Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - One of the more interesting possibilities with the 2014 NFL Draft class of FCS prospects is how the juniors can try to change the outlook.
There will be a good class of FCS seniors, but it's probably not as deep as recent years. Some of the junior-eligible prospects, who can request the NFL Draft Advisory Board to give them a sense of where they could be selected if they enter the draft early, fit in well at positions in which the senior class is thin on headliners.
Among the junior-eligible prospects, Tennessee State's A.C. Leonard could be the top tight end from the FCS level. His teammate, cornerback Stephen Godbolt III, would improve a position that's often deep on the FCS level but is not this year.
Harvard's Zach Hodges could be the top defensive end and Samford's Jaquiski Tartt could be the top safety from the FCS draft prospects.
Towson's Terrance West, Alabama State's Isaiah Crowell and South Dakota State's Zach Zenner could turn running back into a deeper position. Stony Brook's Marcus Coker would be in that mix as well, but he is expected to receive a medical hardship for this year's season-ending injury and return for another season at the CAA Football school.
Granted, none of these juniors is a first-round draft selection - there hasn't been one from the FCS level since 2008. But they can turn the upcoming FCS draft class into something more substantial.
It's not common for a junior in the FCS ranks to enter the NFL Draft. Even the higher-profile players who do it, such as running back Taiwan Jones and wide receiver Brandon Kaufman from Eastern Washington in recent years, usually don't become household names on Sundays.
But there's a bigger opportunity for the juniors to gain a foothold in this FCS draft class, whose seniors are led by Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, one of the favorites for the Walter Payton Award, and Princeton's mauler at defensive tackle, Caraun Reid. Both of those players could be chosen in the top three rounds.
"I will say this, there is a little more fanfare on Garoppolo from the media than what the NFL has," a scout said. "Now the NFL teams do like Garoppolo, he's probably going to go third (round) or late second.
The FCS first selection is "going to be between him and Reid," the scout continued. "It kind of depends on what Reid does the rest of the year. Some people are saying, well, he's not quite 6-2, and blah, blah, blah. But everybody who sees him says he's probably the best player they've seen at the small school level. If he was 6-4, he'd be going early second round."
Cornerback Todd Washington could follow the path of his former teammate in the Southeastern Louisiana secondary, Robert Alford. You may not have heard a lot about Washington because, like Alford at this point in time last year, he doesn't have glaring statistics or accolades. But Alford wound up being the first FCS selection in the 2013 NFL Draft - taken by the Atlanta Falcons late in the second round.
NFL scouts don't necessarily look at players in the same way as many of us. Teams want the players who can get better and translate athletically to their level, and that can mean they will hit their potential more in the NFL than in college for various reasons.
Other seniors on the NFL radar include Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp, North Dakota wide receiver Greg Hardin, Murray State wide receiver Walter Powell, Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews, North Dakota State left tackle Billy Turner, Delaware defensive tackle Zach Kerr, and Sam Houston State running back Timothy Flanders.
But the scouts surely are keeping an eye on a select few juniors while they attend games and practices, and break down game film. While playing a senior season will mostly boost the stock of such FCS prospects, the opportunity will be tempting to some juniors.
THE FIRST HALF
The 14-week FCS regular season hits Week 8 on Saturday.
Some thoughts on the first half:
Best team: North Dakota State (6-0)
Biggest surprise (positive): Fordham (7-0), beating Temple, Villanova and Lehigh
Biggest surprise (negative): Appalachian State (1-5)
Best game: North Dakota State 24, Northern Iowa 23
Best offensive player: Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
Best defensive player: James Madison linebacker Stephon Robertson
Best freshman: Appalachian State running back Marcus Cox or Stetson safety Donald Payne - both are worthy
Best coaching performance: Charleston Southern's Jamey Chadwell, whose team is 7-0
Best individual performance: Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams with 518 total yards and six total touchdowns in a 49-46 win over Oregon State
Best team performance: Eastern Washington over Oregon State, 49-46 - the Beavers' only loss to date
AROUND THE NATION
