The “small school” label begins to fade once former FCS players start to contribute to their NFL teams.
That’s the next goal for the 24 players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, starting with two picks in the first round – offensive linemen Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa) and Cole Strange (Chattanooga) – Thursday night in Las Vegas.
Following is an FCS pick-by-pick summary over the three-day draft, which ended Saturday. The 24 selections are the most since the same number was drafted in 2008 and tied for the sixth-most since the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1994.
FCS Draft Selections
New Orleans Saints (Round 1, No. 19 overall pick): Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa, OT, 6-7, 325 – UNI’s first-ever first-round draft pick plays with an ultra-physical style. He joined Jackson State’s Lester Holmes (Philadelphia Eagles in 1993) as the highest-drafted offensive linemen of the FCS era (since 1978 season).
Said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.: “Left tackle, he’s going to be a work-in-progress. Heavily penalized in college, that will continue in the NFL. The offensive line coach is the key to Trevor Penning. The talent’s there.”
New England Patriots (1, 29): Cole Strange, OG/C, Chattanooga, 6-5, 307 – The pick was a surprise to many people, but the Southern Conference’s two-time offensive lineman of the year boasts a strong football IQ and good movement off the snap. He surpassed Terrell Owens (1996, San Francisco 49ers, 3, 89) as the Mocs’ highest modern-era draft pick.
“He’s going to be a guard that can help you right away, that’s what the Patriots needed to fill,” Kiper said. “Yeah, you can say it’s a reach based on what the number was in terms of the (second-round) grade, but he’s a good football player.”
(Here are the all-time FCS-era selections in the first round)
Green Bay Packers (2, 34): Christian Watson, North Dakota State, WR, 6-4, 208 – A member of four NDSU national championship teams (one as a redshirt), the long, rangy Watson averaged 49 yards on 14 touchdown receptions (14), 56.5 yards on two TD carries and 97 yards on two kickoff return TDs. His father Tim was drafted by the Packers in 1993 (sixth round).
Atlanta Falcons (2, 58): Troy Andersen, Montana State, OLB, 6-3 1/2, 243 – The 2021 Big Sky defensive player of the year and runner-up for the Buck Buchanan Award was in on 150 tackles, including an FCS-high 85 solos, for the national runner-up.
New England Patriots (4, 127): Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State, RB, 5-11, 207 – Using 4.37-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Strong averaged nearly 7.2 yards on 631 career carries, adding 62 receptions to a versatile resume.
Cincinnati Bengals (4, 136): Cordell Volson, North Dakota State, OG/OT, 6-6, 315 – The durable, versatile Volson appeared in an NDSU-record 63 career games, including 41 consecutive starts over his final three seasons.
New England Patriots (4, 137): Bailey Zappe, Houston Baptist/Western Kentucky, QB, 6-0 1/2, 215 – After impressive development at Houston Baptist, Zappe set FBS single-season records for passing yards (5,967) and TD passes (62) at Western Kentucky. He is the first former HBU player to be selected in the draft.
Los Angeles Rams (4, 142): Decobie Durant, South Carolina State, CB, 5-10, 180 – The 2021 MEAC defensive player of the year, who’s projected for a nickel role, averaged 1.19 passes defended (12 picks, 32 pass breakups) in 37 career games.
Dallas Cowboys (5, 155): Matt Waletzko, OT, North Dakota, 6-8, 312 – UND’s first draftee since 2006 was one of the tallest players in the draft class. He blocks with a good base and has surprising agility.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5, 157): Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston, CB, 6-2, 199 – A superb NFL Combine built on McCollum’s resume, which included 54 passes defended (13 interceptions, 41 breakups) and a national title with the Bearkats.
Indianapolis Colts (5, 159): Eric Johnson, Missouri State, DT, 6-4, 300 – Missouri State’s first draft pick in 11 years has a good first step and a strong set of pass rushing moves.
(In the NFL Draft buildup, Eric Johnson was an all-star game riser)
Denver Broncos (5, 162): Montrell Washington, Samford, WR, 5-9, 181 – Speedy wideout and return specialist led the FCS in all-purpose yards (176.2) last season, including games of 322 yards against Florida and 319 against Southern Conference champ ETSU.
