Over the last two week’s we’ve dove into the FCS’ top special teams and defensive performers for the upcoming season which is now almost just a month away. This week we wrap up the offseason series by taking a look at offense.
There’s so much individual talent on that side of the ball that it’s nearly impossible to carve it down to just 20 names. Still, we found a way...
20. Tommy Mellott, QB - Montana State
One of the truest dual-threat quarterbacks in the country is Montana State’s Tommy Mellott and the junior signal-caller has done it all for the Bobcats since being named the starter in 2021. Mellott has thrown for 2,182 yards and rushed for another 1,777 in just two seasons. He’s accounted for 37 total touchdowns in that span as well. Under Mellott, MSU has reached the national championship and the semifinals over the last two years respectively. Now in his second full year as the starter, Mellott seems poised for a breakout season in 2023.
19. Chandler Smith, WR - Samford
Chandler Smith was one of the most targeted pass-catchers in the FCS last season. Not only was Samford’s star wideout one of just three receivers nationwide to catch at least 100 passes in 2022, he made the very most of them also. The grad senior ran up 1,071 yards through the air and hauled in 11 touchdowns, averaging 10.2 per catch. Smith was named to the SoCon’s All-Conference Second-Team a year ago and is set up to have a spectacular final run this year with quarterback Michael Hiers (also on our list) returning as well. Expect Smith to put up more big time numbers this fall.
18. Shawn Bowman, TE - Maine
From day one Shawn Bowman has been a force to be reckoned with at Maine. As a freshman back in 2019, he caught 22 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown and it’s been all up from there. Bowman is a mere 40 yards away from 1,000 on his career and he’s putting up over 11 yards per reception. He returns to the Black Bears for what is anticipated to be another standout season after he put up career bests in yards (377), catches (31) and touchdowns (5) in 2022. Bowman earned a spot on the All-CAA Third Team offense last year but will likely move up the ranks this season.
17. Garret Greenfield, OT - South Dakota State
South Dakota State is expected to field a championship-caliber squad again this season thanks to an abundance of returning talent, especially on offense. One of those returning stars is offensive tackle Garret Greenfield. Starting in all 15 games for the Jackrabbits in 2022, Greenfield helped anchor a line that only allowed 18 sacks all season long. He also helped pave the way for a rushing attack that logged 2,769 yards and 36 touchdowns en route to their national title. Greenfield is one of the premier lineman in the country and, barring he stays healthy this year, he should appear in NFL mock drafts next spring.
16. Luke Newman, OL - Holy Cross
Lost in the recent success of Holy Cross has been the outstanding play on the line. Luke Newman is the anchor that holds it all together on the front as he enters his junior season with the Crusaders. Newman appeared in 12 of the team’s 13 games last fall and was a major contributor on a unit that paved the way for the fifth-highest scoring offense in the FCS (38.8 points per game). He was named to the HERO Sports Sophomore All-American team and was an All-Patriot League First-Team selection. There will be a lot put on Newman’s shoulders this season now that he’s a proven asset in the trenches but he’ll be up to the task.
15. Mark Gronowski, QB - South Dakota State
South Dakota State quarterback Mark Gronowski completed a comeback story for the ages in 2022 when he led the Jacks to their first title not even two years after suffering an injury in the championship that SDSU lost and he isn’t done yet either. Now a junior, Gronowski seems as ready as ever to guide the Jackrabbits down the championship path once more. With 4,532 passing yards and 60 total touchdowns under his belt, he’s one of the most productive QBs out there. With a plethora of weapons returning around him there’s no reason to believe Gronowski will see a dip in efficiency either. If he stays healthy he’s one of the best in the nation.
14. Davius Richard, QB - North Carolina Central
One of the shockers of the entire FCS season in 2022 was North Carolina Central taking down Deion Sanders and Jackson State in the Celebration Bowl but for those who paid attention all year it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The Eagles were led by perhaps the most dynamic quarterback in the country in Davius Richard who threw for 2,661 yards and ran for another 788. Richard was dubbed the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year as he was responsible for 40 touchdowns last season alone. His senior season should be full of much of the same.
13. Dylan Laube, RB - New Hampshire
New Hampshire exploded back onto the national scene last year thanks to an ultra-productive offense. On that offense was one of the country’s top running backs, Dylan Laube. Rushing for 1,209 yards and 15 scores, Laube jump started UNH and helped them return to the postseason. He got 245 touches last year, the third-highest mark in the nation for running backs. Laube averages over five yards per carry on his career and put up 100.4 yards per contest in 2022. He’s back for one last go with the Wildcats this fall and should once more be one of the FCS’ best rushers.
12. Parker McKinney, QB - Eastern Kentucky
EKU quarterback Parker McKinney is as dangerous as they come when he has the ball in has hands. The senior blew his career numbers out of the water last year with 3,956 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns as he guided the Colonels to the postseason. McKinney was the ASUN’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year and became the school’s all-time leader in total offense with his outstanding production last fall. He’ll be a redshirt senior this season and, if 2022 was any clue, it should be another one for the books.
11. Ty James, WR - Mercer
Ty James has established himself as the go-to guy on the outside for Mercer in recent years. His 1,105 receiving yards last season ranked fifth nationally as did his 13 touchdowns. James has hauled in 108 passes on his career and averages 20.7 yards per reception. Standout Bears quarterback Fred Payton is no longer on the team but that should hardly matter as James will likely see the bulk of the throws again this year. He led the SoCon in receiving yardage and set a school single-game record with 351 yards against Samford in the season finale in 2022. James can break it loose on any given weekend and 2023 should be a sensational season for the junior.
