NFL Draft candidates coming from the FCS level are often a smidge smaller, slower and less exposed to elite competition than their FBS counterparts.
Oh yes, the so-called small-school players tend to share another characteristic – they head toward a pro career carrying a rather large chip on their shoulder.
Former FCS players who make NFL rosters usually find a comfort level and come to understand the league is about performance, so it doesn’t matter what school name was strapped across their chest in college. But for FCS players trying to carve out an initial niche, they can’t escape the feeling they have to overcome the small-school label.
“I felt in high school I was overlooked. I feel like in college I’m overlooked a little bit going to the pros,” said draft hopeful Dylan Cole, a Missouri State linebacker who led the FCS in tackles as a senior. “I’m kind of used to it. I continue to have that chip on my shoulder, to be the best I can, keep proving people wrong and proving myself right.”
“It’s just motivation,” Chattanooga defensive end Keionta Davis said. “You’ve got to prove a point every time or they’re going to say he’s only an FCS-type guy.”
One way for an FCS prospect to improve his perception is to have excellent film in his team’s few games against FBS opponents. NFL scouts value it during the evaluation process.
Few FCS players have ever performed so well so often against FBS opponents as Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who could be the first FCS player selected in the April 27-29 draft in Philadelphia. In four career games against Pac-12 opponents, including wins over Oregon State and Washington State, Kupp had 40 receptions, 716 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches. He also caught a touchdown against another FBS program, Toledo.
“In those big games,” said Kupp, the all-time FCS and Division I leader in career receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches, “there wasn’t a fall-off in production from me or from the team from that standpoint. And I think that speaks a little that, one, we were a very well-prepared and very good team, but also the divide between Pac-12 schools and FBS schools and a lot of the FCS talent that’s down there, that divide might not be as big as a lot of people think it is.”
At any point during an NFL season, there usually are about 150 former FCS players spread across rosters. There are Division II and III players, although fewer of them, on rosters as well.
The truth is NFL teams will find players from any level if they’re worthy.
“It doesn’t bother me at all because I have a chip on my shoulder,” Saint Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome said. “I know where I came from, I know what I did” as an FCS player.
— 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.
(Top photo by Eastern Washington University Athletics, Keionta Davis photo by Chattanooga Athletics)