Offensive linemen from the FCS may not be the most exciting prospects when draft day comes around. However, there are a few each year that catch the attention of front offices around the league. On the second day of this year’s 2021 NFL Draft, tackles Dillon Radunz of North Dakota State and Spencer Brown of Northern Iowa were both selected. During the 2019 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans selected Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard with the 23rd overall selection in the first round. FCS linemen continue to be valued by NFL evaluators, and it looks like this trend will continue.
In addition to some of the younger FCS linemen entering the NFL, many FCS linemen have had long and successful careers. Center JC Tretter, a Cornell graduate, has played 95 games with 74 starts in his eight NFL seasons and was elected as the president of the NFLPA in March of 2020. Tretter has started all 16 games in the last four seasons after being signed by the Cleveland Browns as an unrestricted free agent. Most FCS linemen may not be household names, but they play a significant role in shaping the identity of offensive lines around the NFL.
Let’s look at 5 FCS offensive linemen who will hope to hear their name called during the 2022 NFL Draft:
Braxton Jones, Southern Utah
Jones is a highly intriguing prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. He possesses a valuable combination of size, agility and strength. The left tackle’s techniques are refined for a player of his stature, and he often dominated his opponents. He had many isolated matchups in pass protection and was a notch above the rest up front in the run game. Jones needs to improve certain aspects of his game, most notably his flexibility and ability to anchor in pass sets. As Southern Utah transitions into the Western Athletic Conference, it will be exciting to watch how Jones continues to develop while hopefully securing himself a spot in the top half of the draft.
Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
Penning is a mammoth on the left side of Northern Iowa’s offensive line. His size jumps out when watching him play, as he uses his physical tools to dominate weaker defenders. Penning has great length that he utilizes to gain leverage on defenders. His feet are better than his height and weight would suggest, which becomes evident given his basketball background. Penning needs to improve on his hand placement and footwork when pass protecting against speed rushers. The senior tackle should solidify his position in the upcoming draft during the Panthers' 2021 season.
Aron Johnson, South Dakota State
Johnson was the cornerstone of a South Dakota State offensive line that bullied many FCS programs during the 2020-2021 season. Johnson is a load up front. He fires off the line of scrimmage and is a pile driver in the run game. Johnson uses his strong hands and size to stonewall defenders and generates a great push at the point of attack. He has plenty of experience starting at both tackle spots for the Jackrabbits, with over 30 appearances before heading into the 2021 season. Johnson needs to refine his pass protection technique, as his base can get wide and occasionally have slow or heavy feet. Johnson will likely be selected on the third day of the 2022 draft, so he is worth watching as South Dakota State looks to continue to build on an impressive 2020-2021 season.
Matt Waletzko, North Dakota
Waletzko is a tackle that has improved since his time began with North Dakota. Waletzko has a thinner and longer frame than most NFL tackles. However, that doesn’t prevent him from playing aggressively. Waletzko is explosive off the ball in the run game and drives defenders off the line of scrimmage and out of their gap assignments. He utilizes his length to get underneath defenders with leverage that doesn’t allow them to separate. The Fighting Hawk tackle will look to continue to bulk up and add mass to his impressive frame to handle the level of athleticism he will face in the NFL. While his pass protection technique needs work, especially in maintaining blocks in drop-back passing situations, his ability to move defenders in the run game will undoubtedly excite NFL front offices.
Brent Laing, Minnesota Duluth
Laing has played primarily right tackle for the Bulldogs. However, he had experience playing guard before the 2020-2021 season. He likely projects to play primarily guard at the next level due to his more petite frame. Laing is exceptionally agile and possesses excellent speed for an offensive lineman. He can effectively work downfield and handle a variety of lateral blocking assignments. Laing will continue to add mass and enhance his skills punching and anchoring in the passing game. Laing has the potential to generate buzz leading up to the 2022 draft and should be fascinating to watch in the 2021 season.
While not all of these FCS linemen will find themselves having long NFL careers, they possess the tools and experience that put them on the radar of NFL scouts and personnel staff. Keep an eye out for these names leading up to the 2022 draft.