By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There are FCS prospects not headed to the NFL Combine who figure to be drafted in April.
Last year, eight players were left on the sideline and still got the call on draft day.
But the 22 FCS players who have their bags packed for Indianapolis next week have a unique opportunity to impress all 32 NFL teams, and they don't want to waste it. They can rest easy that the pro personnel, not Gisele Bundchen, will be critiquing them.
FCS prospects, of course, face the stigma of coming from a small school. It's a label that will follow them even if they go on to enjoy significant success professionally.
"Going and wowing will help your stock," said Josh Buchanan, who operates JB Scouting Inc., which is devoted to smaller-school player evaluation, "but if you go and you perform much worse than you expect, it will hurt you drastically."
At the Combine, where players will participate in different positional groups over four-day spans from Feb. 22-28, the evaluation includes medical exams, psychological testing and interviews with teams, and workouts (like timing, stations and skill drills). While some of the BCS talent will opt out of the workouts to perform them at pro days in the coming months, the FCS players generally are more willing to participate in the drills when healthy.
The FCS contingent is particularly strong in the secondary. Some of the better prospects are among the seven cornerbacks, including Furman's Ryan Steed and Coastal Carolina's Josh Norman. And then there are another four who are safeties, although Montana's Trumaine Johnson, at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, might move to the position from cornerback.
"It just so happened that it lined up that you had so many in one year, but I think this is more a cycle thing," Buchanan said. "The corners, the DBs will be a little bit down next year because it's so strong this year. You're never going to see 11 (defensive backs) going to the Combine for five years in a row."
Appalachian State wide receiver Brian Quick is considered the FCS' top prospect, but he didn't wow scouts at the Senior Bowl and there are concerns over his ability to adjust to NFL offenses.
Buchanan believes Norman and Steed, third- or fourth-round prospects, helped themselves on the all-star game circuit more than Quick. He also felt Chattanooga quarterback B.J. Coleman, Tennessee Tech wide receiver Tim Benford and Quick's Appalachian State teammate, quarterback-turned-cornerback DeAndre Presley, improved their standing in the eyes of scouts.
"The sad thing is when you're coming from this level and you go to an all-star game, if you don't help yourself, you ultimately could slide a little bit," Buchanan said. "Not that your stock falls, but so many other guys helped themselves. You might still be a fifth-round grade, but you might end up in the early- to mid-sixth because several other guys by-passed you with fourth- round grades."
NFL teams select the list of Combine invites in early December, before the all-star games. All is not lost, however, for players like North Dakota State tight end Matt Veldman, Old Dominion defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron and William & Mary running back Jonathan Grimes, whom Buchanan had hoped would have graded high enough for the Combine. They still can impress teams at an upcoming pro day.
But for those players going under the microscope at Lucas Oil Stadium, it's a golden opportunity to create some buzz two months before the draft.
"The ones I've talked to say they're real focused on Indy," Buchanan said. "They're putting everything into Indy because they know if, 'I do well there, then I don't even need to do anything (exceptional) at my pro day.'"