The NFL will find you, while it’s an old adage, it rings true more than ever when it comes to prospects in today’s day and age where social media makes it much easier for schools to highlight their most talented players, no matter where they come from. More importantly, technology has made the tape acquiring process much easier for NFL front office’s to watch hundreds of prospects in preparation for the NFL Draft.
It’s not like 50 years ago where teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers had a strategic advantage thanks to Pro Football Hall of Fame scout Bill Nunn’s connections to HBCUs, now if you can play, every NFL team knows who you are and has watched your tape. The proof is in the putting when looking at where the NFL has pulled talent from in recent years.
In the last two NFL Draft classes alone, there’s been 37 non-FBS prospects selected, including 30 from the FCS and two have even gone in the first-round (Trevor Penning and Cole Strange). Over the last five NFL Draft classes there’s been an average of 14.6 non-FBS prospects drafted and 10.8 from the FCS, so while these prospects aren’t getting attention now, they will.
Every time NFL Draft season rolls around there’s a couple FCS prospects who NFL teams have been plugged in on for months that begin to make noise as the media catches on during the pre-draft process, these are a few to know:
Hayden Hatten, WR, Idaho (6-2, 205)
“I think when I see the ball in the air it’s similar to going up and getting a rebound,” Hayden Hatten told me on my podcast Seven Rounds in Heaven. “It’s a crucial element to my game. Going up and getting the ball is not something I’m scared to go do.”
Hatten, an FCS All-American for Idaho, set a school record with 16 receiving touchdowns last season to go with 1,209 yards on 83 receptions. He could be the next FCS receiver in line to be selected in the NFL Draft; there’s been 14 picked over the last 10 classes, including Cooper Kupp.
Like Kupp, Hatten is a dominant force in the Big Sky Conference where his ball skills and body control make him a contested catch savant. As a ball-winning X-receiver, he’s able to get vertical and beat up on defensive backs thanks to his natural ball tracking ability, violence at the catch point, and strong hands.
If Hatten can continue to develop his release package, stem work, and route running, he could be the first FCS receiver taken in April.
Mason McCormick, OG, South Dakota State (6-4, 305)
No team has more talent than the reigning FCS Champions. South Dakota State could have as many as five players selected in the 2024 NFL Draft, and the first Jackrabbit off the board will likely be left guard Mason McCormick.
McCormick, arguably the best prospect in the FCS, isn’t just a borderline Day 3 type of prospect, he could end up being a top-100 pick. With experience at all three interior offensive line spots, the sixth-year senior is like a cannonball being shot at an enemies ship when he pulls and sees a defender in his sightline. His skip technique almost looks choreographed the way he’s mastered it.
Not only can McCormick clear lanes as a puller, but his power at the point of attack is just as impressive when making a down block on a 300-pound 1-technique. That’s not to say he’s a plodder either, he’s capable of climbing to the second level and his foot quickness shows up in pass protection when dealing with more athletic rushers.
While his hand placement can be inconsistent and at times he plays too high, McCormick will easily be the eighth interior offensive lineman drafted from the FCS since 2014.
Thor Griffith, IDL, Harvard (6-2, 305)
With a name like Thor, you better be a hammer, and that’s the perfect way to describe Thor Griffith, Harvard’s All-Ivy League star. Since stepping into the starting lineup in 2021 as a redshirt freshman, he’s racked up 22.5 TFLs and 10 sacks in 20 games for the Crimson and has put his name on the NFL map.
A member of Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List last year, Griffith’s combination of strength, quickness, and natural leverage allow him to win playing everything from 3-technique to nose tackle. As a pass rusher he’s capable of generating power with his explosive get off and ability to get underneath interior offensive linemen, and while his pass rush plan is still developing, he’s got a nasty club-swim move that showcases his heavy hands.
