The 2022 FCS season draws ever closer and this year, as per usual, looks to feature some very dynamic offensive players. The NFL draft experts have already taken notice of a few and several others look to make a name for themselves this fall. These 20, however, are our picks as the best to suit up in the subdivision this year. (Be sure to check out our Top 20 defensive players in the FCS rankings here).
20. Mark Evans II, OT - Arkansas Pine-Bluff
One of the best offensive lineman in the country is undoubtedly Mark Evans II out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff. He’s currently playing at the tackle position but he has the versatility to shift over to center if need be. The Golden Lions saw two players eclipse the 500-yard rushing mark last season and Evans on the line was a big reason why. Standing at 6’4’’ and weighing in at 295 lbs, Evans is a force to be reckoned with in the trenches. If he stays healthy in 2022, he will most likely be a key player for UA Pine-Bluff yet again.
19. McClendon Curtis, OG - Chattanooga
McClendon Curtis is one of the most durable and experienced offensive lineman in the country, having started 27 games for the Mocs. He’s played in 38 contests over five seasons and has helped paved the way for a Chattanooga rushing attack that averaged over 200 yards per game in 2021. The hefty 328-lbs Curtis is an immovable force up front and came away with the SoCon’s First-Team All-Conference honors a year ago. The Mocs tied a program record last season with just nine sacks allowed and you can bet Curtis was a major player in that feat.
18. Garret Greenfield, OT - South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits have one of the flashiest offenses in the game right now but its sometimes easy to forget where all those fireworks start. Garret Greenfield anchors an SDSU offensive line that allows for such prolific results. Greenfield has experience at both right and left tackle (although his expertise lies on the right side), starting 14 games last year. In total he’s played in 35 contests. The 6’6’’, 295-lbs tackle earned the Missouri Valley’s Offensive Lineman of the Week accolades three times last year and helped SDSU to several impressive wins. That experience will serve the Jacks extremely well as Greenfield enters his final season.
17. Darius Hale, RB - Central Arkansas
UCA’s Darius Hale is a do-it-all running back. He ran for over 1,000 yards on 199 carries in 2021 but also caught 15 passes for over 100 yards. He rushed for 17 touchdowns last season and recorded two 100-plus yard games including a monster 253-yard performance against Lamar in Week 8. Hale averages just over five yards per carry and finished as last season’s WAC/ASUN Challenge’s leading rusher. Now entering his second season with the Bears, he is expected to carry the brunt of the workload on the ground again and, if he stays healthy, could top all of last year’s marks.
16. Cody Mauch, OG - North Dakota State
Cody Mauch looks to continue a tradition of NDSU big boys making the jump to the NFL. A former tight end turned offensive lineman, Mauch has fantastic speed and slide around in the trenches. He fits the mold perfectly of what NDSU likes on their line; a big mauler that can easily put defenders in their place. Mauch was part of the offensive line that wore down Montana State in last year’s FCS championship and helped bring another title home for the Bison. NDSU only allowed 17 sacks all last season and Mauch was part of the line that kept the QBs so upright. This year he’ll look to be the leader up front for what shapes up to be one of the country’s best units again.
15. Ryan Miller, TE - Furman
Furman’s Ryan Miller has steadily been improving throughout his career and now is looking to peak in 2022. Last season Miller hit career bests in receptions (43), yards (749) and touchdowns (seven). He was an All-American in each of the last two seasons for the Paladins and was a member of the SoCon’s First-Team All-Conference squad in 2021. Miller averaged 17.4 yards per catch last fall, second best among tight ends at the FCS level. What’s perhaps most impressive, however, is his ability to find the end zone on any given play. He has touchdown receptions of 58, 73 and 87 yards on his resume. Look for Miller to again be one of the country’s best tight ends this season.
