It wasn't long ago NFL draftniks were asking, "Who's the next Carson Wentz?"
So often during the 2020 NFL Draft, people were left to wonder when the next draft selection from the FCS level would even occur.
Wentz going No. 2 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016 marked the highest ever for an FCS player and brought a heightened level of excitement for finding hidden gems in college football. But the picks have declined quite a bit the last two years, including only six this year — the fewest ever.
Here are five takeaways from the disappointing FCS draft class:
The FCS had been averaging 17-18 picks per draft for years, so having 13 last year was disappointing. This year, it bottomed out with just the six.
There are plenty of factors for the decline, and the cancelation of most pro days due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was particularly devastating for so many non-FBS players, who didn't get to prove themselves to scouts in an up-close-and-personal way.
FCS programs used to outnumber the FBS, but not anymore. The increase in FBS programs, such as Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, and Liberty — which all had draft picks — has cost the FCS of top teams with draftable players.
Plus, the increase of FCS players wanting to spend a final season at the FBS level — hello, Jabril Cox in 2021 — is getting worse by the year.
Worth Trading Up For
The first two draft selections from the FCS went as expected, and their new teams traded up to get them.
The Carolina Panthers used the final pick of the second round — No. 64 overall — on Southern Illinois strong safety Jeremy Chinn (6-3, 221) after dealing their No. 69 and 148 picks to the Seattle Seahawks. New Panthers head coach Matt Rhule says Chinn is almost positionless with safety, big nickel and cover linebacker skills.
The New Orleans Saints went all-in on Dayton tight end Adam Trautman, getting him with the second-to-last pick of the third round at No. 105 overall. The highest draft pick in Pioneer Football League history cost the Saints their fourth- (130), fifth- (169), sixth- (203) and seventh-round picks (244) to the Minnesota Vikings.
Both players were 2019 Athlon Sports FCS All-Americans.
The Right Call
FCS players who relinquish their final season of eligibility to enter the draft early often go undrafted, but Rhode Island wide receiver Isaiah Coulter guessed correctly — against the advice of head coach Jim Fleming, who wanted him to return as a senior for more development. Coulter became URI’s first draft pick since 1986 when the Houston Texans took him in the fifth round at No. 171.
Coulter (6-2, 198) has good length and speed (4.45-second 40-yard dash). He caught 72 passes for 1,039 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior playing opposite his cousin, Aaron Parker, URI’s All-America wide receiver.
Seventh Round to the Rescue
The FCS draft class would have been much worse if not for the seventh round, when three picks doubled the total through the first six rounds.
The Chicago Bears' pick of Tennessee State offensive guard Lachavious Simmons (No. 227) stunned just about everyone, but the Ohio Valley Conference program has done well with producing NFL offensive linemen.
Four picks later, the Dallas Cowboys selected James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci, who led the FCS in completion percentage (70.9) while leading the Dukes to a national runner-up finish. He gave CAA Football multiple draft picks (along with Coulter) for the 15th straight year.
The FCS champ, North Dakota State, had its own draft pick when the Denver Broncos selected defensive end Derrek Tuszka with the second-to-last pick of the draft (No. 254).
Many of the undrafted FCS players have already committed to NFL teams as undrafted free agents, but there's more to come. Being undrafted can provide an advantage because players with multiple opportunities can pick a favorable situation.
Some of the best undrafted FCS players were Reese's Senior Bowl invites — Portland State tight end Charlie Taumoepeau (Dallas Cowboys) and South Carolina State offensive tackle Alex Taylor (Cleveland Browns) — and East-West Shrine Game invites, including Illinois State running back James Robinson (Jacksonville Jaguars), Montana State defensive end Bryce Sterk (Miami Dolphins), Montana and Buck Buchanan Award-winning linebacker Dante Olson (Philadelphia Eagles), Princeton quarterback Kevin Davidson (Cleveland Browns), as well as Rhode Island offensive guard Kyle Murphy (New York Giants) and wide receiver Aaron Parker (Dallas Cowboys.
— 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 Southern Illinois Athletics)