NFL teams have shifted the last two years to drafting fewer players below the FBS level and signing more afterward.
Given the talent level in FCS college football this season, the selections figure to increase in the 2022 NFL Draft.
There are many FCS standouts to watch during the 2021 season, even plenty not listed below. Small-school draft expert Josh Buchanan suggests NFL scouts are sure to take a long look at the following 25 prospects:
Christian Watson, North Dakota State, WR, 6-4, 208
The combination of NFL-level size and speed is undeniable with a game-breaker on both the perimeter (21.6 ypr on 62 career catches) and kickoff returns. Watson is accustomed to playing in high-stakes games, and nine former Bison players have been drafted since 2014 – easily the most among FCS programs.
Note: Remaining players are listed in alphabetical order.
Markquese Bell, Florida A&M, S, 6-2½, 205
His physical style is disruptive to both ball carriers and receivers going across his zone.
Isaiah Chambers, McNeese, DE, 6-4, 251
Former Houston edge rusher racked up 14 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and 11 QB hurries in seven spring games.
Julius Chestnut, Sacred Heart, RB, 6-1, 215
Former Northeast Conference players are making more NFL rosters, so the leading active FCS rusher (3,063 career yards) commands attention.
DJ Coleman, Jacksonville State, DE, 6-5½, 255
His 42 QB hurries in 26 games over the 2019 and ’20 seasons make you gulp.
Tanner Connor, Idaho State, WR, 6-3, 235
Not a burner, but productive as a receiver and run blocker. He’s coming off a spring season in which his 114.2 receiving yards per game ranked fourth in the FCS.
Dai’Jean Dixon, Nicholls, WR, 6-3, 200
Working well over the middle of a defense, Dixon’s career totals of 165 receptions, 2,800 receiving yards and 27 TD catches are school records already.
Jequez Ezzard, Sam Houston, WR, 5-9½, 195
The second-year transfer from Howard’s shifty moves on punt returns are electrifying, and he has averaged a jaw-dropping 25 yards per catch on 114 career receptions.
Liam Fornadel, James Madison, OL, 6-4½, 310
With the size of a guard for the next level, he had been durable (46 career games, 33 starts) prior to missing the spring season with a shoulder injury.
Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State, TE, 6-6, 266
A big run-blocker who Bison QBs look for around the goal line.
Mike Greene, James Madison, DL, 6-2½, 282
His attention to detail and ability to move across the line will aid him on the interior of an NFL line.
Ryan Greenhagen, Fordham, LB, 6-1, 235
Active defender enters his final season with 35.5 tackles for a loss in 26 career games, a 1.37 per game average that ranks No. 1 among active FCS players.
Braxton Jones, Southern Utah, OT, 6-6, 305
An agile blocker who is outstanding in pass protection, Jones has soared as an FCS prospect in the last year.
Ferlando Jordan, Southeastern Louisiana, CB, 6-0, 180
His 255 return yards on five interceptions in 2019 are the fourth-most in the last 25 FCS seasons.
Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana, QB, 6-7, 260
With his size, the reigning Walter Payton Award winner scans the field well for receivers. He accounted for 27 TDs in just seven spring games.
Jace Lewis, Montana, LB, 6-1, 236
Former special teams standout moves quickly around the field, as evidenced by his 131 tackles in 2019.
Jah-Maine Martin, North Carolina A&T, RB, 5-10, 220
A stronger 2021 schedule will test the speedy Martin, who’s averaged 32.3 yards on his 32 career rushing touchdowns.
Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston, CB, 6-3, 200
The defending FCS champ’s lanky shutdown defender leads all active FCS players in career pass breakups (46) and is tied for third in interceptions (10).
Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa, OT, 6-7, 321
The strongman is a Day 2 draft candidate, agile for his size and possessing great length (nearly 35-inch arms) to overpower defenders.
E.J. Perry, Brown, QB, 6-1, 210
The dual-threat signal-caller extends plays and has a strong arm, his athleticism surely leading to versatile looks at the next level.
Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State, 5-11, 205
A home-run threat who has averaged 7.3 yards on 391 career carries and catches passes out of the backfield.
Cordell Volson, North Dakota State, OL, 6-6, 317
No matter if he played at guard or tackle, Volson didn’t allow a sack in the Bison’s 10-game 2020 season.
Matt Waletzko, North Dakota, OT, 6-7, 300
Has a frame suitable for adding weight, and he’s already quick off the ball as a run blocker.
Tre Walker, Idaho, LB, 6-1, 230
In the last full FCS season (2019), the athletic Walker averaged 11.5 tackles per game, ranking fourth in the nation.
Isaiah Weston, Northern Iowa, WR, 6-4, 210
The long strides get him downfield quickly – he averaged 24.5 yards per catch while going over 1,000 receiving yards in 2019.
— 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.TheAnalyst.com. He appears frequently on radio, TV and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.