Against the run, he’s stout and able to hold the point despite not being the biggest defensive tackle. His lower body strength allows him to anchor down and take on blocks to keep his linebackers clean, however, he can be even more impactful as a gap shooter with his agility.
There’s only been 11 interior defensive linemen selected from the FCS in the last 10 NFL Draft classes, but if Griffith declares he should be a shoo-in.
Garret Greenfield, OT, South Dakota State (6-6, 305)
The guy who lines up next to McCormick for South Dakota State isn’t too shabby himself. Left tackle Garret Greenfield gives the Jackrabbits the best left side of the offensive line in the FCS and the sixth-year senior could be a serious riser this season.
While not on the same level as McCormick, Greenfield’s athleticism is what makes him so intriguing. He’s a natural mover with the ability to make reach blocks, climb to the second level, and find work in space, which allows him to constantly spring big runs for his backs. If he can get stronger and play with more consistent pad level, he could be a devastating run blocker with his movement skills.
As a pass protector, he handles speed well with his lateral agility helping him reach his landmarks and his light feet allowing him to mirror pass rushers. Most importantly for him this season, he’ll need to improve his anchor and hand placement to elevate from a mid to late-Day 3 pick.
Each year there are multiple FCS offensive tackles taken in the NFL Draft, in fact there’s been 25 selected in the last 10 classes, the most of any position. Greenfield is in pole position to add to that number.
Khalil Baker, DB, NC Central (6-0, 185)
The Deion Sanders led Jackson State Tigers lost one game last season, it was to NC Central in overtime of the Celebration Bowl. And while everyone talked about how much talent Deion brought to Jackson State, they overlooked the Eagles roster, particularly defensive back Khalil Baker.
Baker, an FCS All-American last season, won MEAC Defensive Player of the Year with 61 tackles, four interceptions, and five pass breakups. But the numbers don’t do him justice, he might be the smartest defensive player in the FCS.
With natural instincts and the suddenness to read, react, and make plays, Baker is everywhere making tackles and plays in coverage. Moving around formations, he can match up in man coverage as a nickel, protect the deep-half as a two-deep safety, or play single-high and lean on his range to make plays.
In the NFL, his best spot might end up being at nickel where his superb footwork helps him handle precise route runners and his solid take on skills allow him to make plays on ball carriers. Overall, he can give his draft stock a big boost this year if he shows more consistency in zone coverage and finding the ball in phase.
Since 2014, there’ve been only seven safeties from the FCS selected in the NFL Draft.
Kiran Amegadjie, OT, Yale (6-5, 318)
No prospect in the FCS is poised for a bigger breakout year than Yale’s Kiran Amegadjie. The rare true junior in the FCS getting big-time NFL Draft buzz over the summer, it’s easy to understand why once you see Amegadjie knock over a defensive lineman like they’re cardboard cutouts.
Already built like an NFL offensive lineman, Amegadjie’s size and power just jump off the tape, especially in the run game where he’s consistently sustaining his blocks and playing through the whistle. Despite his size, he moves well too and can work to the second level or get out in front of screens.
A left tackle for the Bulldogs, Amegadjie has experience at guard, which may be his best spot in the NFL. Right now his footwork and hand placement are raw and need to improve if he’s going to play tackle at the next level, however, playing inside, some of those issues can be covered up; it helps that he has a great anchor.
Get ready to hear his name during the NFL Draft process, even if it’s not until 2025. He could end up the next FCS offensive tackle taken in the top-100.
Isaiah Davis, RB, South Dakota State (6-1, 220)
Good luck stopping South Dakota State’s rushing attack. Not only do they have McCormick and Greenfield on the left side of the line ripping open holes, but they have the most dynamic running back in the FCS.
After sharing the backfield with Pierre Strong, the New England Patriots fourth-round pick in 2022, during his first two seasons in Brookings, Isaiah Davis took the reins last season. It paid off for the Jackrabbits as he ran for 1,451 yards and 15 touchdowns and highlighted why he’s a legitimate NFL prospect.