After ranked teams dominated to a 19-3 record last weekend, there are plenty of games this weekend in which ranked teams face unranked teams that have a strong chance for an upset. One is Southern Illinois, the first team outside The Sports Network FCS Top 25. The Salukis (4-3) won't be denied the rankings if they knock off a Top 10 opponent for the third straight Saturday. This time, the Salukis will try to take down top-ranked North Dakota State (6-0), which hasn't lost a road game since the 2010 FCS playoffs. It will be Homecoming Day at what should be a raucous Salukis Stadium. ... Fittingly, No. 6 Coastal Carolina (6-0, 1-0) and Liberty (3-3, 0-0) are tied in the series at five games apiece as they square off Saturday for possible Big South Conference supremacy. In the previous 10 meetings, the winner has gone on to win at least a share of the conference title eight times. ... The Sam Houston State-McNeese State showdown underscores that Southland Conference teams lead the FCS in points per game (34.4) and total offense per game (443.8). Sam Houston (45.3) is ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring offense and McNeese (43.8) is No. 3. ... Transitioning Southland members Incarnate Word (3-3) and Abilene Christian (4-3), who were rivals in the Division II Lone Star Conference, will play the first of two meetings this season on Saturday in Abilene, Texas. They meet again Nov. 9 at Incarnate Word. ... In a pivotal Big Sky matchup, Cal Poly (3-3, 2-0) visits No. 10 Montana (5-1, 2-1). Cal Poly, Eastern Washington and Montana State are all tied for first place in the conference - just as that same trio finished last season. ... Montana State senior Brad Daly leads the FCS with 1.5 sacks per game, but the next three are from the MEAC: Norfolk State's Deon King, North Carolina A&T's Daniel Pinnix and South Carolina State's Andrew Carter. ... Defensive end Blake Oliaro is back at it at San Diego this season. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound redshirt senior leads the Pioneer Football League in tackles for loss (nine). ... In giving Alabama State over 200 rushing yards per game, juniors Isaiah Crowell and Malcom Cyrus have combined to average over 6.8 yards per carry. ... Buck Buchanan Award nominee Jestin Love of No. 21 Central Arkansas hopes to return on Saturday at Lamar after the senior safety sat out last weekend's game with a hamstring injury. ... Speaking of injuries, Bryant's terrific wide receiver Jordan Harris, last year's Northeast Conference offensive player of the year, is still battling knee tendinitis. His production has decreased this season. ... Only four of the seven NEC teams are in action, but the two matchups are excellent. Duquesne visits rival Robert Morris under the lights in the Steel City Showdown - the last one for RMU coach Joe Walton - and high-scoring Sacred Heart (6-1) visits Bryant, the early season co-leader with Duquesne. ... Bethune-Cookman running back Isidore Jackson was the MEAC's preseason co-offensive player of the year, but he has carried the ball only 38 times for 220 yards and one touchdown. Jackson is not injured, the Wildcats have four capable running backs and three quarterbacks in their read-option system, which spreads out the touches. It's definitely unique. ... In a breakout season, Samford senior linebacker Justin Shade leads the Southern Conference in tackles (75), tackles for loss (12) and sacks (seven). ... Look to the northern reaches of the CAA to find the conference's biggest matchups on Saturday: conference-leading Villanova (4-2, 3-0) at New Hampshire (2-3, 1-1) and William & Mary (4-2, 1-1) at Maine (5-1, 2-0). ... In the Patriot League, Lafayette's Mark Ross (158 career receptions) is just four receptions from the school record and Holy Cross' Mike Fess (178) needs 13 for his school's record. ... Georgetown is getting no breaks with quarterback injuries the last two seasons. The Hoyas have utilized six different signal callers with four getting starts. Tim Barnes made his collegiate debut over the final three quarters of last week's game. ... Jacksonville State senior Griffin Thomas has kicked an FCS-high 16 field goals through seven games. The FCS single-season record is 26, set by Nevada's Tony Zendejas in 1982 and matched by Northern Iowa's Brian Mitchell in 1990.
WHAT WE KNOW, WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW
The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/88q2k7t.
Also, once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections, updated most Sundays, are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at http://www.sportsnetwork.com/fcs/FCS_Bracket.pdf.
WEEK 8 PICKS
Week 7 Record: 46-11 (.807)
Season Record: 364-113 (.763)
Saturday, Oct. 19
X-No. 8 Fordham (7-0) at Yale (3-1), noon
Colgate (1-5, 0-0) at X-Holy Cross (3-4, 1-0), noon
X-No. 12 Villanova (4-2, 3-0 CAA) at No. 25 New Hampshire (2-3, 1-1), noon
Georgetown (1-5, 0-0 Patriot) at X-No. 18 Lehigh (5-1. 0-0), 12:30 p.m.
William & Mary (4-2, 1-1 CAA) at X-No. 14 Maine (5-1, 2-0), 12:30 p.m.
Cornell (1-3) at X-Monmouth (3-4), 1 p.m.
Lafayette (1-4) at X-Harvard (4-0), 1 p.m.
X-Hampton (1-5, 1-1 MEAC) at Norfolk State (2-4, 2-1), 1 p.m.
Delaware State (2-4, 2-1 MEAC) at X-North Carolina A&T (3-2, 1-2), 1 p.m.
X-Richmond (2-4, 0-2 CAA) at Rhode Island (2-5, 1-3), 1 p.m.
Sacred Heart (6-1, 1-1 NEC) at X-Bryant (3-3, 1-0), 1 p.m.
X-Marist (3-3, 2-1 Pioneer) at Davidson (0-6, 0-3), 1 p.m.
Carnegie Mellon (2-2) at X-Mercer (5-1), 1 p.m.
X-Jacksonville (2-4, 1-2 Pioneer) at Campbell (1-5, 0-3), 1 p.m.
