FCS quarterbacks have never filled the annual NFL Draft in big numbers, but there have been plenty of splashes and success stories.

From Phil Simms to Steve McNair to Joe Flacco to many more.

Since the 1979 NFL Draft was the first to involve FCS players, there have been 60 quarterback selections from the lower tier of NCAA Division I college football.

None were taken in last year’s draft and none are expected to be selected in this year’s draft, which will be held from April 25-27 in Detroit.

That’s never happened in consecutive drafts.

While it’s too early for anybody to hit the panic button, it’s easy to pinpoint the decrease in FCS draft selections at football’s most important position. What’s not as concrete is if the scenario is here to stay.


History of FCS Quarterbacks in the NFL Draft

The distinguished list of FCS quarterbacks drafted into the NFL began with Simms, whose senior season at Morehead State in 1978 was the first following the Division I split into an upper-tier Division I-A – now called the FBS – and Division I-AA – now called the FCS.

The next spring, the New York Giants surprised some by picking Simms seventh overall in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft.

Simms went on to a stellar career, including as a Super Bowl-winning MVP, something Flacco (Delaware graduate) later accomplished with the Baltimore Ravens. McNair (Alcorn State), Stan Humphries (Northeast Louisiana), Rich Gannon (Delaware) and Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) also were drafted FCS quarterbacks who made Super Bowl starts on losing teams.

Kurt Warner is a third former FCS QB to be a Super Bowl-winning MVP, but he was undrafted out of Northern Iowa. Additionally, Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII MVP with the Washington Redskins, is often mistaken as a former FCS quarterback, but his senior season at Grambling State in 1977 occurred one year before the Division I split.

Neil Lomax (Portland State), John Friesz (Idaho), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard), Bubby Brister (Northeast Louisiana), Josh McCown (Sam Houston State), Tarvaris Jackson (Alabama State) and Josh Johnson (San Diego) are other former FCS signal callers who went from being drafted to lengthy NFL careers.

In the last 10 years, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz became the highest-drafted FCS player – not just quarterback – when the Philadelphia Eagles made him the second overall pick in 2016. Trey Lance came out of the same Bison program and went third overall to the San Francisco 49ers in 2021, matching McNair (Houston Oilers, 1995) with the second-highest draft spot for a former FCS player.


The most recent former FCS QB draft selections occurred in 2022: Bailey Zappe, a four-year starter at Houston Baptist who spent a grad transfer season at Western Kentucky, went to the New England Patriots in the fourth round, and former Samford and South Dakota State QB Chris Oladokun was picked by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventh round. Oladokun has been a Super Bowl champion with the Kansas City Chiefs in each of the past two seasons.

What’s Working Against FCS Quarterbacks

If it always feels like players below the FBS have to work a little harder with NFL scouts, it’s because they face a “small school” label when being evaluated for the next level.

If it’s not about the overall level of competition, then there’s often the factor of an FCS quarterback being a second slower or an inch shorter than what’s favored by scouts.

Recipients of the Walter Payton Award (presented by FedEx Ground) often gain a boost from the spotlight that comes with being the FCS national offensive player of the year, but the smaller size of recent quarterback winners – Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere (2021) and UIW’s Lindsey Scott Jr. (2022) – led to little NFL interest.

At least those two quarterbacks finished their college careers in the FCS. The staggering rise in transfers with immediate eligibility elsewhere – sometimes to pursue higher levels of NIL revenue (name, image and likeness) – has changed the landscape.

They say the NFL will find any player with talent, but FBS programs are beating the league to it. Three quarterbacks who were consecutive Jerry Rice Award recipients – the FCS’ national freshman of the year – transferred to FBS programs after their sophomore seasons: UIW’s Cameron Ward (2020 recipient) to Washington, Jackson State’s Shedeur Sanders (2021) to Colorado, and Idaho’s Gevani McCoy (2022) to Oregon State.

Additionally, after the 2023 season, three Stats Perform All-America quarterbacks made FBS transfers: New Hampshire senior Max Brosmer (first team), the 2023 Payton Award runner-up, to Minnesota; Holy Cross senior Matthew Sluka (second team) to UNLV; and UAlbany sophomore Reese Poffenbarger (third team) to the Miami Hurricanes.

What FCS Quarterbacks are 2024 NFL Prospects … and Beyond

While an FCS quarterback isn’t expected to be drafted later this month, plenty have been evaluated by NFL teams at all-star games and pro days. Some will land NFL opportunities by signing a free-agent contract following the draft or via a tryout with a team.

The FCS signal callers who have been among the more closely viewed during the scouting process:

  • Mitch Davidson, Youngstown State (6-foot-4, 220 pounds)
  • Theo Day, Northern Iowa (6-5, 230)
  • Mike DiLiello, Austin Peay (6-2, 215)
  • Nolan Grooms, Yale (6-2, 195)
  • Miles Hastings, UC Davis (6-1, 195)
  • Michael Hiers, Samford (6-2, 220)
  • Kasim Hill, Rhode Island (6-2, 234)
  • Parker McKinney, Eastern Kentucky (6-2, 208)
  • Justin Miller, Southern Utah (6-2, 210)
  • Jeremy Moussa, Florida A&M (6-2½, 220)
  • Davius Richard, North Carolina Central (6-2, 225)
  • Blake Stenstrom, Princeton (6-3, 220)

Richard was at or near the top of the FCS contingent, but he suffered an ankle injury on a touchdown run in the HBCU Legacy Bowl on Feb. 24. His recovery time could go into the summer.

Day’s 6-5 size should be attractive to NFL teams. After beginning his career at Michigan State, he transferred to UNI and passed for 8,276 yards and 58 touchdowns in three seasons. But turnovers were an issue, including 15 interceptions as a senior.

Northern Iowa quarterback Theo Day. (UNI Athletics)

McKinney passed for 12,751 career yards at Eastern Kentucky, ranking 11th in FCS history. Hiers joined McKinney and Brosmer as the only FCS quarterbacks to surpass 3,000 passing yards in each of the last two seasons.

On the horizon, South Dakota State quarterback Mark Gronowski is a prospect for the 2025 NFL Draft. He received the 2023 Walter Payton Award and was named the most outstanding player of the Jackrabbits’ back-to-back national championship game wins.

Additionally, North Dakota State’s Cam Miller is a 2½-year starter already as he enters his final season this fall. In Wentz, Lance and Easton Stick (2019), the Bison program has had three quarterbacks drafted since 2016.

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