The way South Dakota State won the last two national championships, it’s not surprising the Jackrabbits have one of FCS college football’s stronger classes of NFL Draft prospects in recent decades.

NFL teams usually look to a school on the lower tier of Division I for quality – a standout player, perhaps two, who can transition from that draft class to the next level. Rarely do they also find the same quantity of prospects of many programs on the higher FBS level.

South Dakota State is an exception heading toward the seven-round draft, April 25-27 in Detroit. 

In many pre-draft rankings, running back Isaiah Davis and offensive linemen Garret Greenfield and Mason McCormick are projected to be selections. Another half-dozen or so seniors from a group that ended their college careers with a 29-game winning streak also are expected to be in NFL team camps later this year.

“For the last 10, 15 years, this is probably as good as any class, if not the best, with only North Dakota State’s 2021 class sticking out to me. They had three drafted that year,” said Josh Buchanan, a small school draft analyst for Draft Scout and Phil Steele Publications.

South Dakota State has become a go-to FCS program for NFL teams, including the Green Bay Packers selecting tight end Tucker Kraft in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Jackrabbits’ prior draft selection to 2018 was in 2010 (Dave Eggen/Inertia)

FCS Schools With Strong NFL Draft Prospects

“Draft class” is a bit of a misnomer in the FCS because the majority of the level’s prospects will not be selected in the seven-round event, and instead gain an NFL opportunity through a post-draft free agent signing or tryout. Upwards of 200 former FCS players across various draft years are on NFL rosters and practices squads in a given season.

North Dakota State’s three draft selections in 2021, which included a grad transfer lost to an FBS school for his final season, are the most for an FCS program since Jackson State’s four selections in 2000. But they’re part of an NDSU group that across the 2021, ’22 and ’23 draft years produced eight NFL players last year.

To better gauge South Dakota State’s 2024 NFL Draft prospects, here are the FCS teams in the last 25 years that had the most players on NFL rosters following their final Division I season together:

2009 UMass (7): DT Brandon Collier, WR Victor Cruz, OL Vladimir Ducasse, LB Nick Haag, WR Jeremy Horne, S Jeromy Miles and FB Chris Zardas

2021 South Dakota State (6): CB Don Gardner, S Michael Griffin, OL Aron Johnson, WR Cade Johnson, QB Chris Oladokun and RB Pierre Strong Jr.

2017 James Madison (6): LB Andrew Ankrah, S Raven Greene, WR Ishmael Hyman, DT Simeyon Robinson, OL Aaron Stinnie and WR Braxton Westfield

2012 Illinois State (6): QB Matt Brown, LB Evan Frierson, DT Shelby Harris, LB Nate Palmer, WR Ty Walker and LB Mike Zimmer

2011 Montana (6): OL Charles Burton, CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Donny Lisowski, LB Caleb McSurdy, OL Jon Opperud and WR Jabin Sambrano

2006 Hampton (6): CB Travarous Bain, RB Alonzo Coleman, LB Justin Durant, WR Onrea Jones, OL Nevin McCaskill and WR Marquay McDaniel

South Dakota State’s 2024 draft prospects have the potential to join the list. That some Jackrabbits used an extra year of NCAA eligibility last season to pursue back-to-back FCS championships has helped make the group larger. 

Who Are South Dakota State’s NFL Draft Prospects

Fronting the Jackrabbits’ class are the trio of Davis, a 6-foot, 218-pound running back who led the FCS in rushing yards (1,578) last season, and the 6-6, 311-pound Greenfield (55 career starts) and the 6-4, 309-pound McCormick (57 career starts). All three first-team All-Americans participated in the NFL Combine, while Davis also played in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and Greenfield and McCormick were standouts at the East-West Shrine Bowl.

Actually, SDSU led all schools at the Shrine Bowl with five players – twin wide receivers Jadon (6-1½, 205) and Jaxon (6-2, 206) Janke and tight end Zach Heins (6-6, 264) were the other three, each hauling in at least one reception in the postseason all-star game.

While the Jackrabbits offense leads the way, the FCS’ 2023 top-ranked defense also has prospects in hybrid linebacker Isaiah Stalbird (5-11½, 207), who impressed at the Hula Bowl, defensive end Cade Terveer (6-2, 255) and cornerback DyShawn Gales (5-11, 190).

South Dakota State offensive tackle Garret Greenfield runs the 40-yard dash at the 2024 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. His 38.5-inch leap in the vertical jump set a Combine record for O-linemen. (Associated Press)

“The Dakotas (SDSU and NDSU) have had a pretty good run there in terms of both those schools putting out a lot of wins and a lot of good players,” said NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former FCS quarterback at Appalachian State. “To me, the interesting thing where you look at guys like McCormick and Greenfield, McCormick’s started 57 games at left guard, (and it’s) 55 for Greenfield. You get these sixth-year guys. That in and of itself is pretty rare – these guys have played so much football.

“It’s a good group. These are good players and they’ve played a lot of ball and they’ve won a lot of games. We talk about some (NFL) teams value guys that are (team) captains. Other teams love to bring in players from winning programs. That’s a heck of a class – especially from that level, no doubt.”

Since the 1979 NFL Draft was the first to involve FCS players, there are fewer rounds and selections today, with as many as 336 players chosen and down to as few as 222 (there were 259 selections last year). Buchanan points out that HBCU programs in the FCS used to gain more draft picks and the loss of programs such as App State, Georgia Southern and Marshall to the FBS decreases the realistic pool of prospects.

That’s helped lead to the 2024 South Dakota State draft class standing out so much. Regardless, it runs deep, and the flow of prospects should go right onto NFL rosters this fall.

Tom Paquette of Stats Perform’s U.S. Data Insights contributed research to this story.

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