(Stats Perform) – The “small school” label begins to fade once former FCS players start to contribute to their NFL teams.
That’s the next goal for the 24 players who were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, starting with two picks in the first round – Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa) and Cole Strange (Chattanooga) – Thursday night in Las Vegas.
Following is an FCS pick-by-pick summary over the three-day draft, which ended Saturday. The 24 selections are the most since the same number was drafted in 2008 and tied for the sixth-most since the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1994.
New Orleans Saints (Round 1, No. 19 overall pick): Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa, OT, 6-7, 325 – UNI’s first-ever first-round draft pick plays with an ultra-physical style. He joined Jackson State’s Lester Holmes (Philadelphia Eagles in 1993) as the highest-drafted offensive linemen of the FCS era (since 1978 season).
New England Patriots (1, 29): Cole Strange, OG/C, Chattanooga, 6-5, 307 – The pick was a surprise to many people, but the Southern Conference’s two-time offensive lineman of the year boasts a strong football IQ and good movement off the snap. He surpassed Terrell Owens (1996, San Francisco 49ers, 3, 89) as the Mocs’ highest modern-era draft pick.
Green Bay Packers (2, 34): Christian Watson, North Dakota State, WR, 6-4, 208 – A member of four NDSU national championship teams (one as a redshirt), the long, rangy Watson averaged 49 yards on 14 touchdown receptions (14), 56.5 yards on two TD carries and 97 yards on two kickoff return TDs. His father Tim was drafted by the Packers in 1993 (sixth round).
Atlanta Falcons (2, 58): Troy Andersen, Montana State, OLB, 6-3 1/2, 243 – The 2021 Big Sky defensive player of the year was in on 150 tackles, including an FCS-high 85 solos, for the national runner-up.
New England Patriots (4, 127): Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State, RB, 5-11, 207 – Using 4.37-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Strong averaged nearly 7.2 yards on 631 career carries, adding 62 receptions to a versatile resume.
Cincinnati Bengals (4, 136): Cordell Volson, North Dakota State, OG/OT, 6-6, 315 – The durable, versatile Volson appeared in an NDSU-record 63 career games, including 41 consecutive starts over his final three seasons.
New England Patriots (4, 137): Bailey Zappe, Houston Baptist/Western Kentucky, QB, 6-0 1/2, 215 – After impressive development at Houston Baptist, Zappe set FBS single-season records for passing yards (5,967) and TD passes (62) at Western Kentucky. He is the first former HBU player to be selected in the draft.
Los Angeles Rams (4, 142): Decobie Durant, South Carolina State, CB, 5-10, 180 – The 2021 MEAC defensive player of the year, who’s projected for a nickel role, averaged 1.19 passes defended (12 picks, 32 pass breakups) in 37 career games.
Dallas Cowboys (5, 155): Matt Waletzko, OT, North Dakota, 6-8, 312 – UND’s first draftee since 2006 was one of the tallest players in the draft class. He blocks with a good base and has surprising agility.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5, 157): Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston, CB, 6-2, 199 – A superb NFL Combine built on McCollum’s resume, which included 54 passes defended (13 interceptions, 41 breakups) and a national title with the Bearkats.
Indianapolis Colts (5, 159): Eric Johnson, Missouri State, DT, 6-4, 300 – Missouri State’s first draft pick in 11 years has a good first step and a strong set of pass rushing moves.
Denver Broncos (5, 162): Montrell Washington, Samford, WR, 5-9, 181 – Speedy wideout and return specialist led the FCS in all-purpose yards (176.2) last season, including games of 322 yards against Florida and 319 against Southern Conference champ ETSU.
Dallas Cowboys (5, 167): DaRon Bland, Sacramento State/Fresno State, CB, 6-0, 203 – A cover corner with impressive physical traits and consistent play.
Chicago Bears (5, 168): Braxton Jones, Southern Utah, OT, 6-5, 310 – Two-time first-team All-Big Sky selection offers upside with an 84 1/4-inch wingspan that keeps defenders in front of him.
Dallas Cowboys (5, 178): John Ridgeway, Illinois State/Arkansas, DT, 6-5, 327 – Ridgeway was the starting nose tackle for a 2019 Illinois State squad that led the FCS in total sacks and ranked fourth in scoring defense.
Buffalo Bills (6, 185): Christian Benford, Villanova, CB, 6-0 1/2, 196 – Benford’s career average of 1.31 passes defended per game was the highest among FCS players in the draft class.
San Francisco 49ers (6, 187): Nick Zakelj, Fordham, OT, 6-6, 316 – The Fordham big man made 44 starts and played in 45 games while being named All-Patriot League four times (three first team, one second team).
Indianapolis Colts (6, 192): Andrew Ogletree, TE, 6-5 1/2, 256 – Ogletree’s greatest success was at Division II Findlay, but he built on a 28-catch senior season at Youngstown State by earning offensive MVP honors at the 2022 Hula Bowl.
Detroit Lions (6, 217): James Houston IV, Jackson State, OLB, 6-1, 241 – In his lone FCS season, Houston finished second nationally in sacks (16.5, 1.27 per game), sack yardage (117) and tackles for loss (24.5).
Chicago Bears (7, 226): J’Atyre Carter, Southern, OG, 6-3, 311 – Southern’s first draft selection since 2004 boasts a developing frame and excellent upper-body strength.
Los Angeles Rams (7, 235): Daniel Hardy, Montana State, OLB, 6-2, 239 – A move to defensive end from SAM linebacker agreed with Hardy in Montana State’s FCS runner-up season as he racked up 24.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks.
Indianapolis Colts (7, 239): Rodney Thomas II, Yale, SS, 6-1 1/2, 195 – A 41-inch vertical underscores Thomas’ athleticism. After making a switch from linebacker last season, he was third in the Ivy League with 11 pass breakups.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7, 241): Chris Oladokun, South Dakota State, QB, 6-1, 207 – After two seasons at both South Florida and Samford, Oladokun saved his best for last at SDSU, passing for 3,164 yards and 25 TDs in a national semifinal season.
Green Bay Packers (7, 258): Samori Toure, Montana/Nebraska, WR, 6-0 1/2, 191 – Toure, who set the FCS single-game playoff record for receiving yards (303), tied Nebraska’s season record of five 100-yard receiving games.