NFL Draft News & Analysis

2022 NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 FCS prospects

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More than twice the amount of non-FBS prospects could be drafted in 2022 than there were in 2021 — a handful of which could come off the board within the first couple of days of the 2022 NFL Draft

With that in mind, let's rank those prospects. Below are my top 10 non-FBS prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. Please note that this is different from the main PFF big board led by lead draft analyst Mike Renner

1. WR CHRISTIAN WATSON, NORTH DAKOTA STATE BISON

Watson has been one of the pre-draft process' biggest winners thanks to impressive performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine. In fact, one Power Five head coach told PFF that the 6-foot-4, 208-pounder was the best wideout in attendance at the Senior Bowl, and he followed that up with a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, 1.46-second 10-yard split, 39-inch vertical and 11-foot-4 broad jump at the scouting combine. For a man his size, those times and measurements are almost hard to believe.

The North Dakota State product was a part of a run-heavy offense, but he still managed an 89.5 receiving grade and an astounding 4.33 yards per route run in 2021. He’s still a relatively raw player, but has shown improvement in all areas, including with his ball skills, route running and ability to get off press.

With Watson’s physical gifts, NFL teams have to be excited about his potential. He has the potential to develop into a true “X” receiver but can be used in creative ways from the get-go — much like the San Francisco 49ers do with Deebo Samuel. Watson is that dynamic.

2. T TREVOR PENNING, NORTHERN IOWA PANTHERS

Among the biggest boom-or-bust prospects in this class is none other than Penning, who is widely known as one of the nastiest prospects in the class. For perspective on the kind of mentality he has on the field, the Northern Iowa product watches the horror movie “Saw” before games. And against lesser competition, his vicious mindset was apparent due to a whopping 33 big-time blocks in 2021. At the same time though, he often gets carried away, as he committed 16 penalties in that same season. 

Penning has the physical traits that captivates NFL teams. The 6-foot-7, 325-pound tackle has good length (34.25-inch arms) and lit up the combine, featuring a 4.89-second 40-yard dash, 1.7-second 10-yard split, 111-inch broad jump, 7.25-second three-cone and 4.62-second pro agility. He is, however, going to be a project at the next level. Penning’s pass protection needs to be completely reworked, and he has a maddening issue of playing way too high. He’s been rumored to be a top-15 pick, but I think that is a bit rich.

3. LB TROY ANDERSEN, MONTANA STATE BOBCATS

Andersen is the best non-FBS defensive prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft class and should come off the board in Round 2. He earned an 86.3 PFF grade for Montana State in 2021 and led the FCS in defensive stops (67). What makes that even more impressive is that it was his first full season at the position after playing running back and quarterback. 

Andersen then proceeded to earn the highest PFF grade among off-ball linebackers during Senior Bowl practices and recorded a blazing 4.42-second 40-yard dash and an eye-popping 10-foot-8 broad jump at the NFL scouting combine. There may be a learning curve considering he is going from FCS to NFL and just moved to the position not long ago, but long term, Andersen is a very promising prospect.

4. iOL CORDELL VOLSON, NORTH DAKOTA STATE BISON

Volson has been one of the top tackles in the FCS over the last few years, but he is going to be a Day 3 selection who will end up at guard in the NFL. His subpar athleticism will kick him inside, and then there will be concerns about the 6-foot-6 lineman's pad level swelling too high. He also has a tendency to attack with wide hands. Still, there’s plenty to like regarding Volson’s potential.

The former North Dakota State Bison is strong and makes sure his opponent feels it. He is a violent blocker who has top-notch grip strength and carried his strong collegiate production into the Shrine Bowl. Volson lost just two of his first 49 pass-blocking reps en route to a position-leading 99.9 pass-blocking grade in practice.

