By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Some of the NFL draft hopefuls who trained alongside Clay Harbor at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., this past winter might have thought he was once one of Chase Daniel's favorite receivers at the University of Missouri. But Missouri State? Come again? Some of the players told the tight end they had never heard of the university in Springfield.
While they build their NFL Draft resume, Football Championship Subdivision players often face the bias that is the "small-school" label. Even a player like Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards, who is the only two-time winner of the Walter Payton Award which recognizes the FCS player of the year, will likely be asked by his new team to switch from his natural position of quarterback to wide receiver and returner.
Of course, any type of slight can increase an FCS player's level of motivation. Harbor's battery is fully charged for the challenge ahead, and he is willing to do anything and everything to show doubters that he can go from playing on Saturdays in the fall to Sundays. And with a growing fan club of pro scouts who took more notice of him at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, he just might get to be a tight end after all, although he says he will be content to contribute at fullback, H-back, special teams, wherever his team wants.
"I've done everything I can, the Combine, the two all-star games, pro day, all these pre-draft visits," said The Sports Network 2009 First Team All-American, who will be one of the first FCS players taken in this week's three-day draft, which begins Thursday night. "It's really not up to me anymore, it's up to the team that likes me. I know I'm going to get drafted, and whatever team drafts me is going to get a hard-working guy that's going to come in there and do whatever they ask, whatever position. I'll play on special teams. I've heard a lot of third, fourth round (projections), but I'm not really looking at that. I'm just anxious to see where I'm going."
The list of suitors might be bigger than seven because every team wants the best player available, and at some point during the draft the 22-year-old's speed, strength and hybrid skills will make a lot of sense for a lot of teams. He finished his Missouri State career with a school-record 150 receptions, and his 1,906 receiving yards rank third for the Missouri Valley Football Conference program. When running routes, he's equally adept at getting separation from linebackers and safeties or making receptions in traffic, factors that led to his catching 59 passes as a senior under head coach Terry Allen - second-highest among tight ends in FCS.
Harbor played in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game, showing during practices at the latter event that he can handle playing fullback. At the NFL Combine, he ranked first among tight ends in the bench press (30 reps of 225 pounds), second in the vertical jump (40 inches), tied for second in the broad jump (10 feet) and tied for fourth in the 40-yard dash (4.69 seconds). He later lowered his time to 4.58 during a pro day at Missouri State.
That Harbor has such excellent measurables isn't all that should impress scouts; his blue-collar style is a big factor, too. "The biggest thing for me (last season) was becoming a more physical blocker, showing teams that I was willing to and have the ability to do that," he said. "Teams knew I could catch. My junior season, the scouts would come in and say, 'You know you're a gifted athlete, you can catch the ball, but you're a seventh round/free agent guy because you don't block.' So I took that to heart coming into last season. In the offseason, I really worked hard to become a more physical blocker. I did that, and that's why I've gone up so much in the evaluations."
TOP FCS PLAYERS WITH DRAFT ASPIRATIONS
It's likely that at least 15 players from FCS programs will be selected in the seven-round draft. In addition to Harbor, the following players are among the top 10 coveted by NFL teams:
Vladimir Ducasse, Massachusetts, T, 6-5, 332
The mountainous native of Haiti should be the first FCS player who will come off the board, likely in the second round. Scouts like The Sports Network First Team All-American's consistency and desire to play hard every day. His agility and size dominated on the FCS level, and those skills will translate well against NFL players.
Andre Roberts, The Citadel, WR, 5-11, 195
An impressive performance at the NFL Combine makes Roberts a likely candidate for the third or fourth round. He's a former track sprinter with good footwork and elusive moves, so his NFL team will give him a dual role as a return man. During his career at The Citadel, he turned nearly 61 percent of his 285 receptions into first downs.
Austen Lane, Murray State, DE, 6-6, 276
There might be a divided opinion on what round Lane should land in, but he is probably a third- or fourth-round selection. His upside is intriguing because he should be able to add bulk in the weight room while retaining his speed on the edge. As a senior, his sack- per-game average tied for third-best in the FCS.
