With 330 prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine, it isn’t easy to stand out in the crowd.
But NFL coaches, executives and personnel will take a close look at the 19 FCS players who are invited to the annual Combine in Indianapolis from Feb. 28-March 6.
FCS players are considered to be coming from the “small school” level, so they have to make a lasting impression.
The most important numbers at the Combine will come from the series of measurable drills, such as the 40-yard dash, the bench press and the shuttle run, the medical tests and an intelligence test to measure the aptitude of players.
Following are seven of the best FCS prospects (in alphabetical order) who have a lot to like, but also must answer a question or two at the Combine.
— 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.
What’s to Like: With an 87½-inch wingspan and 10½-inch hands, Davenport is built well for his position in a draft class that’s lacking at offensive tackle. He moves well for his size and plays with a good football IQ. He’s also durable, having started all 44 games in his Bucknell career.
What Must be Answered: He’s still raw with his technique because he often could rely on his strength to excel in the Patriot League. As he moves to better competition, Davenport must improve his athleticism and display lighter feet against elite pass rushers.
Pre-Combine Projection: 5th-6th Round
(Photo by Bucknell Athletics)
What’s to Like: The way he plays through the whistle indicates why Davis is a productive pass rusher. He is built well in the lower half and uses his strength well while wrapping up quarterbacks. With different moves to confuse blockers, he graded out well against NFL-caliber competition in games against Florida State and Alabama.
What Must be Answered: Davis must improve on getting down the line in the run game, so he’s been working on his technique in the draft buildup. It’s brought out questions about his overall athleticism. He’s seeking to break 4.8 in the 40 to decrease that concern.
Pre-Combine Projection: 4th-5th Round
(Photo by Chattanooga Athletics)
School: Tennessee State
What’s to Like: Dunker, a former four-star recruit who spent a redshirt season at Florida, comes from a Tennessee State program that has produced a number of NFL players, especially linemen. He’s quite athletic, so he moves well for his size. He can get out in the run or anchor well in pass sets.
What Must be Answered: Needing to show his core strength and toughness to scouts, his bench reps at the Combine will be important. He ran into problems off the field at Florida, so he will have to convince scouts of his maturation.
Pre-Combine Projection: 5th-6th Round
(Photo by Tennessee State Athletics)
Position: Free Safety
School: Saint Francis
What’s to Like: Jerome had growing interest following his superb senior season, but he’s followed up with a particularly eye-catching postseason, totaling four interceptions and a forced fumble at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and Reese’s Senior Bowl. He possesses excellent ball skills and an instinctive style, which reflect in his 18 career interceptions. He also projects to being a special teams standout at the next level, including as a kickoff returner.
What Must be Answered: Saint Francis hasn’t had a player drafted since 1945, so scouts still want to get a sense that Jerome’s skills will transfer from mid-level FCS. He doesn’t have exceptional speed and his height – measured at the Senior Bowl – is an inch and a half less than what was listed at Saint Francis.
Pre-Combine Projection: 5th Round
(Photo by Saint Francis Athletics)
What’s to Like: Kpassagnon has freakish athleticism for such a big body and long frame, with arms stretching nearly 35 inches each. He uses that size in an overpowering way, powering through blocks at the line of scrimmage and extending toward quarterbacks in the pass rush. While relying on his explosiveness, he still plays with an intelligent style. His late-developing skills suggest his best days are ahead of him.
What Must be Answered: He didn’t break out at Villanova until his junior season, so scouts want to make sure the raw skills will keep progressing. With a narrow base, he must improve his balance for the next level. He tends to lose sight of ball carriers when locked against an offensive tackle.
Pre-Combine Projection: 3rd-4th Round
(Photo courtesy of villanova.com)
School: Eastern Washington
What’s to Like: He’s the most accomplished wide receiver in NCAA history as he holds Division I records for receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and touchdown catches (73). He worked from both the perimeter and slot at Eastern Washington, running precise routes. He uses his body to shield off defenders and is physical after the catch.
What Must be Answered: Despite an ability to pick up yards after a catch, he is not a burner, so scouts want to see how fast he runs in the 40-yard dash. It’s important for him to go under 4.5 seconds. He will need such a burst to break away from press corners at the line of scrimmage.
Pre-Combine Projection: 2nd-3rd Round
(Photo by Eastern Washington Athletics)
School: Youngstown State
What’s to Like: Highly productive throughout his career, Rivers combines good length and athleticism into his pass-rushing skills. He stays low going around the edge. Departed the Reese’s Senior Bowl as one of the most impressive FCS prospects.
What Must be Answered: Nobody wants to hear the word “tweener.” With his thin build, Youngstown State’s all-time sacks leader could struggle to disengage against run blocking, so he might be best suited for outside linebacker at the next level.
Pre-Combine Projection: 4th Round
Other FCS players invited to the Combine: Offensive tackles Javarius Leamon (South Carolina State) and Jerry Ugokwe (William & Mary); offensive guards Erik Austell (Charleston Southern), Corey Levin (Chattanooga) and Cameron Lee (Illinois State); running backs De’Angelo Henderson (Coastal Carolina) and Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T); wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (Eastern Washington); tight end Eric Saubert (Drake); defensive end Avery Moss (Youngstown State); and cornerbacks Brendan Langley (Lamar) and Ezra Robinson (Tennessee State).
(Photo by Youngstown State Athletics)