Dallas Cowboys (5, 167): DaRon Bland, Sacramento State/Fresno State, CB, 6-0, 203 – A cover corner with impressive physical traits and consistent play.
Chicago Bears (5, 168): Braxton Jones, Southern Utah, OT, 6-5, 310 – Two-time first-team All-Big Sky selection offers upside with an 84 1/4-inch wingspan that keeps defenders in front of him.
Dallas Cowboys (5, 178): John Ridgeway, Illinois State/Arkansas, DT, 6-5, 327 – Ridgeway was the starting nose tackle for a 2019 Illinois State squad that led the FCS in total sacks and ranked fourth in scoring defense.
Buffalo Bills (6, 185): Christian Benford, Villanova, CB, 6-0 1/2, 196 – Benford’s career average of 1.31 passes defended per game was the highest among FCS players in the draft class.
San Francisco 49ers (6, 187): Nick Zakelj, Fordham, OT, 6-6, 316 – The Fordham big man made 44 starts and played in 45 games while being named All-Patriot League four times (three first team, one second team).
Indianapolis Colts (6, 192): Andrew Ogletree, Youngstown State, TE, 6-5 1/2, 256 – Ogletree’s greatest success was at Division II Findlay, but he built on a 28-catch senior season at Youngstown State by earning offensive MVP honors at the 2022 Hula Bowl.
Detroit Lions (6, 217): James Houston IV, Jackson State, OLB, 6-1, 241 – In his lone FCS season, Houston finished second nationally in sacks (16.5, 1.27 per game), sack yardage (117) and tackles for loss (24.5).
(Count ’em up: FCS-era programs with the most NFL Draft picks)
Chicago Bears (7, 226): J’Atyre Carter, Southern, OG, 6-3, 311 – Southern’s first draft selection since 2004 boasts a developing frame and excellent upper-body strength.
Los Angeles Rams (7, 235): Daniel Hardy, Montana State, OLB, 6-2, 239 – A move to defensive end from SAM linebacker agreed with Hardy in Montana State’s FCS runner-up season as he racked up 24.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks.
Indianapolis Colts (7, 239): Rodney Thomas II, Yale, SS, 6-1 1/2, 195 – A 41-inch vertical underscores Thomas’ athleticism. After making a switch from linebacker last season, he was third in the Ivy League with 11 pass breakups.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7, 241): Chris Oladokun, South Dakota State, QB, 6-1, 207 – After two seasons at both South Florida and Samford, Oladokun saved his best for last at SDSU, passing for 3,164 yards and 25 TDs in a national semifinal season.
Green Bay Packers (7, 258): Samori Toure, Montana/Nebraska, WR, 6-0 1/2, 191 – Toure, who set the FCS single-game playoff record for receiving yards (303), tied Nebraska’s season record of five 100-yard receiving games.
