. It may seem like Kupp was the obvious pick now, but coming out there were questions as to whether or not he’d be able to have the same level of success
David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa
Best NFL Trait: David Johnson has always excelled at catching the ball. He’s got over 2,700 receiving yards in his career and is responsible for one of the best pass catching seasons ever from a running back.
David Johnson’s tenure at Northern Iowa can be categorized by the word versatility. He tallied 1,244 all purpose yards as a freshman including 33 receptions for 422 yards in the passing game. The following year Johnson came back and put up numbers good enough to earn him a second team All-MVFC selection. Johnson’s pass catching ability is what got him on NFL radars during his time at Northern Iowa. In his final year Johnson caught 38 passes for 536 yards and 2 touchdowns. This included a game on the road against division 1 Iowa where he had 5 receptions for 203 yards and 1 touchdown and nearly helped his team pull off the upset. When stepping up in weight class, Johnson proved that he could handle going against division 1 programs. He put up 199 rushing yards, 2 rushing scores, and had 2 more touchdowns through the air in an upset of Iowa State.
Johnson far exceeded expectations when he came into the league as a third round pick back in 2015. After a promising rookie season in which he contributed on special teams and in the running game, he broke out his second year with 1200 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on his way to an All-Pro selection. Johnson’s second season showcased the pass catching ability that made him a hot commodity in college. Despite being a running back, Johnson pass catching was so exceptional in 2016 that Pro Football Focus awarded him with the “Receiver of the Year’ due to his 80 catch 879 yard campaign. He finished the year with a higher receiving grade than Antonio Brown, Travis Kelce, and Odell Beckham. For a short time, Johnson was considered one of the best running backs in football which is a mantle that most running backs won’t ever sniff. The rest of David Johnson’s career hasn’t gone as expected, but there’s no denying how talented a player he is.
Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Best NFL trait: Although he’s barely played, we know that Trey Lance’s best trait is his athleticism. Had he run the 40 yard dash at combine, Lance likely would’ve been in the 4.4-4.5 range.
Despite playing one year of college football at the FCS level, Trey Lance’s talent was still clear enough to get him drafted in the top 5. In his one year at North Dakota State, Lance set the NCAA record for most completions (287) without an interception. He set the North Dakota State passing efficiency record at 180.6 and also broke their single season total offensive yards mark. Additionally, he set North Dakota State freshman records in rushing yards with 1,100 and was a second team All-American selection at the age of 19.
Lance’s athleticism and decision making is what set him apart from most QB prospects. In his entire North Dakota State career, Lance had 48 total touchdowns and just 2 turnovers. At 6’3 225, he ran for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns which shows how elite of an elite Lance is. It’s likely that Lance has success one day in the NFL, but for now he’s waiting behind another former FCS stud in Jimmy Garoppolo.
James Robinson, RB, Illinois State
Best NFL trait: Robinson’s best trait as a runner is his vision which helped him run for 1,000 yards as an undrafted free agent. He’s averaging over 5 yards per carry this year and has one of the highest rushing grades in the league at 86.0.
James Robinson rewrote program history in his time at Illinois State. By the time his playing career ended, Robinson was second in Illinois State in rushing yards with 4,444 and was top three in total touchdowns and all purpose yards. Following his senior season in which he ran for 1,899 yards, had 18 touchdowns, Robinson was a consensus first team all American and a finalist for the Walter Payton award. His dominant senior year included performances where he ran for 178, 146, 150, 180, 155, 297, and 210 yards. Despite all his success, Robinson still went undrafted and through two years he’s proved why the league made a mistake. As a rookie Robinson had a solid 78.5 rushing grade despite playing behind Pro Football Focus’ 22nd rated run blocking line. He’s made further strides this year as he’s got the 5th best rushing grade in the league and is playing behind an even lower rated offensive line.
Scouts raved about Robinson’s vision and patience at the line which made him so effective as a runner. Despite a lack of explosiveness, Robinson still hit holes harder than most running backs and was decisive enough where it was no longer an issue. His receiving skills improved every year and scouts generally seemed to have enough confidence that wouldn’t have any issues catching the ball at the next level.
Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State
Best NFL trait: Leonard’s best trait as an NFL linebacker is his ability to create turnovers. He’s developed a reputation as someone who ball carriers need to be careful around because he’s always looking to punch the ball out. Through 4 years, Leonard has a total of 9 interceptions and 14 forced fumbles.
Darius Leonard’s outstanding South Carolina State career began as a true freshman where he led his team in tackles right off the bat. By the time he was a junior, Leonard was an all American and MEAC defensive player of the year compiling 124 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Leonard showed his pro readiness in a game against Clemson where he totaled 19 tackles and was the most disruptive player on a field with various 4/5 star recruits. He won another defensive player of the year award capping off a great college career.
