(STATS) - It's only one piece in a puzzle that has 100 other pieces, yet an NFL Draft prospect is often sized up more by his time in the 40-yard dash than perhaps any other measurement.
A fast time gets everybody's attention, while a slow one is a stigma.
Is the heavy impact fair?
Perhaps … and perhaps not. The NFL is built on speed, so the 40 time is important, but not every prospect will check off all the boxes for teams before going on to be successful. The 40 is more telling for players in the skill positions, such as running back, wide receiver and defensive back, while an offensive lineman's speed in the run game might be best measured in his 20-yard split because he won't be blocking 40 yards downfield.
Great 40 speed and football speed are different, so scouts have to sort through the gray area, and not just the black and white of 40 times. For instance, Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp and Saint Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome had sluggish 40 times at the NFL Combine, yet Kupp will separate from defensive backs with his excellent footwork and route running and the instinctive Jerome has enough football speed that in college he ranked first in the FCS in kickoff return average as a junior and then second as a senior.
CARRYING A CHIP ON THEIR SHOULDER=
Helping his team win the FCS national championship and earning the most outstanding player award in the final was sure to land James Madison senior running back Khalid Abdullah in the serious NFL Draft conversation.
Winning the 2016 STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award and leading the FCS in sacks must have done the same for Northern Iowa defensive end Karter Schult.
Hardly. Neither player is generally projected to be drafted this week and may have to join an NFL roster by signing as an undrafted free agent.
It's a reality for so many FCS players whose past accomplishments are outweighed by the stigma that "small school" prospects are a step slower and an inch or two smaller than the prototypical NFL standard, and not exposed to enough elite competition.
"It just makes us hungry. But you know, at the end of the day, there are a lot of doubters, there are a lot of people who say you can't do things," said Abdullah, whose 1,809 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns were the most in the FCS last season.
Added Schult, who racked up 17 sacks as a senior: "I love being an underdog. If that's the way it is, that's fine with me."
The NFL is about performance, so any preconceived notions change once FCS players are in NFL camps. At any point during an NFL season, there usually are about 150 former FCS players spread across rosters.
DAY 3 IS THE BIG ONE=
As big as a year it was for FCS drafted players in 2016, with former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz going second overall to the Philadelphia Eagles and 20 being selected, only four players were scooped up in the first two days (three rounds) of the three-day draft (seven rounds).
The third and final day of the draft on Saturday always brings the most activity for FCS selections.
Kupp (6-foot-1 1/2, 205 pounds) is expected to be the first FCS selection, either taken Friday in the second or third round. The four-time FCS first-team All-American set Division I career records for receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and touchdown catches (73).
"Whenever that moment is there, he makes a play," said Kupp's former EWU coach, Beau Baldwin. "That's why he has such huge numbers over the years - he doesn't miss an opportunity. And the reason he doesn't miss those opportunities is that he prepares to such a level that when an opportunity presents itself, he gets it done time after time after time. Plus, he has the guts and the toughness not to be worried about any moment - he just goes out and gets it done."
The two other likely FCS candidates for the first two days of the draft are pass rushers Derek Rivers (6-4, 248) of Youngstown State and Tanoh Kpassagnon (6-7, 289) of Villanova. Rivers could convert to outside linebacker from defensive end, the position Kpassagnon will remain at as a pro.
BEST PROSPECT BY CONFERENCE=
The best prospect by FCS conference (with possible draft scenario):
Big Sky - Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington (2nd-3rd round)
Big South - Erik Austell, OG, (7th round-undrafted free agent)
CAA Football - Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova (3rd round)
Ivy League - Alex Torgersen, QB, Penn (7th round-undrafted free agent)
MEAC - Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T (7th round)
Missouri Valley - Derek Rivers, DE/OLB, Youngstown State (3rd round)
Northeast - Lorenzo Jerome, FS, Saint Francis (6th-7th round)
Ohio Valley - Jessamen Dunker, OG, Tennessee State (4th-5th round)
Patriot League - Julie'n Davenport, OT, Bucknell (4th-5th round)
Pioneer League - Eric Saubert, TE, Drake (6th round)
Southern - Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga (6th-7th round)
Southland - Brendan Langley, CB, Lamar (6th round)
SWAC - Chad Williams, WR, Grambling State (7th round-undrafted free agent)
Highly respected small school draft evaluator Josh Buchanan said there is a lot of late pre-draft interest in Eastern Washington's Samson Ebukam, a defensive end who will make the move to outside linebacker. Ebukahm projects the All-Big Sky standout will be drafted.
Other players whom Buchanan said have late buzz are Williams, Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole, San Diego cornerback Jamal Agnew, Maine defensive tackle Patrick Ricard and Villanova offensive tackle Brad Seaton.
Thursday, April 27: Round 1, beginning 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and NFL Network. Teams are given 10 minutes to make their selection.
Friday, April 28: Rounds 2 and 3, beginning 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and NFL Network (ESPN's coverage switches to ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET). Teams are given seven minutes to make their selection.
Saturday, April 29: Rounds 4-7, beginning noon ET on ESPN and NFL Network. Teams are given five minutes to make their selection.
Streaming coverage on NFL.com/NFL Now and Watch ESPN.
Twenty FCS names to know for the 2017 NFL Draft: http://www.fcs.football/cfb/story.asp?i=20170424110543774420504>. … Over the last 10 drafts, there's been an average of 18.6 FCS players selected, with a high of 24 in 2008 and a low of 15 in both 2009 and 2012. … The NFL Draft appears to have depth at defensive back and edge rushers. ... North Dakota State had the most former players in the NFL among FCS programs last year with eight. The Bison also have had at least one player drafted in three straight years - the longest streak in the subdivision. Offensive guard Zack Johnson is their top prospect this year. … In addition to Johnson, there are plenty of offensive line prospects, including tackles Davenport, South Carolina State's Javarius Leamon, Alabama State's Jylan Ware and William & Mary's Jerry Ugokwe, and guards Dunker, Chattanooga's Corey Levin and Illinois State's Cam Lee. Among centers, there's Cam Keizur from Portland State and Mike Coe from North Dakota. … The NFL Draft is back in Philadelphia for the first time since 1961. The first draft was held in the City of Brotherly Love in 1936.