Top FCS draft candidates

(STATS) - The third and final day of the NFL Draft is when many football fans get to know prospects coming from the FCS level.

This year could be different, with more teams likely to invest earlier picks on "small school" players (which is a label that only serves to motivate the FCS talent).

An average of 18 FCS players has been selected in the last five drafts, but there have been no first-rounders and only 14 combined in the second and third rounds.

With more earlier possibilities this year, NFL fans will want to take a closer look before April 30. In fact, April 28 and 29 - the first two rounds - could turn busy for players coming from the FCS.


Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State, 6-5, 237

The starter on North Dakota State's two most recent FCS national championship teams (out of a record five straight) has slammed the small-school label, projected to go in the top six picks, perhaps to the Cleveland Browns at No. 2. Wentz has prototypical size for the NFL and looks at ease running an offense. His mechanics and throwing motion are clean, and he is very good in delivering passes with both velocity and touch, also showing ability to make plays with his feet. While interceptions weren't a problem for him with the FCS kingpins, Wentz has a propensity to stare down his desired target and not go through progressions quickly enough. He missed eight games as a senior with a broken bone in his throwing wrist, but he looked healthy when he returned for the national championship game.


Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky, 6-2, 251

Spence has top 10 overall talent. The question is, will he be drafted that high? He failed two drug tests at Ohio State and was banned by the Big Ten, underwent treatment for an addiction to the drug Ecstasy and was charged with public intoxication at Eastern Kentucky - to which he transferred in 2015 - before playing a game with the Colonels. On the field, there's so much to like. He is considered by some to be the best pass rusher in the draft, although because of his lack of height, he might transition to outside linebacker after playing end in college. He's balanced and flexible, and his first step to the edge is elite. In his one season at Eastern Kentucky, he racked up 22 1/2 tackles for loss and 13 1/2 sacks while earning co-defensive player of the year honors in the Ohio Valley Conference and making the FCS All-America first team.



Joe Haeg, OT, North Dakota State, 6-6, 310

Haeg was a walk-on at the beginning of his NDSU career but started 60 of 61 career games, moving from right to left tackle following Billy Turner's departure to the NFL in 2014. The two-time FCS first-team All-American is efficient and consistent, usually reacting well to a defense. He excels in the power run game with leg drive and upfield control, although with a long, lean body, he needs to be more physical when dealing with bull rushers in pass protection. As a senior, he anchored a line that allowed the fewest sacks and tackles for loss per game in the Missouri Valley Football Conference despite the Bison leading the FCS in time of possession. A member of each of their five straight FCS championship squads, Haeg might transition to guard on an NFL offensive line.


Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State, 6-1, 309

An excellent showing during Shrine Game week solidified may scouts' opinions about Hargrave following a career in which he won back-to-back Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference defensive player of the year awards. He totaled 29 1/2 sacks over his final two seasons, including an FCS single-game record six against Bethune-Cookman in 2014. With a thick lower body, he is athletic and flexible for his size. He is quick off the snap and shoots through gaps in an offensive line with bursts of quickness. His disruption in the backfield often sets up teammates for tackles. While he has short arms for the position - 32 inches - Hargrave engages well with blockers.


DeAndre Houston-Carson, FS, William & Mary, 6-1, 201

After being a starting cornerback in his first three seasons, Houston-Carson made a successful conversion to free safety for his senior season and it paid off heading into the draft, as he appears best suited to that position. After the switch, the versatile defender with good length became a first-team All-American and CAA Football's co-defensive player of the year, making plays all over the field with explosiveness and an instinctive style. He gets to ball carriers - 293 career tackles, including a team-high 109 as a senior - and his good ball skills are aided by his background as a cornerback (his 10 career interceptions included a school-record 94-yard return as a senior). Houston-Carson should contribute on special teams at the next level, having blocked nine kicks in his college career.


Miles Killebrew, SS, Southern Utah, 6-2, 217

Expected to be the third FCS selection after Wentz and Spence, Killebrew looks every bit the part of an NFL strong safety. In fact, his large frame suggests he could be converted to a hybrid linebacker's role. A four-year starter, Killebrew is one of the more physical tacklers at his position in the draft class. He moves well for his size and flashed good closing speed during Senior Bowl practices. He called defensive signals in the secondary for the 2015 Big Sky championship squad and led by example with a whopping 132 tackles plus seven pass breakups. While Killebrew flourishes in run support, he has to improve in his reaction time at the next level. But his across-the-board skills are mostly solid.


Harlan Miller, CB, Southeastern Louisiana, 6-0, 182

Opinions likely have varied on Miller during the buildup to the draft. At the Senior Bowl, he was selected as the top defensive back during practices and then posted a game-high seven solo tackles. Three weeks later at the combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in a subpar 4.65 seconds, which raises the question about his talents translating into a starter's role at the next level. He plays with tenacity and excellent ball awareness. An All-Southland Conference first-team selection in each of his final three seasons at Southeastern, Miller totaled 11 interceptions and 22 pass breakups. He has a lanky frame and needs to put on weight. But he is excellent in press coverage with the ability to alter a wide receiver's route at the line of scrimmage, and turn and stick with him in coverage.