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February 10, 2016

(STATS) - There is often mystery surrounding FCS prospects as they head toward the NFL Draft. Fans question if these players - even the highly decorated - faced tough enough competition to prepare for the next level.

There's a lot of poking and prodding with every prospect, but in the postseason all-star game circuit - a key step along the way to the draft - FCS prospects answered some of the questions in a year that has a different feel for the lower half of Division I.

There's star power across the FCS.

Here are 10 takeaways for the FCS class of prospects from the all-star games:

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Wentz is Top 10 - No prospect, FCS or FBS, garnered as much attention at the postseason all-star games than North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. He rose on draft boards even while he sat out half his senior season with a wrist injury, but returned to start NDSU's fifth straight national championship game win after also leading the Bison to victory in the 2014 title game. Considering the demand among NFL teams to try to land an elite quarterback, Wentz appears entrenched among the top 10 picks overall. He looks the part at an athletic 6-foot-5, 231 pounds and was the class among Senior Bowl quarterbacks, displaying accuracy and zip on his passes to go with his terrific presence and acumen.

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Spence Solidifies First Round? - It appears only substance-abuse issues, which led to him being booted from Ohio State, may keep Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence out of the first round. But it might prove to be less of an obstacle as he's talked openly about his indiscretions and appears to be moving forward with more maturity. Clearly, his on-field exploits have won everybody over. The athletic 6-2½, 255-pounder was the best pass rusher at the Senior Bowl, showing a variety of moves as he consistently cut inside and fired around the edge against offensive linemen. With elite pass rushers at a premium in the NFL, he may have even moved into the top half of the first round.

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The Wentz/Spence Effect - That Wentz is likely going to be the first FCS player selected in the first round since 2008 and Spence could follow him there figures to help other small-school players get a longer look. The FCS has about 18-20 draft selections annually, with positional strength often among defensive backs, pass rushers and offensive linemen.

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A Rush up the Draft Boards - Spence wasn't the only FCS pass rusher leaving a big impression in recent weeks. Stony Brook's Victor Ochi was one of the week's standouts at the East-West Shrine Game, although at 6-1, 244, he's targeted for a conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker. His long arms and excellent hand work compensate for the lack of size, and he has a relentless style of play. Montana's Tyrone Holmes, who led the FCS with 18 sacks, also could make the conversion to outside 'backer. Southern Utah defensive end James Cowser got a long look at the Shrine Game and appears set for his natural position.

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Deep Class of D-backs - The size and coverage ability of FCS prospects in the secondary adds to an exceptional crop. Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Harlan Miller is rising on draft lists after his performance at the Senior Bowl, where he showed excellent man-to-man coverage, was selected as the top defensive back during practices and then posted a game-high seven solo tackles. The hard-hitting style of Southern Utah's 6-2, 219-pound strong safety Miles Killebrew also got everybody's attention, and William & Mary free safety DeAndre Houston-Carson and Northern Iowa cornerback Deiondre' Hall (who flanks receivers with 34¾-inch arms) are candidates for the first half of the draft. Samford cornerback James Bradberry checked in at a healthy 6-1, 209 pounds.

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Double Duty - South Carolina State defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was so good at the Shrine Game that a week later he was invited to the Senior Bowl as an injury replacement. Considered a 3-tech prospect for a 4-3 defense, Hargrave is light on his feet despite having a thick lower body. His quick first step creating disruption was a highlight during Shrine Game practices. He had a half sack in the Senior Bowl.

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Forging Way into the Picture - The epitome of a sleeper, Southeast Missouri State wide receiver Paul McRoberts originally accepted an invite to the Shrine Game, but the fluid 6-2, 202-pounder moved up to the Senior Bowl. He made the most of his opportunity with a strong finish to the week, including four receptions and a touchdown as well as excellent work on special teams in the biggest all-star game. For a deep sleeper, look no further than Campbell defensive tackle Greg Milhouse, which the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl targeted all along. The 6-2, 305-pound former Appalachian State player drew the game's fifth-highest grade from Pro Football Focus, collecting two quarterback hurries and a batted pass in his 18 pass rushes.

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The Other QBs - After Wentz, the next-best draft candidates among FCS quarterbacks are James Madison's Vad Lee, who isn't running at full speed after a foot injury shortened a dynamite senior season, and Liberty's Josh Woodrum, whose time was limited at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Northwestern State's Stephen Rivers and Chattanooga's Jacob Huesman were glad to gain the spotlight and they should at least be in NFL camps after performing well at all-star games. Rivers, the younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, was among the tallest QBs in the nation at 6-6½ and threw for a game-best 96 yards and the only touchdown pass at the Collegiate Bowl. At the smaller Tropic Bowl, played for the first time, Huesman was the overall MVP after he ran for a touchdown and threw for another. He's only been a winner in his college career.

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Don't Forget the Tight Ends - The Collegiate Bowl cornered the market on FCS tight end prospects, bringing in Harvard's Ben Braunecker, South Carolina State's Temarrick Hemingway and Montana State's Beau Sandland. Although none put up big numbers in the game, they provided excellent representation for the FCS level. Braunecker is the most highly regarded following a dominant senior season in which he consistently found the soft spot in opposing defenses. Hemingway has the measurables and Sandland a Miami Hurricanes background.

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Second Chance - The STATS FCS All-America first team was well represented during the all-star game circuit, but there were a few notable absences, namely Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich, Montana wide receiver Jamaal Jones and Portland State safety Patrick Onwuasor, the latter of whom boasts NFL size at 6-1, 225 pounds. The NFL and regional combines and school pro days are other avenues for them to literally measure up for NFL scouts. One coveted FCS prospect, North Dakota State left tackle Joe Haeg, didn't play in the Senior Bowl because of a shoulder injury.

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