14. McCallan Castles, TE - UC Davis
McCallan Castles has been a stud for the Aggies since he transferred in from Cal two years ago. In his two years with UC Davis he’s caught 39 passes for 581 yards and seven touchdowns, becoming a mainstay on the offense. He averaged over 14 yards per reception in 2021 and earned All-Big Sky Second-Team honors. Castles is one of the few FCS tight ends already receiving some draft clout. For his 6’6”, 233-lbs size, he has tremendous athleticism and is one of the more fluid movers at the position. Castles is a solid blocker in the ground game as well. If he can put together another productive season then that draft buzz will pick up greatly.
13. Noah Gindorff, TE - North Dakota State
Despite receiving an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl last year, Noah Gindorff opted to return to the NDSU for another run this year after suffering an injury in the playoffs last winter and that’s excellent news for the Bison. Gindorff has 38 career receptions for 448 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6’6”, 266-lbs tight end looks to play a vital role in North Dakota State’s bruising offensive scheme and build on a season in which he saw career bests in receptions (17) and receiving yards (193).
12. Nic Baker, QB - Southern Illinois
Nic Baker was listed as sophomore in 2021 (thanks in part to the Covid season) but he showed the resolve of an upperclassman, starting in all 13 of SIU’s games and leading the team to an 8-5 record and a trip to the playoffs. Baker set a program record for passing yards in a single season with 3,231 and had the second most touchdown throws for the Salukis in a season with 27. He completed 265 of his 420 passes last fall and currently holds a career completion percentage of 64%. Of the returning QBs this season, Baker is behind only Missouri State’s Jason Shelley in total passing yards from a year ago. An All-MVC Honorable Mention last time out, he is primed for an even better 2022.
11. Tucker Kraft, TE - South Dakota State
The Jacks will boast one of the most high powered offenses this season and their big, bruising tight end is one of the main pieces of it. Tucker Kraft is a wrecking ball catching passes over the middle and had a breakout campaign last year, hauling in 65 passes for 780 yards and six touchdowns. Kraft’s size and strength make him one of the best tight ends in the country and his durability is second to none, playing in all 15 of the Jacks games last year. He received a slew of national and conference honors for his efforts in 2021 and, if last season was any indication, Kraft will likely be the FCS’ best tight end again this time around.
10. Isaiah Davis, RB - South Dakota State
Pierre Strong Jr. stole much of the spotlight for the Jackrabbits in 2021 but his teammate Isaiah Davis made just as much of an impact. Davis rumbled for 701 yards and eight touchdowns, numbers that were actually down from his freshman season last spring as he was hampered by injuries. Davis, though, was instrumental in the playoffs for South Dakota State, notching a career mark of 217 rush yards and a score in the Jacks’ opening round win over UC Davis. Two weeks later he toted the ball 25 times against Villanova and nearly broke 200 yards again. With last year’s national leading rusher Strong now gone, it will be Davis’ show on the ground and the junior could be in for his best season thus far.
9. Tim DeMorat, QB - Fordham
Fordham’s Tim DeMorat was one of the more unsung quarterbacks in 2021 and some forget that he was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award. DeMorat’s 31 passing touchdowns ranked seventh nationally and his 3,214 yards came in 12th. A two-time recipient of the Pioneer League’s Offensive Player of the Year, he had three games last fall in which he threw for at least four scores. DeMorat tied a Fordham school record when he tossed six touchdowns in the Rams’ victory over Bucknell. He was careful with the ball, throwing only nine interceptions in his 400 pass attempts last year (approximately one pick per every 45 passes). He’s now coming into his final season with the hopes of another career year.
8. Jaxon Janke, WR - South Dakota State
The Janke brothers are a sight to behold for South Dakota State’s offense but Jaxon is the main catalyst on the outside. He led the Jacks in receiving last year with 1,176 yards, averaging over 16 yards per catch. Janke played in and made at least one reception in all 15 of the team’s games, hauling in five touchdowns. He aided greatly in SDSU’s run to the national semifinals. Janke will be a major contributor on the Jacks offense again this year and is a mere nine yards away from eclipsing the 2,000 yard career receiving mark.
