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2022 NFL Draft: 5 Intriguing Prospects From the FCS Ranks

EJ Perry, QB, Brown Bears, 2022 NFL Draft

Brown quarterback EJ Perry is one of several players from the FCS ranks who will probably hear their name called during the 2022 NFL Draft

The 2022 NFL Draft will feature a handful of prospects from the Football Championship Subdivision, the "lower" half of Division I football that nonetheless manages to leave a mark on the professional game year after year.

This year's FCS class is heavy on offensive linemen and defensive backs. Here are some smaller-school names to know as the draft cycle kicks into high gear.

Athlon Sports' 2022 NFL Draft Guide includes in-depth scouting reports on 230 of the top prospects. At 176 pages, it's the most complete preview of the upcoming draft. Purchase a copy online today, the digital edition for instant access, or look for it on newsstands everywhere.

EJ Perry, QB, Brown

The last few years have been a whirlwind for everyone on the planet, but few football players have had more twists and turns in that span than Brown's quarterback, EJ Perry.

Perry was the backup at Boston College in 2017 and '18, sitting behind starter (and eventual Oregon transfer) Anthony Brown. He opted for a transfer and sought a school that would match BC's academic rigor and give him a chance to play immediately.

That meant heading to FCS, and it meant going to Brown. In 2019, he set an Ivy League single-season record for total offense with 3,678 yards (2,948 passing and 730 rushing).

Then the world fell apart. The Ivy League did not play in 2020, and Perry went off to an internship with Bruin Capital, a sports investment and operating firm.

And then he went back to Brown in 2021, where he cleared 3,000 passing yards and ran for another 402. He focused on accuracy, and his completion percentage jumped from 60.1 to 66.4, playing in a challenging Ivy League two years after his last game action.

Perry tries to play like Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers or a "back in the day" Ben Roethlisberger. It's not just that they're good, but that they're the "type of guys who continue to extend the plays using their mobility and athleticism to throw the ball downfield and create plays when plays have broken down, and, when they have to, run the ball as a last resort," he says.

The 6'2" passer played in high school at Andover (Mass.) for his dad and head coach, Ernest. His uncle, James, was his head coach at Brown, and another uncle, John, is a longtime college and NFL assistant. All have been vital to EJ's draft process, in particular Ernest for managing EJ's off-field obligations and John for sharing his perspective on the league.

"[I'm] leaning on his expertise, especially within the NFL, and the type of questions they're gonna ask, the type of things they're gonna want you to know," EJ says.

Athlon Sports 2022 NFL Draft Guide

The most complete guide to the 2022 NFL Draft is now available! Purchase a copy online today, the digital edition for instant access, or look for it on newsstands everywhere.

Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa

As UNI's left tackle, Trevor Penning was a literal wall in 2021. By the count of the game-charters at Pro Football Focus, he allowed exactly one sack on 435 pass-blocking snaps.

Not that he was counting. "I honestly had no idea," he told Athlon Sports. "We tracked it, but I don't even remember, to be honest with you."

The 6'71/2", 335-pounder's dominant pass blocking has made him an attractive target for NFL front offices, which are widely expected to make him the first FCS player selected in April. But it is the other element of line play — road-grading in the run game — that most excites him.

"Your goal is to drive your guy hopefully to the sideline or 15 yards downfield," he says. "You've gotta have that dog mentality. Pass pro, you've gotta be a little bit passive at times. I don't wanna say 'passive,' but you can't be over-aggressive the same way you are in the run game."

The Panthers liked to dial up three run plays in particular that Penning craved. His staple play was wide zone, where he'd move in tandem with his line-mates and climb through the defense while UNI ran behind him. Another was power, where he'd pull around the line and bulldoze.

"You've gotta love power as an offensive lineman," he says.

He also loved the Panthers' "pin and pull" scheme, which afforded similar opportunities to get rumbling downfield. He smiles while explaining the play, and it becomes clear what he really enjoys about being an offensive lineman.

"That's definitely fun, just being out in space and hopefully going to abuse some safeties and corners," Penning says. "I think that's a blast."

