Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The NFL's game of repeating itself is turning back to that dinosaur known as the running back.
Truth be told, most of today's running backs move a wee bit faster than that group of distinct creatures, so the devaluing of them in recent NFL drafts is proving unnecessary.
In fact, they're talking first round again for some running backs this year, and a good 20 or more could go in the seven rounds. The depth of the position includes some talented backs from the FCS level, particularly the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Last season, Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and Jerick McKinnon were among those making an impact in the NFL. This year, NFL teams are looking to the FCS ranks for the likes of Northern Iowa's David Johnson, Yale's Tyler Varga, South Dakota State's Zach Zenner, North Dakota State's John Crockett, Lafayette's Ross Scheuerman and Stephen F. Austin's Gus Johnson, who are a half dozen of the 27 players from the lower half of Division I participating in the NFL Scouting Combine, beginning Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
NFL teams have been drafting about 18-20 FCS players in recent years. The Combine offers players the chance to separate themselves from the pack.
Josh Buchanan, likely the nation's leading evaluator of small school draft talent, and the East Coast consultant for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where 13 FCS players participated in the all-star game last month, believes it's a solid year for the division, although the draft class could have been much stronger had there not be so many early entries a year ago, including West, who wound up leading the Cleveland Browns in rushing.
"This small school class was thinned out a bit with nine players from this group declaring last year," Buchanan said. "There aren't as many players projected to go in the first four rounds as there have been in the last few years, but there are plenty of late-round and priority free agent options. This running back class is very good. It's the deepest position group of this class."
Following are the FCS players participating among 320-plus players at the Combine. Buchanan's current draft evaluation is included with each player.
Bryan Bennett, QB, Southeastern Louisiana, 6-3, 215
Marcus Mariota's former backup at Oregon, Bennett spent his final two seasons in the Southland Conference, where he led Southeastern to back-to-back championships ... Finished as the school's career leader with 70 touchdowns responsible for and 31 rushing touchdowns. He also totaled 1,715 rushing yards, 5,522 passing yards and 39 passing touchdowns ... A dual-threat with the power to run through tacklers, he must start to make better decisions as a passer ... Late addition to the Senior Bowl, where he was 5-for-10 for 80 yards but with two interceptions ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: priority free agent.
Nick Boyle, TE, Delaware, 6-5, 267
Noted for being a tough, physical blocker who wants to mix it up on the line ... Senior Bowl selection also has reliable hands and moves well for his size (4.75- to 4.8-second speed in 40-yard dash) ... In 41 career games, he caught 101 passes for 984 yards and 12 touchdowns. Seven of the TDs came in his junior season ... Was named to the All-CAA first team and The Sports Network FCS All- America third team as a senior ... Has the ability to be a longer snapper or line up at fullback ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: fifth round.
John Crockett, RB, North Dakota State, 6-0, 215
A 1,000-yard back for the last three of NDSU's four straight FCS national championship squads, Crockett finished second on the career rushing chart with 4,309 yards after setting a single-season rushing mark of 1,994 yards in 2014 ... He will power between the tackles and can cut to win one-on-one matchups and break off long runs. Also a solid pass catcher out of the backfield and will return kickoffs ... The Sports Network second-team All-American played in the East-West Shrine Game just one week after the FCS championship game ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: seventh round.
Ryan Delaire, DE, Towson, 6-4, 250
Athletic transfer from Massachusetts played two seasons at Towson, contributing 17.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and four fumble recoveries to the Tigers' 2013 FCS national runner-up squad ... Made the All-CAA Football first team in both seasons at Towson ... Could switch to outside linebacker in the NFL and will have to shed blocks better ... Tigers coach Rob Ambrose lauds Delaire for having a surgeon's ability to study a situation and put the attention to detail to work ... Underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in January, forcing him to decline invitations to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and Medal of Honor Bowl ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: priority free agent.