As we see every week with Darius Leonard, he’s always the most disruptive player on the field. Leonard’s playmaking ability is truly what made his game special. In addition to all the tackles he made at South Carolina State, Leonard consistently contributed tackles for loss, interceptions, fumble recoveries, and even had multiple blocked kicks. As a rookie, Leonard had a league leading 163 tackles, but was also able to contribute 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. His impact goes well beyond just making tackles which is why he’s one of the highest paid players at his position. At the next level, Leonard has shown the promise that made him one of the nations best linebackers at South Carolina State. He’s established himself as a playmaking force who leads one of best defenses in the league.
Up And Coming FCS Prospects
(Fr.) RJ Martinez, QB, Northern Arizona
Best NFL Trait: Martinez is easily one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the FCS and his game is dependent on playing out of structure and making guys miss.
Coming into the year, there was lots of hype surrounding RJ Martinez who tied Texas high school football records set by Johnny Manziel and Kyler Murray. He sat on the bench the first few weeks, but was then finally thrown into action against division 1 Arizona and never looked back. In that game he completed 68% of his throws and ran for 43 yards on the ground which was good enough to earn him the starting job for the remainder of the season.
The Big Sky Freshman of the Year threw for 1,713 yards, completing 61.8% of them, 14 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions. He ran for 187 yards and 5 touchdowns, but those numbers don’t tell the full story with his rushing ability. His best performances of the season came against Southern Utah where he had 417 yards passing and 5 touchdowns and also ran for 65 yards and 2 rushing scores. Martinez was the second highest graded quarterback in the FCS behind Eastern Washington standout Eric Barriere. Moreover, Martinez had the 3rd highest big time throw rate in the FCS at 7.7% which showcases his downfield aggressiveness, but only 5 turnover worthy plays so he takes care of the ball despite his aggressive play style.
(So.) David Hoage, EDGE, Northern Colorado
Best NFL Trait: Hoage’s best NFL trait is his speed rushing ability. The former track athlete has the ability to win around the edge and showcases it routinely against FCS offensive tackles.
After a season in which he placed 3rd in the country in tackles for loss, David Hoage is a name to look out for in 2022. He ended his sophomore year at Northern Colorado with a team high 10.5 sacks, 23.0 tackles for loss, and 69 total tackles. Hoage set the Northern Colorado program sack record while playing three different positions. Hoage had his best performances of the season come against Houston Baptist and Southern Utah where he had a combined 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He used his speed rushing abilities to win around the edge and disrupt the game all afternoon.
The 2021 version of David Hoage is a whole lot different than what we saw from him as a true freshman. In 12 games played as a freshman, Hoage mustered just 19 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, and 2 hurries.
(So.) Tyler Hudson, WR, Central Arkansas
Best NFL Trait: Hudson is one of the the premier downfield playmakers in the FCS with ability to track long balls, return kicks/punts, and significantly impact the game anytime he touches the ball. His speed will be a valuable asset for any team at the next level.
One of the most intriguing players to look out for for next season is Central Arkansas wideout Tyler Hudson. He finished the year as one of the top graded wideouts in the FCS with a 82.8 receiving grade and 80.7 overall grade.
Coming in as a 3-star recruit, Hudson put up a team high 55 receptions for 975 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 975 receiving yards as a true freshman are 5th most in program history. He followed that up with a sophomore season in which he averaged over 16 yards per reception and had similar receiving stats with 845 yards and 7 touchdowns. Hudson was able to impact the game in other ways as he was all conference as a return man in addition to being a finalist for the Walter Payton Award. His huge breakout season came this past year where he had the 3rd highest receiving total in the FCS at 1,227 yards while averaging nearly 20 yards per reception. He had multiple games this year with over 175 yards receiving including a mid October game against Eastern Kentucky where he went for over 250 yards on 9 receptions. Hudson is one of the the premier downfield playmakers in the FCS with ability to track long balls, return kicks/punts, and significantly impact the game anytime he touches the ball.
(Fr.) Rodney Dansby, LB, Houston Baptist
Best NFL Trait: The strongest part of Dansby’s game is his tackling ability. The 130 he accumulated on the season would be a strong mark for any collegiate player let alone a true freshman.
It’s easy to see why Houston Baptist linebacker Rodney Dansby was a finalist for the Jerry Rice award. As a true freshman Dansby finished third in the entire FCS in tackles with 130 and added in 3.5 tackles for loss and 3 pass breakups. Incredibly, Dansby was able to compile 94 tackles in his final 6 games to solidify his place amongst the best linebackers in the country.
Hailing from the Texas prep ranks, Dansby’s transition to the next level has been smooth. He’s made play after play for his team all season and has been a tackling machine. Dansby finished the year being awarded a second team all SLC berth and was one of three Southland Conference freshmen to be nominated for the Jerry Rice Award.
Current FCS Senior Bowl Invitees:
Northern Iowa OL Trevor Penning
Southern Utah OL Braxton Jones
Fordham OL Nick Zakelj
North Dakota OL Matt Waletzko
Chattanooga OL Cole Strange