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Cole Strange, G, Chattanooga

After six seasons of college football, how is Cole Strange's game most different? "Man, I guess you could kinda take your pick as far as that one goes," he says. "I'm a lot bigger, weight-wise. I've gained some weight. Maybe a couple of chubby pounds."

Strange gained about 50 pounds during his career, most of them not chubby. At 6'6" and now about 300 pounds, he's fielded approaches from NFL scouts who are interested in him as a tackle. However, he expects the league will mostly want him where he's already played. "What I've heard more than anything is interior fit — center or guard," he says.

While he physically transformed at Chattanooga, Strange's most important growth has arguably been in understanding the finer points of offensive line play.

"A lot of it is very much a mindset, you know, just playing as hard as you can, and making sure you try to stay low," Strange explains.

"But there's some things that involve a great deal of technique — pass blocking, I think, most of all. Whenever I started, I did not know a lick of anything involving pass blocking."

He does now. He allowed one sack in his last three college seasons, per PFF.

Zyon McCollum, CB, Sam Houston

When Zyon McCollum picks up the phone, he has just finished a pre-draft workout in Frisco, Texas. It's not his first visit. Last May, he was in Frisco with his team, capping an unbeaten season with a 23–21 win over South Dakota State to take the national title for Sam Houston.

"The whole experience was surreal and absolutely crazy," McCollum says. "I kind of knew that it was possible, but it's hard to actually see a national championship."

Part of why it was so hard to see was that the FCS, for a decade now, has been one team's game. North Dakota State won the title in 2011 and has won it in every season since except for two: 2016 (James Madison) and the pandemic-induced 2021 spring season (Sam Houston).

The Bison's 2017 title run included a 55–13 semifinal thrashing of McCollum's Bearkats, when he was a freshman. In 2021, the Bearkats got revenge, knocking NDSU out in the quarterfinals en route to their own championship, the capper to a long building process.

McCollum, a 6'4" outside cornerback with prototypical NFL size, put up stat lines more befitting of a ball-hawking slot defender. In five seasons, he piled up 13 interceptions, six forced fumbles, two defensive scores and a whopping 54 pass breakups. He earned various All-America honors for both the spring and fall 2021 seasons, to go with all-conference nods in both the Southland (for the spring) and WAC (for the fall), as SHSU swapped leagues.

The method to his madness was a patience that his cornerbacks coach Gary McGraw drilled into him from his freshman year in 2017.

"Throughout the game, there will probably be four to five plays that will come to my side," McCollum says. "But if I'm not doing my job on that certain play, then I'll never be able to make it. As long as I'm doing my job every snap, in those four or five plays, that's four or five plays that I'm making a game.

"At that position, you have to be really, really patient."

Markquese Bell, S, Florida A&M

When Markquese Bell was a four-star recruit in the class of 2017, everyone seemed to have a different idea of where he should play — not just which school, but also which position.

He was the No. 7 "athlete" in the country, per the 247Sports Composite ranking, and some thought Bell should play receiver. Others saw a cornerback. He saw something else.

"I wanted to play safety because that's where I had the most fun," Bell says now. "Offense was great in high school, but I didn't like, really, getting hit. So I put more of my focus into playing defense, and that's where I excelled the most at, so I just stuck with it."

Bell signed with Maryland and played safety. The school choice didn't stick, as Bell left Maryland during his freshman year and later wound up at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before landing at FAMU. But the position did stick, as Bell became a critical back-end thumper for the Rattlers.

In 2021, Bell helped FAMU to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2001. The Rattlers lost 38–14 to Southeastern Louisiana, but Bell had a career-high 16 tackles and flashed the rangy physicality he'll bring to the pros.

FAMU aligned Bell (6'2 1/2", 201) all over the field. Where would he like to line up next? "Honestly, that all depends on what type of team we're playing," he says.

"If we're playing a more pass-heavy team, I would like to be middle of the field, half-field, be able to patrol the ball, patrol the field, be around the ball. If we're playing a more run-heavy, play-action team, RPO, I'd like to be somewhat in the box."

— By Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) for the Athlon Sports 2022 NFL Draft Guide.