Kyle Emanuel, DE, North Dakota State, 6-3, 251
Emanuel was a runaway winner of the 2014 Buck Buchanan Award after dominating the FCS ranks all season. Finished his career with more FCS national titles (four) than defeats (58-3 record) ... Played in all 61 career games, with 49 starts ... Has terrific instincts, a relentless style and flashes good moves to get around tackles. But he doesn't have prototypical size for an NFL defensive end ... Collected 41 sacks in his career, including 19.5 as a senior - the FCS seasonal high along with 32.5 tackles for loss ... Played in the East-West Shrine Game one week after NDSU won the national title ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: sixth round.
Chad Hamilton, OL, Coastal Carolina, 6-3, 305
Played a big role in Coastal Carolina's recent assention in the FCS, gaining All-Big South Conference first-team honors in both his junior and senior seasons ... In his junior season, he helped the Chanticleers average the fewest tackles per loss in the FCS. As a senior, he had only three penalties and allowed only two sacks in CCU's 433 pass attempts ... Bulked up for senior season, but will have to transition from tackle to guard or center in the NFL ... Intelligent with a good sense of preparation ... Selected to The Sports Network FCS All-America Team as a senior ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: priority free agent.
Zach Hodges, OLB, Harvard, 6-3, 235
Possessing raw power and speed off the edge, Hodges will transition from defensive end in college to outside linebacker in the NFL ... Named the Ivy League's defensive player of the year in 2013 and shared the honor as a senior on an unbeaten 2014 Harvard squad... Ranks first on Crimson all-time chart with 27 sacks ... A first-team All-Ivy League selection for three straight seasons and selected to The Sports Network FCS All-America second team as both a junior and a senior ... Must get stronger against the run ... Played in the Senior Bowl after turning down invitation for the East-West Shrine Game ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: priority free agent.
David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa, 6-2, 225
Offers coveted size and versatility with a shifty running style to get into the open field. He patterns his hard-to-tackle style after Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears ... Likely raised stock with a game-high 141 all-purpose yards and a rushing touchdown at the Senior Bowl ... Set 15 school records at UNI, finishing with 4,682 rushing yards, 6,854 all-purpose yards and 64 touchdowns in his career ... Excellent pass catcher, totaling 203 receiving yards in a 2014 game at Iowa, and returns kickoffs ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: third round.
Landon "Gus" Johnson, RB, Stephen F. Austin, 5-10, 224
A big-play running back who is short but thick, he doesn't shy away from contact. He lacks a great burst, but was highly productive during his SFA career ... Although not a workhorse back, he does a good job to use his physical strength and change directions against defenders ... Was named the 2014 Southland Conference player of the year after setting conference records with 1,683 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground ... Made The Sports Network FCS All-America first team and was a Walter Payton Award finalist ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: priority free agent.
Dezmin Lewis, WR, Central Arkansas, 6-4, 212
Tall, agile receiver battled injuries as a senior, finishing with 50 receptions for 721 yards and seven touchdowns ... Finished productive career with 183 receptions for 2,444 yards and 22 touchdowns ... Background in basketball is evident as Lewis is a reliable go-to receiver with excellent hands and an ability to make the tough catches in traffic ... Though not blessed with blazing speed, he took a short pass in the flat for a 90-yard touchdown as a senior ... Played in the Senior Bowl, catching three passes for a game-high 59 yards ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: fifth round.
Kyle Loomis, P, Portland State, 6-2, 230
Big, strong punter began career at Oregon State in 2006 before leaving for the Army a year later, then returned to action at Portland State in 2013. He wound up leading the FCS in punting average in both 2013 (46.5 yards) and 2014 (46.0) ... Combines hang time with the distance for excellent nets on his punts ... Made The Sports Network FCS All-America second team as a junior and first team as a senior ... Punted in the Senior Bowl ... One of the older draft prospects at 27 years old ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: priority free agent.
Derrick Lott, DT, Chattanooga, 6-4, 300
Returned for a sixth season in 2014 and made the most of it with 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and a first-team All-Southern Conference selection ... Natural talent who moves quite well for his size and can shed blocks to get into the backfield ... Missed much of the 2013 season with an elbow injury and regained the season of eligibility. Spent 2009-2011 at Georgia, redshirting in his first season ... Played in the East-West Shrine Game ... Will turn 25 in June ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: priority free agent.