Drake (3-3, 2-1 Pioneer) at X-Butler (5-2, 3-0), 1 p.m.
Bucknell (1-4) at X-Dartmouth (2-2), 1:30 p.m.
X-Chattanooga (4-2, 2-1 Southern) at Elon (2-5, 1-2), 1:30 p.m.
X-Appalachian State (1-5, 1-2 Southern) at Furman (2-4, 1-2), 1:30 p.m.
X-Penn (2-2, 1-0 Ivy) at Columbia (0-4, 0-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-No. 15 South Dakota State (4-3, 1-2 Missouri Valley) at Missouri State (1-6, 1-2), 2 p.m.
No. 24 Tennessee State (6-1, 3-0 OVC) at X-UT Martin (4-2, 2-1), 2 p.m.
Charleston Southern (7-0) at X-Colorado (2-3), 2 p.m.
Morgan State (1-5, 1-1 MEAC) at X-North Carolina Central (3-3, 1-1), 2 p.m.
X-VMI (1-5, 0-1 Big South) at Presbyterian (1-4, 0-0), 2 p.m.
X-Indiana State (1-5, 0-2 Missouri Valley) at Illinois State (2-4, 1-2), 2 p.m.
X-Morehead State (2-4, 2-1 Pioneer) at Valparaiso (1-5, 1-2), 2 p.m.
Howard (1-5, 0-3 MEAC) at X-Florida A&M (2-4, 1-1), 2 p.m.
Southeast Missouri State (1-5, 1-2 OVC) at X-No. 3 Eastern Illinois (5-1, 2-0), 2:30 p.m.
X-No. 1 North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0 Missouri Valley) at Southern Illinois (4-3, 2-1), 3 p.m.
X-Alcorn State (5-2, 3-1 SWAC) at Texas Southern (1-5, 1-4), 3 p.m.
Grambling State (0-7, 0-4 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (5-2, 5-0), 3 p.m.
Tennessee Tech (3-4, 0-3 OVC) at X-Eastern Kentucky (3-3, 1-1), 3 p.m.
Incarnate Word (3-3) at X-Abilene Christian (4-3), 3 p.m.
Mississippi Valley State (1-5, 1-3 SWAC) at X-Prairie View A&M (4-3, 3-2), 3 p.m.
X-No. 7 Towson (6-1, 2-1 CAA) at Albany (1-6, 0-3), 3:30 p.m.
X-Southern (3-3, 3-1 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-6, 0-4), 3:30 p.m.
Sacramento State (3-4, 2-1 Big Sky) at X-North Dakota (2-4, 1-2), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 13 Wofford (4-2, 3-0 Southern) at Western Carolina (1-6, 0-3), 3:30 p.m.
Game of the Week: No. 6 Coastal Carolina (6-0, 1-0 Big South) at X-Liberty (3-3, 0-0), 3:30 p.m. The winner figures to earn the Big South Conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Liberty has won 18 straight Big South home games.
Cal Poly (3-3, 2-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 10 Montana (5-1, 2-1), 3:30 p.m.
X-UC Davis (2-5, 2-1 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (1-6, 0-3), 3:35 p.m.
Austin Peay (0-6, 0-2 OVC) at X-Murray State (4-3, 2-1), 4 p.m.
Nicholls (4-2, 1-0 Southland) at X-Stephen F. Austin (2-4, 0-1), 4 p.m.
Savannah State (1-6, 0-3 MEAC) at X-No. 17 Bethune-Cookman (5-1, 2-0), 4 p.m.
Western Illinois (3-4, 1-2 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 16 Youngstown State (6-1, 3-0), 4 p.m.
South Dakota (3-3, 2-1 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 11 Northern Iowa (4-2, 0-2), 5 p.m.
X-No. 5 Montana State (4-2, 2-0 Big Sky) at Weber State (1-6, 0-3), 5:30 p.m.
X-Princeton (3-1, 1-0 Ivy) at Brown (3-1, 0-1), 6 p.m.
X-Duquesne (3-2, 1-0 NEC) at Robert Morris (2-3, 0-0), 6 p.m.
X-San Diego (4-2, 3-0 Pioneer) at Dayton (4-2, 2-1), 6 p.m.
X-Southeastern Louisiana (4-2, 1-0 Southland) at Northwestern State (3-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.
No. 21 Central Arkansas (3-3, 0-1 Southland) at X-Lamar (3-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.
Old Dominion (4-2) at X-Pittsburgh (3-2), 7 p.m.
Idaho State (3-3, 1-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 19 Northern Arizona (4-2, 2-1), 7:05 p.m.
No. 2 Sam Houston State (5-1, 1-0 Southland) at X-No. 9 McNeese State (5-1, 1-0), 8 p.m.
Southern Utah (5-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at X-No. 4 Eastern Washington (4-2, 2-0 Big Sky), 8:05 p.m.