Part of The Analyst’s FCS college football series called “By the Numbers,” which analyzes data to help tell the story of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Explosions come in many forms. No matter how they materialize, they’re dangerous and exciting … and sudden.

Generally, they’re the garden variety hold-your-breath moments of life.

Football is no different than life. There are explosive moments, and some players manufacture them much more often than others.

During his career, New Hampshire’s Dylan Laube proved he could hurt opponents several ways via the big play. Whether it was an FBS or FCS opponent, he really didn’t care. The NFL took notice of his entertaining ways and the Las Vegas Raiders selected him in the sixth round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

With Laube now playing in the big leagues, it begs the question: Who will be that guy when it comes to FCS explosive players this year?

We have some potential candidates for you:

No. 1: Junior Bergen, Montana, Sr.

How do we put this lightly? When Bergen looks like he’s going left, it may actually be to the right. His “change up” in speed would make an all-star baseball pitcher grin.

On special teams, Bergen is like that nasty storm you really don’t want hitting your house. You know it’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it and you’re not sure what the damage estimate will be afterward.

Bergen is this year’s swiss army knife version of Laube. He will be dangerous on special teams – both punt and kickoff – the passing game (59 receptions, 791 yards, five touchdowns), and just for fun, the running game after he averaged nearly seven yards per carry last year.

Bergen showed the flash in last year’s national playoffs, when his big plays (three return TDs) wowed a national audience that extends well beyond the usual FCS diehard fan.

Bergen defines the word “explosive,” and will be the No. 1 guy in that category of the 2024 FCS season – before the next level comes calling.

No. 2: ShunDerrick Powell, Central Arkansas, Sr.

Powell was a 2022 FCS All-American at North Alabama, and when he switched to Central Arkansas a few states to the west, he was once again all-everything with the ball in 2023. It really didn’t matter where he was, he did the same thing: He was a pain in the rear end for opponents.

Powell’s explosive ability was on display for UCA at North Dakota State when he had 71- and 43-yard runs – both scoring plays in the first half – before the Bison pulled away. Along with his 12 yards per carry average in the game, he also caught four passes and had 99 yards in kickoff returns – accounting for 347 all-purpose yards.

A 1,000-yard rusher for two different schools the past two seasons, Powell will be one of the nation’s more dangerous long-play threats once again. The Bears’ offensive showdown with Tarleton State is expected to be one of the best games of the 2024 FCS season.

No. 3: Donovan Wadley, Merrimack, Sr.

Wadley can slice and dice an opponent three different ways, as he did last year on his way to 11 touchdowns. He led the nation in kickoff return average (37.9) and tied for the high in kickoff return touchdowns (three). 

Wadley averaged more than 18 yards per reception and rushed for three touchdowns, even though he’s listed as a wide receiver.

Keep an eye on Wadley against the Air Force Academy in Week 1, as the Falcons are clearly the biggest opponent Merrimack has faced in the Massachusetts school’s short FCS era (since 2019). The Warriors are playing as an FCS independent this season.

No. 4: Chandler Brayboy, Elon, R-Sr.

Brayboy has been a triple-threat for the Phoenix for a while, and last year was a great example of it. He averaged 26.9 yards per kickoff return, 8.4 yards when the receiver touched the ball in the run game and 19.6 yards per reception.

One way or another, he’s going to hurt you – it’s your choice how.

Elon opens the season against FBS Duke, and it may open with the ball in Brayboy’s hands.

fcs-explosive-players 2023 Season
Elon’s Chandler Brayboy. (Jeff Sochko/Tim Cowie Photography)

No. 5 Jeremy Kibble, Georgetown, Jr.

Kibble had one of the top FCS marks when it came to yards per catch last year. He averaged 23.5 yards (33 receptions, 753 yards), and that included an FCS-best 52.9-yard average on his eight TDs.

Patriot League have to think twice about one-on-one matchups with Kibble, as he will once again be a terror for head coach Rob Sgarlata’s Hoyas.

No. 6: Devin Smith, Villanova, Sr.

Smith has transferred to Villanova after starring at North Carolina Central. He was good for 18 yards per reception last year, highlighted by his performance in an FCS first-round playoff game at Richmond (201 yards on six receptions, including a 91-yard touchdown catch).

No. 7: Darius Cooper, Tarleton State, Sr.

Cooper has averaged nearly 20 yards per reception in career and went over 1,000 receiving yards in 2022 before he was limited to seven games last season (he still averaged 22.2 yards on 28 catches).

No. 8: Carter Bell, South Dakota, R-Sr.

Bell averaged nearly 17.5 yards per reception last season, including 50 yards on his five touchdowns. He’s played in five different seasons already, and had a TD catch in each one.

(Bell and Coyotes tight end J.J. Galbreath form one of the FCS’ top offensive duos as well)

No. 9: Elijah Howard, Central Connecticut State, Jr.

In his first season at CCSU after a transfer from Virginia Tech, Howard fell just shy of 1,000 rushing yards. He broke through the offensive line for touchdown runs of 80+ yards in back-to-back games.

No. 10: Angel Johnson, South Dakota State, Jr.

Amar Johnson is the more well-known running back returning with the reigning FCS champion Jackrabbits, but Angel Johnson’s nine yards per carry last season reflect he’s one of the top FCS explosive playmakers. He had three carries of 50+ yards and rushed for five touchdowns.

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