10. Matthew Sluka, QB - Holy Cross
A year ago the Crusaders put forth arguably the best team in program history; a group that didn’t lose until they met the eventual national champs in the quarterfinals. At the center of it all was signal-caller Matthew Sluka. Sluka is a do-it-all guy for Holy Cross and has 2,336 career rush yards along with 4,188 passing yards. He’s put up 68 total touchdowns and was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award in 2022. Sluka is primed for another fantastic year if he can stay healthy and the Crusaders should be in mix once again because he’s under center. Don’t be surprised if he finished this upcoming season as one of the best QBs in the land.
9. Mason McCormick, OG - South Dakota State
On a team full of stars, the unsung hero for South Dakota State is certainly guard Mason McCormick. Named an All-American in 2022, McCormick held together one of the best offensive line groups in the country. His longevity is unmatched by many in his position as he has now started 42 straight games for the Jacks. Under his protection, SDSU’s offense rushed for over 200 yards in each of their four playoff contests last winter en route to the championship. McCormick is as vital as any player on the roster right now in Brookings and he’s the cream of the crop as far as FCS linemen go.
8. Theo Day, QB - Northern Iowa
Despite their recent struggles, UNI has a baller under center with QB Theo Day. In just two seasons with the Panthers (after transferring in from Michigan State), Day has already thrown for 5,437 yards and 42 touchdowns and has picked up numerous honors along the way. He was a First-Team All-MVFC pick in 2022 and was named to the FCS’ midseason National Performer of the Year watchlist. Day can spread the ball all over the field and knows how to make something out of nothing. As a redshirt senior in 2023, Day could be in for his best season yet.
7. Bronson Yoder, RB - William & Mary
William & Mary ascended to new heights in 2022 and running back Bronson Yoder was instrumental in their rise. Yoder led the Tribe in rushing with 1,255 yards on 203 carries. He picked up 13 touchdowns and was named to the All-CAA First-Team roster for his efforts. Yoder comes back as a senior looking to build on his 2,252 career rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns. He’s a big part of what W&M likes to do on offense and should again see a heavy workload this season.
6. Marshel Martin, TE - Sacramento State
The undisputed best tight end in the country right now resides in Sacramento. Sac State’s Marshel Martin has been a machine in recent years and was a top target for the high-powered Hornets in 2022. Martin brought in 65 passes for 879 yards and 12 TDs a season ago and was justly named an All-Big Sky First Team selection because of it. He helped lead Sacramento State to its first ever postseason victory and a berth in the quarterfinals last year behind several strong performances. Martin averages over 13 yards per catch on his career and is poised for another great run this season.
5. Hayden Hatten, WR - Idaho
Vandal nation got a treat last year when receiver Hayden Hatten rose to stardom before their very eyes. The dynamic sophomore torched secondaries all season long, hauling in 83 passes for 1,209 yards and 16 touchdowns. Hatten finished fifth in the nation in total receiving yardage and second in receiving touchdowns in 2022. Idaho experienced its first taste of postseason football in long, long time thanks to what Hatten did on the field. He’s now up to well over 2,000 receiving yards in his collegiate career and is averaging 14.7 yards per reception. If he can continue to produce at this high of a clip, the Vandals offense should be scary good this fall.
Hayden Hatten has FOUR TOUCHDOWNS and we're not even at halftime— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) November 5, 2022
He has 12 TDs in his last 4.5 games pic.twitter.com/aspCJw1Pdo
4. Michael Hiers, QB - Samford
Signal-caller Michael Hiers had a season for the books in his first go at Samford and if it’s any indication of what’s to come in 2023, the SoCon better watch out. Hiers transferred in from Murray State and did nothing but win over fans and teammates alike after coming aboard. In 2022 he threw for 3,544 yards (sixth most in the FCS) along with 36 touchdowns. Hiers was named an All-Conference First-Team selection and led the Bulldogs to the quarterfinals whilst battling through an injury. Now back to 100%, he should be far and above one of the best quarterbacks to take the field in 2023.
3. Geno Hess, RB - Southeast Missouri State
Last January Geno Hess made SEMO fans happy when he announced that he would be returning to the Redhawks for one last run in 2023. Hess had a career year last fall with 1,691 rush yards (2nd best in the FCS) and 21 touchdowns (best in the FCS). He registered five games in which he ran for three or more scores and three in which he surpassed the 200-yard rushing mark. Hess’ big performances helped Southeast Missouri State win the Ohio Valley Conference and reach the playoffs. Now back for the curtain call, count on Hess being a force once again.
2. Isaiah Davis, RB - South Dakota State
Isaiah Davis has been a one-man show for South Dakota State for a while now but it came to a head in 2022 when he was the premier back for SDSU. Davis carried the ball 249 times last fall and rumbled for 1,451 yards. He found the end zone 15 times out of the backfield and helped the Jacks run the table on the FCS. He’s no stranger to catching passes either as he has 30 career receptions for 288 yards. Davis was an All-MVFC First Team pick last season and he enters the 2023 campaign sixth all-time in Jackrabbits history with 32 rushing touchdowns. Davis is expected to again burn it up on the ground this time around and he’ll likely come out as one of the best in the country by December.
1 . Jaden Shirden, RB - Monmouth
The FCS’ best offensive player right now is Monmouth running back Jaden Shirden and he sits undisputed at the top. Last year Shirden had his way with opposing defenses, rushing for a whopping 1,722 yards (best in the country) and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 156.5 yards per game in 2022 and finds himself already seventh in program history in total rushing yards (2,216). Shirden has already been named to the Athlon Sports Preseason FCS All-American team for the upcoming year and is a hot pick by some to be the CAA’s Offensive Player of the Year again. Look out for #20 because he’s showing no signs of letting up.