FCS primer for the 2018 NFL Draft

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - NFL Draft prospect Taron Johnson originally signed at Weber State to play wide receiver. He was the one who wanted to switch to cornerback, and convinced the coaching staff about it.

That sums up how FCS players try to make it to the next level - being versatile and making the most of any opportunity.

Some will switch positions, some will contribute on special teams, but they all seem to enter the NFL feeling they have to do more than their counterparts from the FBS. Certainly less exposed than FBS players, the FCS players aren't necessarily smaller or slower - although there is the perception - but there is a sense of being disrespected and underrated.

Even South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert - the top-rated FCS prospect - talked in recent months of just wanting to get drafted, as if a potential first- or second-rounder had that concern.

"I just kind of hope to eliminate all the doubt that teams might have with me coming from a smaller college - they don't think I played as high a competition and maybe can't compete with (FBS-level players), so I just want to kind of prove them wrong and show them that I can compete with whoever's lined up in front of me," Goedert said.

Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta put it best that it's most important with what a player does after he's drafted. For the many undrafted players who will sign afterward, it also is about shining in their opportunities.

It's a particularly good year for the FCS, with upwards of 20-plus players expected to be drafted. The group has the headliner (Goedert) and the depth, like two years ago when North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz led the way in a 20-member class.

"You just look at all the success that people have had (and) the competition doesn't mean a ton," Goedert said. "You look at guys like Carson Wentz - he's an unbelievable player, played at the FCS level. David Johnson, the couple D-ends from Youngstown (Derek Rivers and Avery Moss) last year.

"I think I played against some good competition. It's just going out there and showing them that we can compete and that it's not that big of a drop-off from the FBS to the FCS."

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TOP-RANKED PROSPECTS BY CONFERENCE

The top-ranked prospects by FCS conference (with possible draft scenario):

Big Sky - Taron Johnson, CB, Weber State (6th round)

Big South - Mike Basile, FS, Monmouth (undrafted free agent)

CAA Football - Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond (3rd)

Ivy League - Justin Watson, WR, Penn (6th-7th)

MEAC - Darius Leonard, OLB, South Carolina State (3rd-4th)

Missouri Valley - Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State (1st-2nd)

Northeast - Greg Senat, OT, Wagner (7th-UFA)

Ohio Valley - Siran Neal, SS, Jacksonville State (6th)

Patriot League - Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham (7th-UFA)

Pioneer League - Ross Dwelley, TE, San Diego (UFA)

Southern - Keion Crossen, CB, Western Carolina (UFA)

Southland - P.J. Hall, DT, Sam Houston State (4th-5th)

SWAC - Danny Johnson, CB, Southern (7th-PFA)

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LATE BUZZ

Highly respected small school draft evaluator Josh Buchanan said there is a lot of late interest in Sam Houston State defensive lineman P.J. Hall, who tested well in the pre-daft buildup. Hall posted 42 sacks and an FCS-record 86 1/2 tackles for loss during his brilliant career.

"The natural talent is there," Buchanan said, "and if he puts in the work, there is no reason why he could not fit with a 3-4 or 4-3 team - he could play end in a 3-4 or tackle in a 4-3 - for the next seven-plus years."

Buchanan also likes the growing interest in such players as wide receivers Daurice Fountain of Northern Iowa, Justin Watson of Penn and Jaelon Acklin of Western Illinois, outside linebacker Kendall Donnerson of Southeast Missouri, cornerbacks Tremon Smith of Central Arkansas and Mike Ford of Southeast Missouri, and free safety Elijah Campbell of Northern Iowa.

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TV COVERAGE

Thursday, April 26: Round 1, beginning 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network, Fox, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. Teams are given 10 minutes to make their selection.

Friday, April 27: Rounds 2 and 3, beginning 7 p.m. ET on NFL Network, Fox, ESPN and ESPN2 (ESPN's coverage switches to ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET). Teams are given seven minutes to make their selection in Round 2, five minutes in Round 3.

Saturday, April 28: Rounds 4-7, beginning noon ET on NFL Network, ABC and ESPN. Teams are given five minutes to make their selection in Rounds 4-6, four minutes in Round 7.

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NOTABLE

Over the last 10 drafts, there's been an average of 18.4 FCS players selected, with a high of 24 in 2008 and a low of 15 in 2009, 2012 and last year. ... The most drafted FCS position in this decade is cornerback with 28. Johnson from Weber State, Illinois State's Davontae Harris, Central Arkansas' Tremon Smith and Southern's Danny Johnson are considered the leading FCS cornerbacks this year. ... North Carolina A&T left tackle Brandon Parker is one of the bigger prospects in the draft at 6-foot-7 1/4, 323 pounds with an 85 1/4-inch wingspan. ... No FCS program has had a draft selection in each of the last two years, but North Dakota State had a streak of three straight years before being shut out in 2017. The top two prospects from the 2017 FCS champ are middle linebacker Nick DeLuca and free safety Tre Dempsey. .. The Dallas area (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas) is hosting the NFL Draft for the first time (it hosted the AFL drafts from 1961-63). As the league continues to rotate draft locations, the next two years will reportedly be picked from the following cities: Cleveland/Canton, Ohio; Denver; Kansas City; Las Vegas; Nashville, Tennessee.

Updated April 25, 2018

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