What makes Davis so enticing is his rugged running style. He’s built like a bell cow and plays like one too with borderline elite contact balance, the power to pick up tough yards between the tackles, and enough quickness to make defenders miss in the hole. Even better, he’s shown pass protection prowess, something that’s always going to help a back stick in the NFL.
As he enters his fourth season, for Davis to reach that next level and solidify himself as one of the best senior running backs in the country (including the FBS), he’s got to show more consistent vision and patience pressing the line, and prove he can be a pass catching threat.
Only eight running backs from the FCS have been drafted in the last 10 years, but all signs point to Davis accomplishing the feat.
Lawrence Johnson, DB, Southeast Missouri State (6-0, 196)
A preseason FCS All-American, Lawrence Johnson might not be well known yet, but his name will start popping up the closer we get to the 2024 NFL Draft. Useful defensive backs who can play nearly anywhere in the back seven are rare and generally garner NFL attention.
A sixth-year senior, Johnson is coming off his best season yet with 86 tackles, 10 TFLs, four sacks, nine passes defensed, and an interception. The Redhawks use him like a defensive chess piece based on situation to best put him in position to make plays; on one snap he could be playing single-high and the next he’s lined up at linebacker or being used as an overhang defender.
What helps Johnson frequently make plays in coverage is his combo of eye discipline, ball skills, and length. He’s constantly shown the range to close on receivers and does a great job disrupting the catch point. That size helps him bully slot receivers while also giving him the ability to play in the box as a tight end stopper.
He’s even better around the line of scrimmage where his take on skills are put on full display, he doesn’t shy away in run support. And he can be a weapon blitzing from the nickel or as a linebacker.
The big question with him will be whether or not he has the explosiveness to make the leap to the NFL.
David Walker, EDGE, Central Arkansas (6-2, 260)
When it comes to edge rushing prospects, the NFL loves sack production. There are few better ways for a pass rusher to get on the NFL radar than to show they can go quarterback hunting. That’s good news for Central Arkansas’ David Walker.
Walker started his career at Southern Arkansas, a Division II program, where he parlayed 19.5 TFLs and eight sacks in 2021 to a call up to the FCS with the Bears. He didn’t disappoint in his first season with Central Arkansas putting up even better numbers with 22 TFLs and 12 sacks.
Now, he’s considered the best pass rusher in the FCS and the fact that he has NFL size and was on the Freaks List last year, only solidifies his spot as one of the top small schools prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Utilizing his first step explosion, Walker is able to win with speed-to-power, but also has the heavy hands to work inside counter moves. Without natural bend, Walker relies on his hands, athleticism, and effort to beat tackles. He’s also a stout run defender where his power shows up as an edge setter.
To elevate his pass rush plan this season, and his NFL Draft stock, Walker needs to continue to develop his hands and work combo moves. Since 2014, 18 edge rushers from the FCS have been drafted, Walker is trending towards being the next one.
Maxwell Anderson, CB, Weber State (5-11, 170)
Cornerback has been a position that the FCS consistently feeds the NFL Draft with, there’s been 24 of them selected in the last 10 years (second only to offensive tackle). This year, there are a few to keep an eye on, including Northern Iowa’s Woo Governor and Stephen F. Austin’s Jeremiah Walker, but Weber State’s Maxwell Anderson leads the group.
Anderson, who earned FCS All-American honors last season after picking off five passes and breaking up 11 more, is at his best playing off-zone coverage where he can read and react to quarterbacks. It helps his cause that he has quick and clean feet and has shown impressive click and close ability to make plays on the football.
While he’s not the biggest corner nor the twitchiest, his technique and smooth change of direction skills allow him to make plays in coverage. His route recognition is also something that deserves some shine because it helps him play half a second faster and make up for some of those speed concerns.
Seeing him show the ability to press and improve his take on skills as a run defender could be big for his draft stock this season.