Top 75 Undrafted Free Agents
With free agent contract deals or mini-camp invites, according to announcements and reports:
Dee Anderson, Alabama A&M, WR – New Orleans Saints
Josh Babicz, North Dakota State, TE – Carolina Panthers
Eric Barriere, Eastern Washington, QB – Denver Broncos
Trae Barry, Jacksonville State/Boston College, TE – Arizona Cardinals
Markquese Bell, Florida A&M, SS – Dallas Cowboys
Jared Brinkman, Northern Iowa, DT – New York Jets and New England Patriots
Kevin Brown, UIW, RB – Baltimore Ravens
Qua Brown, Southern Illinois, S – Kansas City Chiefs
Isaiah Chambers, McNeese, DE – Indianapolis Colts
Davis Cheek, Elon, QB – Carolina Panthers
Julius Chestnut, Sacred Heart, RB – Tennessee Titans
Jack Cochrane, South Dakota, LB – Kansas City Chiefs
Qwynterrio Cole, Alcorn State/Louisville, S – Las Vegas Raiders
Tanner Conner, Idaho State, WR – Miami Dolphins
Dylan Cook, Montana, OT – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Zerrick Cooper, Jacksonville State, QB
Keith Corbin III, Jackson State, WR – Buffalo Bills
Shabari Davis, Southeast Missouri, CB – Jacksonville Jaguars
Dai’Jean Dixon, Nicholls, WR – New Orleans Saints
De’Shaan Dixon, Norfolk State, DE – Jacksonville Jaguars
Tyler Dressler, Richmond, OLB – Pittsburgh Steelers
Noah Elliss, Idaho, DT – Philadelphia Eagles
Prince Emili, Penn, DT – Buffalo Bills
Jequez Ezzard, Sam Houston, WR – Washington Commanders
Malik Fisher, Villanova, DE – New Orleans Saints
Keenan Forbes, Florida A&M, OT – Seattle Seahawks
Liam Fornadel, James Madison, OG – Pittsburgh Steelers
Don Gardner, South Dakota State, CB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jack Gibbens, Abilene Christian/Minnesota, LB – Tennessee Titans
Nolan Givan, Southeastern Louisiana, TE – Detroit Lions
Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M, QB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Greene, James Madison, DL – Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Michael Griffin II, South Dakota State, SS – Tennessee Titans
Devin Hafford, Tarleton, CB – New England Patriots
Cyrus Holder, Duquesne, WR – Chicago Bears
C.J. Holmes, Jackson State, CB – New Orleans Saints
Dennis Houston, Western Illinois, WR – Dallas Cowboys
Storey Jackson, Prairie View A&M/Liberty, OLB – Dallas Cowboys
Tyshaun James, Central Connecticut State, WR – Atlanta Falcons
Aron Johnson, South Dakota State, OL – Baltimore Ravens
Cole Johnson, James Madison, QB
Lewis Kidd, Montana State, OT – New Orleans Saints
Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana, QB – Washington Commanders
Bydarrius Knighten, Southeast Missouri/Auburn, SS
David Kroll, Delaware, OL – Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts
Landon Lenoir, Southern Illinois, WR – Chicago Bears
Talolo Limu-Jones, Eastern Washington, WR – Carolina Panthers
Jah-Maine Martin, North Carolina A&T, RB – Indianapolis Colts
Tristin McCollum, Sam Houston, FS – Houston Texans
Lance McCutcheon, Montana State, WR – Los Angeles Rams
Andrew Mevis, Fordham/Iowa State, K – Jacksonville Jaguars
Andre Miller, Maine, WR – New York Giants
Rayshad Nichols, Stephen F. Austin, DT – Baltimore Ravens
Bryce Notree, Southern Illinois, ILB – New Orleans Saints
E.J. Perry, Brown, QB – Jacksonville Jaguars
Roderick Perry III, South Carolina State/Illinois, DT – Cleveland Browns
Jamal Pettigrew, McNeese, TE – Los Angeles Rams
Jason Poe, Mercer, OG/C – San Francisco 49ers
Forrest Rhyne, Villanova, ILB – Indianapolis Colts
Rashid Shaheed, Weber State, WR – New Orleans Saints
Aaron Shampklin, Harvard, RB – Dallas Cowboys
Liam Shanahan, Harvard/LSU, C – New England Patriots
Jerreth Sterns, Houston Baptist/Western Kentucky, WR – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Carson Taylor, Northern Arizona, DE – Carolina Panthers
Tristen Taylor, Eastern Washington, OT – Chicago Bears
Brayden Thomas, North Dakota State, OLB – Los Angeles Rams
Andrew Trainer, William & Mary, OT – Los Angeles Chargers
Tre Walker, Idaho, ILB – Washington Commanders
Tre Webb, Montana State, CB – Atlanta Falcons
Isaiah Weston, Northern Iowa, WR – Cleveland Browns
Rodney Williams II, UT Martin, TE – Denver Broncos
Savion Williams, Florida A&M, DT – New York Jets
Lujuan Winningham, Central Arkansas, WR – Jacksonville Jaguars
Daniel Whelan, UC Davis, P – New Orleans Saints
Benton Whitley, Holy Cross, DE/OLB – Los Angeles Rams