Jerry Lovelocke, QB, Prairie View A&M, 6-5, 200
Big pocket passer who is viewed as a developmental prospect coming out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference ... Has to improve mechanics, but has the physical tools ... Highly experienced after being relied on early in his Prairie View career ... In a 10-game schedule as a senior, he passed for 2,473 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 10 TDs ... Played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: priority free agent.
Dean Marlowe, FS, James Madison, 6-2, 205
Missing only two starts in 49 career games, Marlowe earned All-CAA Football honors in each of his four seasons, including twice on the first team ... Had a career-high 96 tackles as a senior to finish with 326 in his career. Also has 30 passes defended and 12 interceptions during his career ... Disruptive hard- hitter who reads quarterbacks and routes to get to ball carriers ... Became only the second JMU player ever selected for the East-West Shrine Game ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: sixth round.
Douglas "Tre" McBride, WR, William & Mary, 6-1, 205
Terrific athlete who works hard on his technique to offset lack of size and blazing speed ... Breaks well and attacks the ball with a smooth, polished style ... Best season was as a sophomore (55 receptions, 897 yards, 10 touchdowns), although he had over 50 receptions and 800-plus yards in each of his final three seasons ... Was the CAA special teams player of the year in 2013 and racked up 1,294 kickoff return yards in his William & Mary career ... Has fared well against FBS competition and played in the East-West Shrine Game ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: sixth round.
Tevin McDonald, FS, Eastern Washington, 5-11, 190
Son of six-time NFL All-Pro safety Tim McDonald and brother to T.J. McDonald, a third-round draft choice in 2013 by the St. Louis Rams ... UCLA transfer is small for an NFL safety and will have to bulk up. He is an excellent tackler and had good outings for Eastern Washington against better competition ... His production rose significantly in his second season at EWU, gaining 78 tackles, four tackles for loss, three interceptions, seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries ... Started the final 24 games of a two- season career at UCLA before being dismissed for violating a team policy ... Played in the East-West Shrine Game ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: seventh round.
Robert Myers, OG, Tennessee State, 6-5, 310
Intriguing upside despite never earning higher than All-Ohio Valley Conference second-team honors ... Strong coachability has led to his maximizing athleticism and technique ... Has fared well with movement in the run game and against the pass, although he will face challenges against stronger NFL defenders ... Has the body frame to put on more weight ... Participated at the Senior Bowl ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: fourth-fifth round.
MyCole Pruitt, TE, Southern Illinois, 6-3, 255
Was incredibly consistent throughout his four seasons at SIU, including three Missouri Valley Football Conference first-team selections and twice on The Sports Network FCS All-America first team ... Finished as the MVFC's career record holder among tight ends in receptions (211), receiving yards (2,601) and receiving touchdowns (25) ... As sure-handed as tight ends come, Pruitt makes smart decisions and runs precise routes ... Doesn't have the height or speed of today's NFL tight end, so H-back could be considered ... Played in the East- West Shrine Game ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: sixth round.
Ross Scheuerman, RB, Lafayette, 6-1, 209
Ended highly productive career with a 304-yard, three-touchdown performance against Lehigh at Yankee Stadium ... Has flashed sub-4.4 speed, as evidenced by his ability to break away from defenders in multiple duties. Finished career with 3,504 rushing yards, 1,197 receiving yards, 1,645 kickoff return yards and 41 touchdowns ... Comes from a multiple pro system and improved running between the tackles and as a pass blocker ... Made at least All-Patriot League second- team honors in each of his four seasons ... Participated in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: seventh round-priority free agent.
Deon Simon, NT, Northwestern State, 6-4, 330
Surprisingly agile for his large frame, Simon has the strength to handle the physical work of double teams in the run game ... His athleticism fared well in early season games against FBS opponents Baylor (five tackles, forced fumble) and Louisiana Tech, but his 2014 campaign was cut nearly in half by injuries ... Collected 93 tackles, with 42 solo stops, 14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and three pass deflections in his career ... Must show a higher level of consistency ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: priority free agent.
