Potential gems abound across the subdivision
Even the most-knowledgeable scouts would have scoffed last April if somebody had suggested the NFL defensive rookie of the year would come from a second-round pick... and the FCS level of college football.
But South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, who led the NFL in tackles, was a true gem unmined by the Indianapolis Colts. His range as an off-the-ball, run-and-chase defender was evident leading into the draft.
If the best attribute could be taken from each of the top FCS prospects and added together, there would be numerous Darius Leonards. As scouts take a closer look at this year's draft class, here's what they can find heading into the seven-round draft April 25-27 in Nashville, Tennessee:
Nasir Adderley, FS, Delaware
Some draft analysts give Adderley a first-round grade – not common for an FCS player. He has outstanding instincts, range and ball skills.
Donald Parham, TE, Stetson
This category usually goes to a lineman, but Parham’s 6-foot-8 size stands out for a pass catcher.
Damion Jeanpiere Jr., WR, Nicholls
A 4.25-second clocking in the 40-yard dash at his pro day must have left jaws ajar. The burner also went 6.41 in the 3-cone drill.
Tytus Howard, OT, Alabama State
Considering Howard was a high school quarterback and began his college career as a tight end explains how he oozes athleticism at 6-foot-5, 322 pounds. He has an 85 1/8-inch wingspan.
Drew Forbes, OG, Southeast Missouri
Bypassed on the all-star game circuit and at the NFL Scouting Combine, Forbes has gained attention following a solid pro day. He plays with consistency and is durable.
Easton Stick, QB, North Dakota State
It's hard to ignore the 49 career wins (a record for an FCS signal-caller) and the FCS titles in the last two seasons, but Stick also has prepared himself in a pro-style offense.
Keelan Doss, WR, UC Davis
Another Cooper Kupp-like talent out of the Big Sky, Doss grabbed a Division I-high 233 receptions over the last two seasons.
Iosua Opeta, OG, Weber State
Only one lineman has had more than Opeta's 39 reps on the 225-pound bench press since records were first kept at the NFL Scouting Combine in 1987. Honorable mention goes to Lehigh's Dom Bragalone, whose 33 reps on his pro day were exceptional for a running back.
Khalen Saunders, DT, Western Illinois
Generally projected for the third round, Saunders has an ability to separate from blocks and get into opposing backfields. He had a strong week at the Reese’s Senior Bowl followed by an impressive Combine.
Best Small "Small School" Prospect
Jake Dolegala, QB, Central Connecticut State
Ryan Fulse, RB, Wagner
The Northeast Conference is home to two strong talents in Dolegala, who could be a third-day selection, and Fulse, who blends speed and power and could be a find as a post-draft free agent.
Best Early-Entry Prospect
Jazz Ferguson, WR, Northwestern State
The younger brother of Louisiana Tech defensive end prospect Jaylon Ferguson has undeniable size (6-5, 227), good speed and an excellent catching radius.
Best "Other" Guy
Bruce Anderson, RB, North Dakota State
Bison quarterback Easton Stick’s best decisions often came from getting the ball to Anderson, a triple-threat on rushes, receptions, and returns.
Best Underrated Prospect
Joshua Miles, OT, Morgan State
With good size and raw talent, NFL.com rates the emerging Miles as "a potential low-risk, high-yield pick." Expect fifth to seventh round.
Darryl Johnson Jr., DE, North Carolina A&T
The pass-rushing MEAC defensive player of the year relinquished his final season of eligibility. He rebounded from a subpar performance at the Combine with a solid pro day.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of Nicholls Athletics)