John Skelton, Fordham, QB, 6-6, 245
With an arm as big as his size, Skelton is expected to be the first selection among FCS quarterbacks, likely in the fourth or fifth round. He's willing to stand tall in the pocket or pass on the run. He was just shy of 10,000 yards passing (9,923) during his four-year career.
Armanti Edwards, Appalachian State, QB/WR, 5-11, 185
The fuel in App State's offense the last four years is still a player of focus, even if he makes the switch to wide receiver. His big pro day boosts that likelihood, and it's easy to see him excel in an NFL Wildcat attack. Despite his lack of size, he has plenty of arm strength and an electrifying style (he's the only player in Division I history to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 4,000 yards). Expect The Sports Network All-American to go in the fifth or sixth round.
Arthur Moats, James Madison, OLB, 6-0, 246
The reigning Buck Buchanan Award winner is transitioning from defensive end because of his lack of height for the D-line. He made the move without any problems at the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game. He's able to get leverage on most ball carriers and blockers. His 23.5 tackles for a loss - in only 11 games - led the FCS last fall.
Quentin Scott, Northern Iowa, FS, 6-4, 225
He just may have the best size of any free safety prospect east of Southern California's Taylor Mays. The hard- hitting Scott goes from sideline to sideline with abandon. Considering he didn't blossom until his senior season last fall, he needs to improve his all- around game. He's viewed as a sixth-round possibility.
Adrian Tracy, William & Mary, OLB, 6-3, 248
A former walk-on, Tracy never missed a start in his four seasons (47 games). He has a nose for the ball, as evidenced by his 62.5 tackles for loss throughout his career. His style would be particularly effective on special teams, and he's considered a sixth- or seventh-round selection.
Danny Batten, South Dakota State, DE, 6-3, 246
The Sports Network All- American is particularly strong at stopping the run and keeps his motor running throughout an entire game. He'll need to add weight to measure up better against the NFL's many big tackles. He's probably a seventh-round pick, but could move up into the sixth round.
CONFERENCE PROSPECTS IN NFL DRAFT
Not every FCS conference will have a player taken in the draft, but all should be represented in camps with undrafted free agents. Just making an NFL practice squad is an accomplishment for many players.
Following is a conference-by-conference look at possible candidates who were not mentioned previously as Top 10 FCS prospects. A small handful will be drafted in the later rounds:
Big Sky: Levi Horn, Montana, T; Matt Nichols, Eastern Washington, QB; Marc Mariani, Montana, WR
Big South: Conte Cuttino, Stony Brook, RB; Tommy Beecher, Liberty, QB; Phillip Oboh, Coastal Carolina, OLB
CAA Football: Dorian Brooks, James Madison, G; Jeromy Miles, Massachusetts, SS; Sean Lissemore, William & Mary, DT
Great West: Bakari Grant, UC Davis, WR; Chris Carter, UC Davis, WR
Ivy League: David Howard, Brown, DT; James Williams, Harvard, G
MEAC: Chris Bell, Norfolk State, WR; Terrell Whitehead, Norfolk State, FS
Missouri Valley Football Conference: Deji Karim, Southern Illinois, RB; James Ruffin, Northern Iowa, DE
Northeast Conference: Dave Sinisi, Monmouth, RB; James Mallory, Central Connecticut State, RB
Ohio Valley Conference: Derek Hardman, Murray State, OT; Chris Campbell, Eastern Illinois, T; Ryan Perrilloux, Jacksonville State, QB
Patriot League: Pat Simonds, Colgate, WR; Dominic Randolph, Holy Cross, QB
Pioneer League: Wes McDermott, Morehead State, LB
Southern Conference: Terrell Hudgins, Elon, WR; Cortez Gilbert, Appalachian State, CB
Southland: Timothy Knicky, Stephen F. Austin, OLB; Antonio Robinson, Nicholls State, WR; Larry Hart, Central Arkansas, OLB
SWAC: Juamorris Stewart, Southern, WR; Anthony Back, Prairie View A&M, SS.