Edge rushers are as coveted as ever by NFL teams, and the position that’s best represented by the FCS level at the Reese’s Senior Bowl this week is defensive end.
Chattanooga’s Keionta Davis, Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon and Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers will all likely be drafted in April – perhaps among the first 10 selections from FCS schools. Seven other FCS players, including four-time All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington, will play in the Senior Bowl – the premier college football all-star game – from Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday. The exhibition will be broadcast on the NFL Network at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Davis, at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, headlines the trio as a relentless pass rusher. Most notable was his excellent performance against former Florida State offensive tackle Roderick Johnson in 2015, when Davis attacked well from around the edge and with inside charges. The 2016 Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year played with consistency throughout his career, totaling 31 sacks. He is considered a Day 2 (second and third rounds) draft candidate.
Kpassagnon (full name pronounced tawn-o pass-N-yo) commands attention with his 6-foot-6, 285-pound size, and his productively grew in his senior season, when he totaled 21.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks and was the CAA Football Defensive Player of the Year. A late-developing player, whose parents are from Africa, Kpassagnon combines quickness with strength. Villanova defensive line coach Joe Trainer, who’s been in the CAA for 17 seasons, calls Kpassagnon the best prospect to come out of the highly regarded conference. If there is concern, it’s his finishing touch against better pass blockers.
Rivers (6-4, 255) had a dominating career in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, finishing with 173 tackles, 56.5 tackles for a loss, 41 sacks and 48 quarterback hurries. He’s lean enough to drop back to outside linebacker at the next level, and athletic enough, with excellent lateral movement, to make the transition. His relentless play helped Youngstown State reach the FCS national championship game, where he had six tackles, including two for a loss.
FCS Players in 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl
North Roster (with uniform number): Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10), Saint Francis free safety Lorenzo Jerome (22), Lamar cornerback Brendan Langley (31), Bucknell offensive tackle Julie’n Davenport (70) and Youngstown State defensive end Derek Rivers (94)
South Roster (with uniform number): Tennessee State cornerback Ezra Robinson (31), Tennessee State offensive guard Jessamen Dunker (66), Grambling State wide receiver Chad Williams (10), Villanova defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (92) and Chattanooga defensive end Keionta Davis (93)
— 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.
(Keionta Davis top photo by Chattanooga Athletics)