Every year there seems to always be a good crop of FCS talent, and a lot of that gets put on display at events like the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl. However, these past two years have shown the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the FCS prospects. The 2020-2021 FCS season was unlike any other, with a handful of teams playing a few games in the fall and a full season occurring in the spring. It led to a lot of concern due to the overlap of the FCS season and the 2021 NFL draft. This caused players like Trey Lance, Dillon Radunz, and more to opt out of the spring season to enter the draft. With this change, we saw a decrease in the pool of FCS players in the past two drafts. The 2019 draft had 13 players drafted, and then the pandemic hit. The 2020 draft only had six players drafted, and less in 2021 with only five. This is not due to the lack of talent, which is evident with this upcoming class of FCS players. Here are five FCS players who have already made a strong case to be drafted next year.
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Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
As of right now, Trevor Penning is the best FCS prospect in this class. His name has been consistently brought up in first-round conversations, and at worst, he will find himself as a day two pick. Standing 6’7” and weighing 321 pounds, Penning certainly has the measurables to play either tackle position in the NFL. There is a lot to love about Penning on the field. He plays with a mean streak and is a big finisher in the run game. He is very good at using his long frame to his advantage in pass protection, and with his quick feet, he rarely gets beat no matter who he is going up against. Penning is now going into his senior year, which will be his first full season since 2019, with the plan of showing scouts around the league not only why he should get drafted, but potentially be selected in the first round.
Isaiah Chambers, EDGE, McNeese State
Chambers is not your average FCS prospect. The Texas native was a four-star recruit and ranked as the 22nd overall recruit in all of Texas during the 2016 recruiting class, according to 247sports.com. After high school is where things started to become shaky for Chambers. He committed to TCU, and after redshirting his freshman year, he decided to transfer to the University of Houston, his hometown. At Houston, Chambers wreaked havoc on the American Athletic Conference. In his first year, he totaled 4.5 sacks in only five games before his season was cut short due to a knee injury, and in 2019, he led the Cougars with five sacks. As a grad transfer, Chambers decided to go to McNeese State to play out his final year of eligibility. However, with the NCAA ruling that players will have an extra year of eligibility due to COVID, Chambers now gets to play two years for McNeese State. He dominated FCS play this year, finishing second in sacks with 7.5 and receiving the honor of FCS All-American. Chambers also was a huge leader off the field, just as much as on the field, leading to his teammates naming him captain in only his second year with the team. His pass-rush ability and motor are his most prominent qualities, with him never giving up on any play and always being one of the fastest guys off the ball. Chambers could step in immediately for a team and play on passing downs with hopes of turning him into a full-time starter in the future.
Tre Walker, LB, Idaho
Walker is one of the better linebackers to come from the FCS level. Heading into his fourth year, Walker looks to be the best Idaho Vandal drafted since Mike Iupati was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Listed at 6’1” and 235 pounds, Walker aligns as the MIKE linebacker of the Vandals defense. In a short time at Idaho, Walker has racked up the accolades. In a shortened 2020-2021 season, Walker earned Big Sky Defensive MVP and FCS All-American honors. He shows a great understanding of the game and the ability to read and react to offenses. He can play sideline to sideline and be a big help to a team looking to improve their run defense. Another thing Walker does well is his ability to rush the passer, and even though there is room for improvement in the coverage aspect of his game, a team could either take him off the field or move him into a pass rush role on those obvious passing downs. Walker is also an excellent special teamer who will raise his stock come next year’s draft.
Cordell Volson, OT, North Dakota State University
Volson is going into his third year starting for the Bison. Starting his career opposite of 2021 second-round pick Dillon Radunz, Volson helped North Dakota State to an undefeated record and an FCS National Championship. Even though guys like Trey Lance and Radunz get most of the credit for that team, Volson was right there with both of them with the role he played, and that same year he became a Second-Team All-American. He could have entered the 2021 NFL Draft along with some of his NDST counterparts but decided to return for the shortened spring season, where he saw some play at left tackle before moving back to right tackle to finish the year. Volson is someone who fits what a lot of teams look for at the right tackle position. He has good length standing 6’7” and he does a great job of using that to his advantage during pass sets. His tenaciousness in the run game is what he does best. He plays through the whistle on every single play and has solid technique in that area of the game as well. The biggest problem with Volson is he stands very high, sometimes leading to bad leverage, which can lead to him getting beat or pushed back. Overall, Volson would have gotten drafted in 2021, and there is no reason that will change in 2022. The only question that remains is will he be a day three guy, or will he be able to bump his stock into day two discussions.
Matt Waletzko, OT, North Dakota
Staying in North Dakota, there is another OT to become familiar with during this draft cycle, and his name is Matt Waletzko. Waletzko hasn’t received the same pre-draft hype as the names listed above, but he put out some excellent stuff in his first season since coming back from an injury that ended his season the year prior. Waletzko has a big frame but needs to add some more mass to compete at the NFL level. He is such a fluid pass protector, with both great feet and great hands. Waletzko can get to the second level, too, on run downs and screen plays due to great athleticism. There isn’t much to hate about Waletzko’s game. He is very well-rounded. Waletzko can be the first North Dakota player to be selected in the NFL Draft since 2006 when the Broncos drafted Chris Kuper. It is not every day an FCS lineman who teams trust to step in and become their left tackle, but Waletzko can become that guy with this upcoming season being the first full season of his career.
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