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In the FCS Huddle: FCS NFL Draft defensive prospects

What players do after their college career ends can make all the difference for Football Championship Subdivision players.

Having to overcome the "small school" label, an FCS prospect can put himself on equal ground against Bowl Subdivision players at college all-star games and the NFL Scouting Combine.

Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford, UT Martin nose tackle Montori Hughes and Georgia Southern strong safety J.J. Wilcox are prime examples of FCS players who solidified their place in this year's NFL Draft since the season ended.

Following are capsules of the top FCS defensive draft possibilities for April 25-27:

1. Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana, 5-10, 188

Projected round: Third

The lowdown: Having excelled at the Senior Bowl, Alford could be the first FCS player selected in the draft. His combination of speed (sub-4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and a physical cover style have led to his rising on draft boards. He likes to be up in press coverage, but has the fluid hips to turn and run with a defender. He also is sound in zone coverage, keeping a receiver within reach. Alford, whose older brother, Fred Booker, played for the New Orleans Saints in 2005, would become Southeastern's first draft selection.

2. B.W. Webb, CB, William & Mary, 5-10, 184

Projected round: Third

The lowdown: Webb made a school-record 48 career starts at William & Mary and earned nine all-conference honors (including special teams) to set the CAA Football record. After he intercepted eight passes in his freshman season in 2009, opponents avoided throwing his way, thus he finished with 11 for his career. He reacts well to quarterback reads and has the foot speed to close on a receiver in zone coverage, but he needs improvement in man coverage. Despite his smaller size, he doesn't shy from contact in run support. His return skills are an added bonus to make him attractive to NFL teams.

3. Montori Hughes, NT, UT Martin, 6-4, 329

Projected round: Fourth

The lowdown: Hughes had a good postseason at the Raycom Football All-Star Classic and then the Senior Bowl, raising the hope that his character problems are behind him. He spent a troubled three years at the University of Tennessee and eventually was dismissed from the school and landed at UT Martin. He has the size, hands and strength of an NFL nose tackle, and can maneuver out of blocks and toward the ball. However, he prefers to do the dirty work within the interior area and has to show more ability on the outside. He has a high motor, but needs to be more consistent with his technique.

4. J.J. Wilcox, SS, Georgia Southern, 6-0, 213

Projected round: Fourth-fifth

The lowdown: Wilcox played wide receiver and slotback at Georgia Southern before moving to safety as a senior. He impressed in his only season at the position, making 88 tackles with two interceptions and three pass breakups in 14 games. He has a terrific frame, with a strong lower body. He has an obvious upside as he learns the position, but that also feeds some concern - he's still learning the position. His time on offense works into his good hand-eye coordination. He will factor into special teams immediately as a pro.

5. Jared Smith, DT, New Hampshire, 6-3, 302

Projected round: Sixth

The lowdown: Perhaps overshadowed nationally by fellow UNH senior Matt Evans, the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award winner, Smith is the better pro prospect. NFL.com compares Smith's game to former William & Mary lineman Sean Lissemore, now with the Dallas Cowboys. He's a five-technique who can get into either side of an opponent's backfield. He is quick for the position, making him relentless in pursuit of the ball. He is strong, but needs to add bulk to challenge the bigger offensive linemen in the NFL.

6. Demetrius McCray, CB, Appalachian State, 6-1, 187

Projected round: Sixth

The lowdown: McCray had a productive career at Appalachian State's storied program, twice leading the Southern Conference in interceptions. His long arms and size contribute to his coverage skills. A former high school quarterback, McCray knows how to position himself for balls in the air. He lacks the speed of an elite cornerback, but is a savvy player.

7. Nicholas Williams, NT/DE, Samford, 6-4 1/2, 309

Projected round: Sixth-seventh

The lowdown: Williams isn't as accomplished as UNH's Smith, but has the bigger NFL body and ultimately could settle in at defensive end instead of the interior. He's athletic and agile for his size, clocking 4.94 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He gets to quarterbacks (six sacks as a senior) and can outmuscle opposing linemen with a thick upper body. He impressed scouts with his all- around skills at the NFL Combine.

8. Brandon Hepburn, ILB, Florida A&M, 6-2 1/2, 240

Projected round: Seventh

The lowdown: Hepburn entered Florida A&M on an academic scholarship and walked on to the football team. His late-developing abilities have caught the attention of scouts. It's no surprise he plays with a smart style, and he puts his speed to good use, capable of rushing the passer or dropping back in coverage against tight ends. He comes out of the smaller Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but the conference generally is represented in the NFL Draft.

9. Daxton Swanson, CB, Sam Houston State, 5-11, 185

Projected round: Seventh

The lowdown: Swanson played in his share of big games as Sam Houston State reached the FCS championship game during both his junior and senior seasons. As a junior, he set a school record and ranked third nationally with eight interceptions (he finished his career with 14 picks, another school mark). He's adept at opening his hips and getting out of breaks. He's aware to the ball and finds it in the air. He has to improve as a run defender.

10. Jakar Hamilton, FS, South Carolina State, 6-1, 200

Projected round: Seventh

The lowdown: Hamilton played only one season at South Carolina State after transferring in from the University of Georgia. A good week of practices at the NFLPA All-Star Game has led to the athletic Hamilton joining a draftable status. He is a heavy hitter who covers the field with natural range. His return skills add to his versatility. South Carolina State had a safety drafted last season, Christian Thompson by the Baltimore Ravens.

11. Keith Pough, OLB, Howard, 6-2, 239

Projected round: Seventh

The lowdown: Few players in the FCS draft class can match Pough's productivity. He finished his career as the FCS' all-time leader with 72 tackles for loss, including 28.5 as a sophomore in 2010. He has good size to play the outside, natural quickness for coverage and a nose for the ball. He will keep his feet moving as he drives his body into ball carriers. At the pro level, he will have to show whether he can take on bigger offensive tackles on the edge. He would seem to be a high-reward pick in the late rounds.

TOP NFL DEFENSIVE PROSPECT BY FCS CONFERENCE

Big Sky: Marquis Jackson, DE, Portland State, 6-4, 268

Big South: Charles James, CB, Charleston Southern, 5-9, 182

CAA: B.W. Webb, CB, William & Mary, 5-10, 184

Ivy: Mike Catapano, DE, Princeton, 6-3, 270

MEAC: Brandon Hepburn, ILB, Florida A&M, 6-2 1/2, 240

Missouri Valley: Nate Palmer, OLB, Illinois State, 6-2, 233

Northeast: Jon Morgan, ILB, Albany, 6-1, 225

Ohio Valley: Montori Hughes, NT, UT Martin, 6-4, 329

Patriot: Billy Boyko, ILB, Lehigh, 6-1 1/2, 230

Pioneer: Colby Walden, CB/RS, Jacksonville, 5-10, 170

Southern: J.J. Wilcox, SS, Georgia Southern, 6-0, 213

Southland: Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana, 5-10, 188

SWAC: Brandon Thurmond, OLB, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 6-1, 253