5. T MATT WALETZKO, NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS

Waletzko’s physical profile is off the charts. The near 6-foot-8 tackle weighs in at 312 pounds with massive 35-inch arms. He posted top marks in athletic tests, including a 5.03-second 40-yard dash, 1.73-second 10-yard split, 30-inch vertical and 113-inch broad jump. He also impressed at the Senior Bowl and held his own against top competition, including Minnesota’s Boye Mafe and Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie, as Waletzko’s grade during practices was the third-best among tackles in attendance. Unlike some on this list, he doesn’t look too out of place from a technique perspective, but he does have room to grow and could benefit from adding more weight to his frame.

6. IOL COLE STRANGE, CHATTANOOGA MOCS

Strange is a versatile and elite athlete who excels in space. The 6-foot-5, 307-pound lineman posted a mark above the 89th percentile at the position historically at the combine in the 40-yard dash (5.03 second), broad jump (120-inches), three-cone drill (7.44 seconds) and pro agility (4.5 seconds). Before blowing up the event in Indianapolis, Strange impressed many across the league by spending almost all of the Senior Bowl at center despite not playing a single down at the position for Chattanooga. All that said, I’m not in the camp that he can be an immediate impact, Day 1 starter like some due to his subpar anchor and footwork.

7. CB ZYON MCCOLLUM, SAM HOUSTON STATE BEARKATS

Some team is going to fall in love with McCollum’s athletic profile and could even take a chance on him on Day 2. While I think he’s more in the Day 3 territory, he has incredibly impressive traits. The Sam Houston State product posted a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical, 132-inch broad jump, 6.48-second three-cone and 3.94-second pro agility — all of which are 89th percentile or better among cornerback prospects historically. On the downside, he did leave a lot to be desired with his performance against other NFL talent at the Senior Bowl. McCollum was one of the three lowest-graded cornerbacks and didn’t make a play on the ball all week. At the same time, NFL teams are OK with it because he’s a developmental prospect.

8. RB PIERRE STRONG JR., SOUTH DAKOTA STATE JACKRABBITS

Strong is an explosive play waiting to happen, as he rattled off 56 runs of 20 or more yards in his four years in his four years at South Dakota State. For reference, that’s nine more than any other player at any level of football in that span. The competition level obviously plays into that, but it’s a testament to his speed and explosiveness. His receiving and blocking ability isn’t up to snuff, though, and he will need to be developed early on in his NFL career. A zone-heavy rushing offense would be best for Strong to maximize his skillset. 

9. T BRAXTON JONES, SOUTHERN UTAH THUNDERBIRDS

Jones improved over leaps and bounds at Southern Utah. He earned a 93.9 PFF grade in his fifth and final season last year, which is over 20 points higher than his previous career-best. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound tackle has long limbs (35 3/8 inches) and is a good athlete. Jones was at his best in the run game, earning a 93.6 grade at Southern Utah and a 83.7 mark at the Senior Bowl —the latter was the highest of anyone in attendance. He keeps his feet churning and has good strength throughout his frame. Like most small-school prospects, though, his pass sets are nowhere near where they need to be. Almost everything needs work, but he consistently attacks with wide hands and goes for the hug, which needs to be cleaned up. This played a big part in him allowing more pressures than any other tackle at the Senior Bowl.

10. IOL/FB JASON POE, MERCER BEARS

The Georgia pro day was full of uber-athletic Bulldogs, but a 6-foot-1, 300-pound guard from Mercer was also in attendance and caught the attention of some scouts after his elite showing: 

Poe can flat-out move for his size, which is why a team asked him to workout at fullback during his pro day. He can be used in such a role at the goaline at the next level. With the help of his athleticism, pulling is his specialty. While he laid down some impressive big-time blocks, he didn't impose his will enough as he should have given the competition level. Poe’s awareness is also a work in progress, and he needs to do a much better job playing in control and staying low. His lack of experience is partially responsible, but at the end of the day, whichever team drafts Poe is taking a swing on his rare tools. A lot of his game needs to be reworked, but that’s to be expected on Day 3 of the NFL draft. The only likely scenario where he sees the field right away is in a limited role at fullback. He is small, and it may take some time and good coaching for it to pay off, but Poe’s athleticism is worth investing in.

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