Tye Smith, CB, Towson, 6-0, 190
Had strong finish to senior season to earn All-CAA Football first-team honors ... Good in coverage, he's an intelligent decision maker who uses his good length and tackle skills to make plays. Put on weight as a senior without losing speed, but doesn't display elite hip movement ... As a 3 1/2-year starter, Smith collected 312 tackles, six interceptions, six forced fumbles and 26 pass breakups ... Played for the 2013 FCS national runner-up squad ... Had a solid week at the East-West Shrine Game ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: sixth-seventh round.
Jaquiski Tartt, S, Samford, 6-1, 218
Three-time nominee for the Buck Buchanan Award and two-time finalist ... Has the speed (4.46 seconds in 40-yard dash) and sideline-to-sideline style to make plays against the run or pass. Has excellent range and is physical at the point of contact ... Returned to his hometown of Mobile, Alabama, to play in the Senior Bowl. NFL Network analyst Charles Davis described Tartt as "an absolute missile" at safety during practice week ... Over his career, Tartt tallied 277 tackles, including 199 solo stops, with 6.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions and 20 pass breakups ... Noted for good character and upside ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: third round.
Lynden Trail, OLB, Norfolk State, 6-7, 260
Former University of Florida player has terrific speed and movement for his large frame, with the ability to play outside 'backer or defensive end ... Must improve hand usage at the point of attack ... Disruptive player who tied for the FCS high with five forced fumbles in 2013 and totaled 41 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in three seasons at Norfolk State. Earned first-team All-MEAC honors each season ... A two-time finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, Trail played in the Senior Bowl and received an invite to the East-West Shrine Game ... Will turn 24 in March ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: fourth-fifth round.
Davis Tull, DE/OLB, Chattanooga, 6-3, 240
First three-time winner of Southern Conference defensive player of the year award since Dexter Coakley from 1994-96 ... Started all 48 games in his Chattanooga career and set school records with 60 tackles for loss, 37 sacks and 10 forced fumbles ... Intelligent player with a high motor who displays explosive movement off the snap ... Needs to get stronger for the next level and a likely candidate to transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, where he will utilize his running ability ... Two-time Buck Buchanan Award finalist played in the East-West Shrine Game ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: sixth-seventh round.
Tyler Varga, RB/FB, Yale, 5-11, 224
CFL scouts no longer need to concern themselves with this Canadian, he's NFL- bound ... The Ivy League's offensive player of the year rushed for two touchdowns in the Senior Bowl, finishing with 31 yards on four carries as well as three receptions for 39 yards ... A two-time second-teamer on The Sports Network FCS All-America Team, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 142.3 rushing yards per game with a school-record 26 touchdowns in only 10 games as a senior ... Relies on power and patience, and defenders find it difficult to tackle him ... Can be a kickoff returner ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: fifth-sixth round.
Zack Wagenmann, DE, Montana, 6-3, 255
Three-time All-Big Sky Conference first-team selection, and the conference's 2014 defensive player of the year, was a dominant pass rusher in the FCS ranks. He combines solid technique with a relentless style of pursuit ... Set school career records for sacks (37.5), tackles for loss (49) and forced fumbles (11) ... Could make a transition to outside linebacker on the next level ... Played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: fifth-sixth round.
Zach Zenner, RB/FB, South Dakota State, 6-0, 215
Became the first player in Division I history to surpass 2,000 rushing yards in three different seasons (2012, '13 and '14) ... Three-time Walter Payton Award finalist and first-team All-American went on to finish third in FCS career rushing with 6,548 yards. Workhorse also set Missouri Valley Football Conference career records for all-purpose yards (8,211), rushing touchdowns (61) and total touchdowns (69) ... Has a patient, north-south style, but can find another gear in the open field (five runs of 75 yards or more in his career) ... Played in the East-West Shrine Game ... A highly decorated honors student ... Josh Buchanan's draft evaluation: sixth-seventh round.