For a second year in a row only six former FCS players were selected in the NFL Draft. This year seemed to be even more small-minded of the NFL as they stuck to drafting five from the Missouri Valley, including three former NDSU Bison, and one from the Southland Conferences. While the NFL was timid to take FCS products, they did not shy away from taking them at higher draft positions. FCS fans can only hope that the prestige of North Dakota State continues to give prospects a chance at seeing that NFL opportunity. Here are the six former FCS players taken this year (Jabril Cox is included since he played the majority of his career at NDSU despite being drafted from LSU).
North Dakota State QB Trey Lance (San Francisco), Round 1 Pick 3
Games Played: 19
Completions: 208/318 (65.7%)
Became the first freshman to be awarded the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision. Also won the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman player, becoming the first player to win both major FCS legacy awards in the same season. (via 49ers.com)
North Dakota State OL Dillon Radunz (Tennessee), Round 2 Pick 53
* 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl
* 2019 Associated Press All-America First Team
* 2019 AFCA All-America First Team
* 2019 STATS FCS All-America First Team
* 2019 HERO Sports FCS All-America First Team
* 2019 FCS Athletic Directors Association All-America First Team
* 2019 Walter Camp FCS All-America First Team
* 2019 Phil Steele FCS All-America First Team
* 2019 Phil Steele FCS Offensive Lineman of the Year
* 2019 Athlon Sports FCS All-America First Team
* 2018 HERO Sports FCS Sophomore All-America Team
* 2019 All-MVFC First Team
* 2018 All-MVFC Second Team
* 2019 MVFC Offensive Lineman of the Week (2)
* 2018 MVFC Offensive Lineman of the Week (via Titans.com)
Northern Iowa OL Spencer Brown (Buffalo), Round 3 Pick 93
Brown found success as a right tackle for the Panthers before an injury took him down for the rest of the season after five games. In 2019 he showed promise as he became a household name for the Panthers offensive line. Brown’s hard work paid off in 2020 as he was named to the preseason FCS All-American list.
North Dakota State LB Jabril Cox (Dallas)*, Round 4 Pick 115
* 2018 STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award Finalist (4th)
* 2017 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award Finalist (6th)
* 2018, 2019 HERO Sports FCS All-America First Team
* 2018 Phil Steele FCS All-America First Team
* 2019 Phil Steele FCS All-America Second Team
* 2018 AFCA All-America Second Team
* 2018, 2019 STATS FCS All-America Second Team
* 2018 Associated Press All-America Second Team
* 2019 Associated Press All-America Third Team
* 2018 HERO Sports FCS Sophomore All-American
* 2017 HERO Sports FCS Freshman All-American
* 2017 Phil Steele FCS Freshman All-America First Team
* 2018 MVFC Defensive Player of the Year
* 2017 MVFC Newcomer of the Year
* 2017 MVFC Freshman of the Year
* 2018, 2019 All-MVFC First Team
* 2017 All-MVFC Second Team
* 2017 STATS FCS National Freshman of the Week
* 2017 MVFC Newcomer of the Week (2)
* 2019 MVFC Honor Roll (Via NDSU Athletics)
Northern Iowa DE Elerson Smith (New York Giants), Round 4 Pick 116
Smith added 63 tackles and 21.5 tackles for loss on the year, marking one of the best single-season performances in UNI history. He also contributed 14 quarterback hits, 4 pass breakups and 2 blocked kicks on special teams. Smith drastically improved on his sophomore season as he had 19 total tackles and 7.5 sacks for the year. (via Draft Diamonds)
Central Arkansas CB Robert Rochell (LA Rams), Round 4 Pick 130
Forced Fumbles: 3
What Are Their Chances?
Lance has a great chance to compete for the starting job with Jimmy Garapolo’s rough injury history. Garapolo was supposed to be the shiny white knight to save the franchise, but his performances have been a rollercoaster. Lance’s college resume is short for the average recruit and will need to prove himself worthy in training camp. A promising factor to consider is few players drafted third overall have to wait long to fill the starting role.
The Titans have struggled with finding reliable help at their right tackle position so Radnuz has a great chance to compete for it this summer. The left side of the offensive line has stars like Taylor Lewan and Roger Saffold, but the right side’s instability leaves a perfect hole for a new, shiny face drafted in the second round to takeover. Besides his draft position, Radnuz stands at 6’6″ 301 lbs that will add a good amount of protection on the right side.
Brown has a roster spot with his name on it for sure, but whether or not he starts will not be an immediate answer. The Bills have a serviceable offensive line that gets the job done on most drives. The issue for Buffalo is the fact that few players rotate on the tackle positions. This is both good and bad news for Brown as Daryl Williams and Dion Dawkins will be heavy favorites to start the season, but one injury could be an opportunity for Brown. Initially, Brown will likely be placed behind Williams to start the season.
Making The Roster
The Cowboys linebacker core is extremely talented when fully healthy. Cox will help add depth to the position, but the addition of Micah Parsons will effectively limit him to competing for a backup roster spot. Pending an injury or two Cox will see the majority of his playing time in the preseason and on relief plays. There should be a roster spot for Cox, but a good performance in the preseason will help ensure his safety.
Smith has an immense amount of talent and power, but that will be put through a strenuous test as he switches from defensive end to linebacker. While this is not inherently a deal-breaker there are twelve other linebackers to compete with and a struggling defense that lacks a true identity. This should not be too large of a task for Smith to overcome, but it should effectively rule him out of contention for a starting role due to the learning curve ahead of him.
The Rams secondary is a crowded room for how much they rely on their front seven. The players ahead of him, including star corner Jalen Ramsey, have the experience that will give them an automatic edge in training camp. Depending on how much of a learning curve Rochell faces can be somewhat offset by the freakish athletic ability that helped him get noticed and drafted. Rochell’s 11’8″ broad jump and 41″ vertical jump raised eyebrows across the broad. His athletic ability may give him a chance for a nickel or dime coverage spot if he can learn the playbook quickly. Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report wrote “If Robert Rochell had gone to a Power Five school, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to go in the first round.
Undrafted Free Agent List
*Updated Through the Offseason, Players Status on Rosters TBD
Florida A&M — OL Calvin Ashley (TB)
Fordham — DL Maximilian Roberts (LA Rams)
Grambling — OL David Moore Jr. (CAR)
Houston Baptist — LB Caleb Johnson (CHI)
Idaho — LB Christian Elliss (MN)
Illinois State — DE Romeo McKnight via Charlotte (CLE), DB Christian Uphoff (GB), OL Drew Himmelman (DEN)
Jacksonville State — TE Landon Rice (DEN)
James Madison — DB D’Angelo Amos via Virgina (DET)
Merrimack — DB Jovan Grant (LAR), OL Sam Cooper (BAL)
North Carolina A&T — DB Mac McCain (DEN)
North Carolina Central — DB Bryan Mills (SEA)
Northern Iowa — TE Briley Moore via Kansas State (TN)
South Dakota State — WR Cade Johnson (SEA)
Stony Brook — DB TJ Morrison (LV), DL Sam Kamara (CHI), DB Augie Contressa (TB)
Youngstown State — DL Justus Reed via Virginia Tech (TEN)
My name is Ben Schleiger and I’m your representative for the Big Sky Conference. I have done work for multiple newspapers and sports blogs including The Johnstown Breeze, The University of Northern Colorado Mirror, and Mile High Maniac. I am a proud alumnus of the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Political Science. In my free time, I like watching sports, playing video games, and trying new foods.