People often mistake Josh Buchanan for being an NFL scout.
He isn't a scout, but he seems like one.
With so much focus on players in the Football Bowl Subdivision, including by scouts, few, if any, people know more than Buchanan about the skills of small college football players who harbor a legitimate chance of playing in the NFL.
With numerous contacts and access to game film, Buchanan's information and analysis keep him in high regard by NFL scouts. The 28-year-old writer and talent evaluator, based in South Carolina, published his first draft evaluation when he was 18, and his work has grown into JB Scouting, whose services are devoted strictly to the Football Championship Subdivision and levels below.
With the NFL Draft fast approaching from April 25-27, Buchanan sees the FCS class being short on star power but long on its depth.
His evaluation of this year's prospects began long before the 2012 season. He puts great emphasis on the body of work of a player's career as much as what one accomplishes in postseason all-star games, combines and pro days.
In recent years, the FCS level has averaged about 18 selections in the NFL Draft. With this year's class of prospects, Buchanan's positive feelings extend beyond that number.
In Five-a-Side - In the FCS Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Buchanan discusses the upcoming draft and some of its key prospects.
Let's kick off:
TSN: What do you think are the strengths of this year's FCS class and how do the prospects compare to recent draft classes?
JB: I think with every year there's always going to be a few positions that are deeper than other years. They're going to fluctuate, you're going to see a year where the corners will be extremely strong and then the next year maybe the receivers are strong. This year, I think the corner class is strong up top, obviously. I think there's two really, really good ones (Southeastern Louisiana's Robert Alford and William & Mary's B.W. Webb) and then No. 3 (Appalachian State's Demetrius McCray) and No. 4 (Sam Houston State's Dax Swanson) are pretty solid. I think corner is top-heavy with OK depth but not a lot.
I think probably the best positions if you want to talk top and depth are probably wide receiver and defensive tackle. I think potentially there's six or seven receivers who could get drafted. I don't think all of them will, but I think they could. And at defensive tackle, I think there are three definite draft picks (UT Martin's Montori Hughes, New Hampshire's Jared Smith and Samford's Nick Williams) and I think there's maybe one surprise draft pick potentially.
I also think offensive guard (has depth). And I say offensive guard because there are a few guys that are projected to move from tackle to guard. So you can say offensive line because you've got (Arkansas-Pine Bluff's Terron) Armstead, (James Madison's Earl) Watford, (Cornell's) J.C. Tretter. People forget the names, but (Tennessee State's) Rogers Gaines is getting a lot of interest, and (Youngstown State's) Lamar Mady and (Alabama State's) Terron Jones and (Alabama A&M's) and Jamaal Johnson-Webb. (Missouri State's) Randy Richards is another one.
TSN: As the draft nears, are any players in the class rising and, if so, why?
JB: People ask this all the time and I always maintain that players don't rise and fall as much as people think late in the process. There's guys that have and will, like, for example, I think (linebacker) Jayson DiManche of Southern Illinois has because he's had two real good pro day workouts. If you go back and watch his film, he was a guy who didn't have 130 tackles (as a senior). I think he had 49 tackles, but he's really an athletic, explosive guy. Teams know about him in the fall, he was purely a free agent grade then. I think most teams have that on him now, but he's had some private workouts and his pro days really opened some eyes to how athletic he is. So I think he's risen a little bit.
I would say he's one of three players who I think have risen some because there was a lot less known on them. I think DiManche and (punter) Sam Martin from Appalachian State. Martin was a guy that the two scouting services that the NFL teams use heavily neither one considered him a prospect, he didn't play in an all-star game. So I don't think that he's rising from what he's done lately, I think position coaches while looking at McCray, (linebacker Jeremy) Kimbrough and the others (at Appalachian State), peeked at him and noticed he can do everything and he's got a good leg. He had a very good pro day. So I do think that there's an outside shot he gets drafted, and a lot of that would be because of his pro days in front of these position coaches. He would be that I think you can literally say he is rising if he gets drafted.
And the other one that I think probably has done a lot to help himself and could potentially get drafted and was nowhere near the radar is (Illinois State safety) Ben Ericksen. Nobody was really talking about Ben Ericksen. He had a really good pro day workout. I've got him as a borderline draft pick. If he had a longer wing span, I think he would definitely get drafted. Because he's not a super long guy, but he's real athletic, he's fast, he's a former wide receiver, has great ball skills. I think he was a Sports Network All-American this year, too.
Everybody else maybe people perceive as rising. There were guys that teams liked all along, but for whatever reason got left out of the (NFL) Combine. They maybe did their rising during the all-star games. But those three, if you notice, none of them played in an all-star game, and that's partly why, too. People, I think, had just not seen them up close until now. That's what's making those three rise per se.
TSN: Do you feel the majority of NFL scouts still have reservations about players coming from the FCS?
JB: Not as much. I think they have reservations, but I don't think that they are truly scared. If you have good junior film ... I always say that if you want to go to the combine, you need to have a strong junior year or the first five or six weeks of your senior year are key because that's when the buzz really starts to create and they vote on the combine (invitations) so early that if you don't have a good junior year or early part of your senior year, you're not going to the combine no matter how good the end of your senior year is because it's too late. I think that if they see he had good junior film, his senior film was good, if he plays good against an FBS opponent and then he has a good all-star game, they have no reservations at all.
The only time they really have reservations for the most part is when you look overmatched when you play an FBS or you're not at the combine or an all-star game and they can't match you up apples to apples. It's tough if you're (from) Elon and the best team you play were to be Western Carolina, that's tough to gauge. But if you play North Carolina and then you go to the combine and then the Senior Bowl, they feel a lot better about you because they actually saw you against top-level guys. If they see you, I don't think there is reservation, but when they don't, there is, and there should be. I'm the same way because you don't know.
TSN: Which FCS conference do you think produces the best pros?
JB: I've done counting over the years. Your leagues on average who are going to do the best are the CAA, the Southern Conference, and the OVC's actually done a pretty good job. The Southland is coming. It's hit or miss, there's years where it is good and there's years where it's not. The Missouri Valley has had a couple years where they've been really good. But the majority of your players, just in the draft, have been coming from the Southern Conference and the CAA.
I don't think the Big Sky because there might be one draft pick from that league that's not from a Montana school. I mean you take out Montana and there's years where that league has no draft picks.
TSN: Who do you think is going to be the most successful drafted player and the most successful undrafted player out of this class?
JB: I really think B.W. Webb's a good player. I think a lot of people have overlooked him simply because he showed up, dominated from the get-go and then people were just so scared to throw at him. I think he's got good intangibles, I know he's a really good player, I mean he just checks all the boxes everywhere. He has no medical concerns and he's not a project really in any way. I think he can come in and play right now. I think he's probably the safest pick of all the draft picks.
With the undrafted, it's tough because I might say a guy and he ends up getting drafted in the sixth or seventh round because maybe a team agrees with me. But if I had to go with a guy who I don't think is going to get drafted that I think could (be successful in the NFL) is (Lehigh wide receiver) Ryan Spadola because I think he's a really good player, he was just hurt for part of the year.
To be honest, I've told a lot of people, Jeremy Kimbrough is a better inside linebacker than D.J. Smith (former Appalachian State standout now with the Green Bay Packers). And I don't think he's getting drafted, but I do think he could be a solid undrafted guy just because he runs extremely well, he's highly productive, he's a good hitter. Hit tape actually got a lot better in his senior year. For a guy who started a lot, he actually kept improving. He would be another one out of the undrafted guys to keep an eye on.