7. Hunter Luepke, FB - North Dakota State
Perhaps no player is more valuable to their team than NDSU’s bullying fullback Hunter Luepke. Luepke was monumental in the Bison’s championship run last year, scoring three touchdowns in the dominating title game win and earning the championship’s Most Outstanding Player. He’s a threat out of the backfield whether it be in the running game or the passing game. Luepke has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns on his career but has also caught 24 passes for 5 scores through the air. When he gets a head of steam, he’s as tough as they come to bring down. Luepke’s senior run with North Dakota State shapes up to be his most successful yet.
6. Shedeur Sanders, QB - Jackson State
One of the most electrifying signal callers in the FCS last season was freshman phenom Shedeur Sanders. Being the son of Jackson State head coach and former NFL great Deion Sanders comes with its fair share of pressure and Shedeur certainly handled said pressure well during his first collegiate season. He guided the Tigers to their first SWAC title since 2007 and their first ever Celebration Bowl appearance behind 3,231 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. Sanders had nine games in which he threw for multiple scores and three in which he threw for over 300 yards. All of that earned him the coveted Jerry Rice Award, given annually to the FCS’ best freshman player. Sanders was just getting warmed up last season and is set to make a bigger splash in 2022.
5. Malik Grant, RB - Sacred Heart
Many probably didn’t even know who Malik Grant was before last season because he started his 2021 campaign in the Pioneers’ second string RB spot. One season later, though, Grant is one of the best returning running backs in the nation. He ran for 1,347 yards and nine touchdowns last year including a monster 228-yard game against Merrimack. Sacred Heart likes to use Grant often. He toted the ball 240 times last year (20 per contest) and there’s no reason to expect anything different this year. He’s no stranger to catching the ball either. Grant hauled in 10 passes for 130 yards and two scores in 2021 as well. He helped guide the Pioneers to the playoffs last season and is looking for an even deeper run this time around.
4. Isaiah Ifanse, RB - Montana State
Isaiah Ifanse has been a bulldozer for the Bobcats since arriving in 2018. Montana State’s senior running back has practically rewritten the program’s record books with his physical, up-the-gut style. Ifanse’s 3,461 career rushing yards are second most in school history and his 1,623 rushing yards last year set a single-season record for the Bobcats. He has the most yards of any returning running back and finished second in the country last year in that category. Ifanse did all that while missing some games to injury as well. If he stays healthy this year, he shapes up to be the best FCS running back in the nation.
3. Xavier Gipson, WR - Stephen F. Austin
Some think SFA’s Xavier Gipson could be the first receiver since Cooper Kupp to take home the Walter Payton Award and it’s not a stretch to say when you look at his numbers. Gipson’s 3,142 career receiving yards are the most of any returning FCS player this season as are his 30 receiving touchdowns. He averages nearly 18 yards per catch and led the entire WAC/ASUN last fall with 125.2 yards per game. Gipson has tremendous speed and a knack for getting open which gets him a lot of looks on the outside. Through and through, he’s the most dangerous receiver in the country right now.
2. Jason Shelley, QB - Missouri State
Missouri State is a sneaky pick to make a deep run in 2022 and their star QB is why. Jason Shelley guided the Bears to the playoffs last year behind 3,789 yards of total offense, the most of any returning quarterback in the subdivision. He threw for 3,342 yards (ninth in the country) and 22 touchdowns while earning the Missouri Valley’s Player of the Year award. MSU may have suffered an early postseason exit in 2021, but that might be the very thing that propels Shelley to his best season yet this time out.
1. Xavier Shepherd, QB - Kennesaw State
Xavier Shepherd is the country’s most dynamic signal caller and he’s a perfect fit for what Kennesaw State wants to do: run the ball and run it a lot. Shepherd commands one of the nation’s few surviving true triple option attacks and he does so to near perfection. Last fall, he ran for over 800 yards and led the FCS in total rushing touchdowns (23) finishing ahead of dominating running backs like Pierre Strong and Quay Holmes in that category. Shepherd can throw the ball as well, passing for 1,341 yards and 15 more touchdowns. That adds up to 38 total scores, the most of any returning player this year. Shepherd is perhaps the FCS’ most well-rounded offensive player.