Ranking the Top Returning Offensive Players Heading Into the 2023 FCS Season
The start of a new season comes with the return of many All-America and all-conference players – some also NFL prospects – and it reflects across FCS college football.
Heading into the 2023 campaign, offenses are stacked with talented players.
Defending national champion South Dakota State and Samford quarterback Michael Hiers help lead the way in a ranking of the top returning offensive players in FCS college football by position group and overall.
1. Michael Hiers, Samford, Sr., 6-1, 211
As a junior college transfer, Hiers fueled Samford to the Southern Conference title while ranking sixth in the FCS in passing yards (3,544) and fourth in touchdown passes (36) against just four interceptions. In the last 15 FCS seasons, only one other QB had as few picks among the 26 with 36 or more TD passes in a season (James Madison’s Cole Johnson with a 41-to-4 ratio in 2021).
2. Matthew Sluka, Holy Cross, Sr., 6-3, 215
This battering-ram signal-caller became the 15th FCS player to post 2,000 passing yards (2,489) and 1,000 rushing yards (1,234) in a season, while also accounting for 37 total TDs.
3. Mark Gronowski, South Dakota State, Jr., 6-3, 220
The Most Outstanding Player of the 2022 FCS championship game has a 22-3 career record (22-1 FCS) as a starter.
(History reflects favorably on a potential South Dakota State repeat national title)
4. Tommy Mellott, Montana State, Jr., 6-0, 209
Having started five postseason wins in two years, Mellott joined Sluka as the only FCS QBs with 1,000 rushing yards (1,061) last season.
5. Parker McKinney, Eastern Kentucky, R-Sr., 6-3, 208
Returning for a sixth season, McKinney leads active FCS QBs in passing yards (9,718) and TD passes (74).
6. Davius Richard, North Carolina Central, Sr., 6-3, 215
The Offensive MVP of the Celebration Bowl had 40 total TDs and surpassed 2,000 passing yards for a third time.
7. Theo Day, Northern Iowa, R-Sr., 6-5, 231
The All-MVFC first-team QB led the FCS’ top-ranked conference in passing yards (3,121), TD passes (26) and pass efficiency (169).
Running Back Rankings
1. Jaden Shirden, Monmouth, Jr., 5-9, 185
The third-place finalist in the Walter Payton Award voting averaged 8.4 yards per carry while leading the FCS in rushing yards (1,722) and rushing yards per game (156.5). He averaged a jaw-dropping 52.8 yards on 13 TD runs.
(Looking back to the 2022 FCS National Awards Show in Frisco, Texas)
2. Isaiah Davis, South Dakota State, Sr., 6-1, 220
The 2024 NFL prospect is a big-game performer with 100+ rushing yards in nine of his 12 career postseason games.
3. Geno Hess, Southeast Missouri, R-Sr., 5-8, 222
Hess returns for a sixth season with 4,112 rushing yards and 55 total TDs in his career.
4. Dylan Laube, New Hampshire, Sr., 5-10, 204
The FCS leader in all-purpose yards (2,328, including 1,205 rushing) obliterated Fordham with a playoff-record 424 all-purpose yards.
5. Ailym Ford, Chattanooga, R-Sr., 5-9, 213
A workhorse, Ford has surpassed 200 carries and 1,000 rushing yards in three different seasons.
6. Bronson Yoder, William & Mary, Sr., 5-11, 205
Defenses need multiple tacklers to slow Yoder, who pounded his way for 1,255 yards and 13 TDs last season.
7. ShunDerrick Powell, Central Arkansas, Jr., 5-7, 168
The ASUN’s co-offensive player of the year (1,508 yards, 18 TDs) has moved across the conference via a transfer from North Alabama to UCA.
Wide Receiver/Tight End Rankings
1. Hayden Hatten, Idaho, WR, R-Jr., 6-2, 205
Hatten finished last season with a flourish, surpassing 100 receiving yards in seven of his final eight games and grabbing all 16 of his TD receptions during the dominating stretch. He had 83 catches for 1,209 yards over 11 games.
2. Devron Harper, Mercer, WR, Sr., 5-9, 168
Harper is at the top of any all-around list, scoring 16 touchdowns over four different ways last season (10 receiving, four rushing, one kickoff return and one punt return). He caught 78 passes for 987 yards.
3. Marshel Martin, Sacramento State, TE, Sr., 6-2, 210
A model of consistency, Martin has 157 career receptions, leading FCS tight ends in receiving yards (879) and tying for the most TD catches (12) last season.
4. Ty James, Mercer, WR, R-Sr., 6-2, 200
James’ 351 receiving yards in a season-ending performance against Samford ranked fourth in FCS history. He’s averaged 20.7 yards on 108 career receptions.
5. Jaxon Janke, South Dakota State, WR, Sr., 6-3, 210
The Jackrabbits spread around the ball, but Janke has 193 receptions for 2,859 yards and 24 TDs through 57 career games.
6. MJ Wright, Fordham, WR, Grad, 6-0, 192
As one of Fordham’s three 1,000-yard receivers a year ago, Wright will seek to build on a strong 62/1,156/11 line.
7. Chandler Smith, Samford, WR, Sr., 5-10, 186
Smith always saves his best for Southern Conference competition, and he caught a whopping 100 passes for 1,071 yards and 11 TDs last season.
Offensive Lineman Rankings
1. Garret Greenfield, South Dakota State, OT, R-Sr., 6-6, 310
Playing left tackle for the FCS champion Jackrabbits, Greenfield was named to the Stats Perform FCS All-America first team for the second time. He will enter the season with 40 consecutive starts.
2. Mason McCormick, South Dakota State, OG, R-Sr., 6-4, 305
Shifting inside, SDSU also has the top returning interior O-lineman. The physical big man has made 42 straight starts.
3. Zack Gieg, Southeast Missouri, C, R-Sr., 6-1, 287
With Gieg as an anchor in the middle, the Redhawks were 33-for-33 in the red zone in 2021 and ranked in the FCS top 20 for points, total yards and rushing yards per game last season.
4. Luke Newman, Holy Cross, OT, Sr., 6-5, 301
The two-time first-team All-Patriot League selection helped the Crusaders score over 30 points in 12 of 13 games.
5. John Allen, Southeastern Louisiana, OG, Sr., 6-1, 310
The Lions’ O-line lost three starters by week four, but Allen rose to the challenge as the Southland offensive lineman of the year.
6. Nick Correia, Rhode Island, OG, R-Sr., 6-6, 330
On a balanced URI offense, Correia brings mammoth size to the interior and has made 37 consecutive starts.
7. Noah Atagi, Weber State, OT, Sr., 6-6, 335
A veteran of 45 career games, Atagi has earned All-Big Sky first-team honors in three straight seasons.
(Best players are in the best games? Ranking the best matchups of the 2023 FCS season)