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FCS Names to Know as the 2023 NFL Draft Nears

Several FCS players have high hopes of finding new NFL homes this week.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 McNeese State at Stephen F Austin Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL Draft is now just days away and, while several prospects from the big schools already know they will hear their name called in Kansas City this week, it is a time of great excitement (and uncertainty) for players from the smaller schools across the country. As it always does, however, the FCS has produced several standouts that are hoping to get the call. Last year the subdivision saw 20 of its players drafted into the league, the most it has had in seven years. This year it may have even more.

Here’s the guys to keep an eye on once the draft gets started.

Cody Mauch, OL - North Dakota State

Cody Mauch is slated to be the best overall FCS prospect in this year’s draft with many outlets pegging him as a first round selection. Mauch won two national championships at North Dakota State and participated in this year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl where he took reps from all five positions on the offensive line. If he is indeed taken in the opening round on Thursday night, Mauch would be the first NDSU player since Trey Lance in 2021 (San Francisco 49ers) to be a first round pick. This would mark the third year in a row a Bison offensive lineman was drafted as Cordell Volson was last year (Cincinnati Bengals) and Dillon Radunz was in 2021 (Tennessee Titans).

Tucker Kraft, TE - South Dakota State

Tucker Kraft is one of the best overall tight end prospects in this year’s draft class and is looking to be the highest drafted SDSU player since Dallas Goedert was taken in the second round of the 2018 draft (Philadelphia Eagles). Kraft, like his fellow tight end Goedert, is projected by several experts to be a second round pick this year. He helped the Jacks claim their first ever national championship last fall.

McClendon Curtis, OL - Chattanooga

Last year Chattanooga sent one of their offensive lineman to the NFL when New England selected Cole Strange in the first round and this year the school will likely do the same with McClendon Curtis. Curtis, who has been an anchor on the Mocs front since 2018, is picked by many to be third or fourth round draft choice. If taken, he will be the third Chattanooga offensive lineman to be taken in the draft dating back to 2017.

BJ Thompson, DE - Stephen F. Austin

Stephen F. Austin could be in for a busy draft weekend with a couple different players projected to be taken. The first of said players is likely going to be defensive end BJ Thompson. Despite not being invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Thompson is still slated to be a mid-round pick. He looks to be the first Lumberjack chosen since 2018 when fellow defensive end John Franklin-Meyers was taken by the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth round.

Andrei Iosivas, WR - Princeton

One of the highest rated FCS receivers in this year’s draft class is Princeton’s Andrei Iosivas. After competing at both the Senior Bowl and showcasing his skills at the Combine, Iosivas has steadily worked his way up draft boards and will likely be a fourth or fifth round selection. He helped the Tigers lay claim to a share of the Ivy League title in 2018 and 2021. and finished his collegiate career sixth all-time in school history for receiving yards (1,909). He also is currently third all time in program history for receiving touchdowns (16). Iosivas looks to be the first Princeton player to be drafted since 2016 when Cleveland selected tight end Seth DeValve.

Hunter Luepke, FB - North Dakota State

Perhaps the most versatile and intriguing player in this year’s draft is NDSU fullback Hunter Luepke. With a skillset that ranges from catches passes out of the backfield to being a bruising runner, Luepke’s pro potential is sky high and he’s been one of college football’s more interesting products over the last few years. He helped the Bison win two national titles during his time in college. Luepke would be the first FCS fullback taken in the draft since 2014 when Baltimore selected Harvard’s Kyle Juszczyk.

Marte Mapu, LB - Sacramento State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Marte Mapu has been a game-wrecker for the Sacramento State defense since 2017 and now he looks to be a major milestone for the school by becoming the first Hornet to be drafted since Marko Cavka in 2005 (New York Jets). Mapu was the 2022 Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year and helped lead his team to the FCS playoffs three times in during his tenure; coincidentally the only three playoff trips Sac State has ever made. Mapu competed in the Senior Bowl and is projected to be a fifth or sixth round selection.

Colby Sorsdal, OL - William & Mary

William & Mary had one of the better rushing offenses in the FCS last fall thanks in large part to a stout offensive line that was anchored by Colby Sorsdal. Sorsdal was a consesus All-American selection as a senior last fall and is seen as a potential Day 3 draft pick. If selected he would be the first Tribe player to be drafted since DeAndre Houston-Carson was taken by Chicago in 2016.

Isaiah Land, DE - Florida A&M

Florida A&M’s Isaiah Land has been one of the best FCS defensive players over the last few seasons. The winner of the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award, Land practically rewrote the Rattlers’ record books with 29 career sacks and 42.5 tackles for loss. He helped guide FAMU to the FCS playoffs in 2021 and participated in the Senior Bowl earlier this year and is likely to be a Day 3 draft pick. Land would be the first Florida A&M player to be drafted since Brandon Hepburn was taken by Detroit in 2013.

Xavier Gipson, WR - Stephen F. Austin

Xavier Gipson was one of the top FCS wideouts last year with well over 1,000 receiving yards in 2022. He was originally a three-star recruit coming out of high school and had initially committed to play for SMU before opting to find a home with SFA. Gipson was not an invitee to the NFL Combine but made up for it at his school’s pro day where he impressed scouts with a blazing 4.42-second 40-yard dash. He is projected to be a fifth or sixth round draft pick.

Noah Gindorff, TE - North Dakota State

Although injuries hampered a good portion of his time with NDSU, tight end Noah Gindorff is still a likely Day 3 draft prospect. He helped the Bison win two national championships and reach a third this last fall during his college career. Gindorff was invited to the NFL Combine but did not perform for scouts (due to injury) outside of the bench press drill. He has NFL talent in his blood as his father, Michael Gindorff, was a former player for both Minnesota and Tampa Bay.

Mark Evans II, OL - Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive lineman Mark Evans II made quite the impact during his five years with the Golden Lions. A winner of both All-SWAC Conference and HBCU All-American honors throughout his career, Evans helped pave the way for a UAPB offense that rushed for over 2,000 yards twice and over 1,500 yards four times during his time there. He is slated to be a late round selection in the draft and would be the first Golden Lion to be drafted since Terron Armstead in 2013 (New Orleans Saints).

Patrick O’Connell, LB - Montana

One of the best linebackers out west in the FCS over the last couple seasons has been Montana’s Patrick O’Connell. O’Connell led the Big Sky Conference in sacks in 2021 and was named to the Buck Buchanan Award watchlist in 2022 along with receiving several other accolades. He played in this year’s Hula Bowl and worked his way into the draft conversation as a possible sixth or seventh round selection. He could be the first UM player to be drafted dating back to 2016, although that distinction may also very well go to O’Connell’s teammate Justin Ford.

Aubrey Miller, LB - Jackson State

Florida A&M v Jackson State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Aubrey Miller has been a vital part of Jackson State’s defense since 2020 and has helped the team win two SWAC championships in that span. A participant in this year’s Senior Bowl, Miller established himself as a potential late-round selection. He will be looking to make it two years in a row in which a Tiger was picked in the draft as former teammate and fellow JSU linebacker James Houston was taken by Detroit last year.

Justin Ford, CB - Montana

One of the best defensive backs in all of FCS football over the last few years has been Montana corner Justin Ford. Although he was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine this year, Ford did partake in the annual Hula Bowl where he notched three PBUs to lead all players in the contest. He is likely a late-round pick but if he is taken, Ford could be the first Grizzly player to be drafted since Tyrone Holmes was selected in 2016 (Jacksonville Jaguars), pending what happens with former teammate Patrick O’Connell.

Ryan Miller, TE - Furman

Furman tight end/wide receiver Ryan Miller is one of the best pass catchers to ever put on a Paladins uniform, finishing his five-year career with over 2,100 total receiving yards and 28 touchdowns. He has earned All-American honors as well as All-SoCon honors and helped Furman reach the FCS playoffs twice during his time there. Miller is predicted to be a late round pick in the NFL Draft and is hoping to be the first Paladins player taken since Dakota Dozier in 2014 (New York Jets).

Spencer Waege, DE - North Dakota State

Spencer Waege may not be as high up on the draft boards as some of his NDSU counterparts but he could still hear his name called before it’s all over in Kansas City. Waege was an instrumental part of the Bison defense over the last several seasons, ending his career with 20.5 sacks and 42 tackles for loss. He was a finalist for the 2022 Buck Buchanan Award, an All-American and an All-Missouri Valley Conference selection throughout his career. Waege also participated in this year’s Hula Bowl where he registered a sack. He is projected to be a seventh round pick.

Tim DeMorat, QB - Fordham

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Fordham at FAU Photo by Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The best passer in the FCS last year was Fordham signal-caller Tim DeMorat. He led the subdivision in total passing yards in 2022 with 4,891 and finished second in passing touchdowns (56). DeMorat led the Rams to the playoffs for the first time since 2015 last fall and participated in both the Senior Bowl and Hula Bowl showcase games. He also finished as the runner up for the 2022 Walter Payton Award. Slated to be a late round pick, DeMorat could be the second Fordham player in consecutive years to be taken in the draft, joining former teammate Nick Zakelj who was picked last year by San Francisco.

Devonnsha Maxwell, DL - Chattanooga

Chattanooga defensive lineman Devonnsha Maxwell finished his career as an all-time great for the Mocs. He is the school’s record holder with 37.5 career sacks, a mark that is also the best ever in SoCon history. He played in both the Hula Bowl and the East-West Shrine Bowl and propelled his way into the draft radars this offseason with those showings. Although he is projected to be a seventh round pick, Maxwell could join aforementioned teammate McClendon Curtis in being selected, marking the first time Chattanooga has had multiple players drafted since 2001.

Ty Okada, S - Montana State

Montana State safety Ty Okada didn’t land on a lot of draft boards until earlier this month thanks to a fantastic pro day showing. Okada registered an impressive 40.5” vertical jump along with several other noteworthy marks in front of NFL scouts at the school’s workouts. Some see him as a seventh round pick while others think he’ll be signed after the draft as a free agent. If Okada is selected, though, he would be the third Montana State defensive player to be taken in the draft dating back to last year joining former teammates Daniel Hardy (Los Angeles Rams) and Troy Andersen (Atlanta Falcons).

Julian Hill, TE - Campbell

No player from Campbell University has ever been drafted into the NFL but that may change this year with tight end Julian Hill. Hill, while seen by many to be a longshot Day 3 pick, put together a tremendous college career for the Camels. He was a three-time All-Big South Conference selection and finished with over 1,200 receiving yards.