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FCS draft class not short on quality

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - This year's NFL Draft class from the FCS will likely be a little smaller than last year's 19 selections. Skrinking numbers have been a continuing problem for the division in recent years.

But the strength of this year's draft class is excellent at the top, and overall it should be a more accomplished class than last April's.

The 2010 class was decidedly stronger at wide receiver and defensive end/linebacker (2010 Buck Buchanan Award winner Arthur Moats was a defensive end at James Madison who converted to linebacker with the Buffalo Bills).

This year's class, though, is much stronger at offensive line, the interior defensive line and the secondary, especially cornerback. Where this year's prospects are similar to last year's prospects, it appears the 2011 class has more upside.

To start, let's recap the 2010 FCS draft class:

New York Jets (second round, 61st choice) - Vladimir Ducasse, OT, Massachusetts: played in two games

Arizona Cardinals (third, 88) - Andre Roberts, WR, The Citadel: 24 receptions for 307 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games (two starts)

Carolina Panthers (third, 89) - Armanti Edwards, WR, Appalachian State: the 2010 Walter Payton Award winner, as a quarterback, played in three games with no receptions

Philadelphia Eagles (fourth, 125) - Clay Harbor, TE, Missouri State: nine receptions for 72 yards and one touchdown in nine games (six starts)

Will Rackley is part of an excellent group of FCS offensive linemen in this year's draft.
Jacksonville Jaguars (fifth, 143) - Larry Hart, DE, Central Arkansas: eight tackles and 1.5 sacks in 14 games

Cincinnati Bengals (fifth, 152) - Otis Hudson, OG, Eastern Illinois: spent the season on the practice squad

Jacksonville Jaguars (fifth, 153) - Austin Lane, DE, Murray State: 20 tackles in 11 games (nine starts)

Arizona Cardinals (fifth, 155) - John Skelton, QB, Fordham: 60 of 126 for 662 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in five games (four starts)

Atlanta Falcons (sixth, 171) - Shann Schillinger, S, Montana: eight tackles in 15 games; suffered late-season broken ankle

Buffalo Bills (sixth, 178) - Arthur Moats, DE, James Madison: 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 15 games (four starts)

Jacksonville Jaguars (sixth, 180) - Deji Karim, RB, Southern Illinois: 35 carries for 160 yards as well as 50 kickoff returns for a 25-yard average in 11 games

New York Giants (sixth, 184) - Adrian Tracy, DE, William & Mary: spent the season on injury reserve due to a dislocated elbow late in the preseason

Buffalo Bills (sixth, 192) - Danny Batten, DE, South Dakota State: spent the season on injury reserve due to shoulder surgery

Jacksonville Jaguars (sixth, 203) - Scotty McGee, KR, James Madison: missed much of the season on injury reserve due to a shoulder injury

Tennessee Titans (seventh, 222) - Marc Mariani, WR, Montana: 60 kickoff returns for a 25.5-yard average and one touchdown plus 27 punt returns for a 12.2-yard average and one touchdown in 16 games; a Pro Bowl selection on special teams who set records for returns (nine) and return yardage (326) in the game

San Francisco 49ers (seventh, 224) - Phillip Adams, CB, South Carolina State: 13 tackles and one pass defended in 15 games

Dallas Cowboys (seventh, 234) - Sean Lissemore, DT, William & Mary: three tackles in two games

Tennessee Titans (seventh, 241) - David Howard, DT, Brown: waived in the preseason and signed late in the season to the Oakland Raiders' practice squad

Detroit Lions (seventh, 255) - Tim Toone, WR, Weber State: "Mr. Irrelevant" (the affectionate nickname for the last player selected in each draft) opened the season on the practice squad and spent much of it on injured reserve after breaking his right leg

This year's FCS draft class will probably have 16 to 18 selections, but likely won't exceed last year's 19. Of course, many more players sign as undrafted free agents each year.

FCS players, and any from a "small school," for that matter, will always be pushed down the draft board because of that label which follows them into the NFL.

But teams are finding this year's top FCS prospects particularly intriguing.

Villanova offensive lineman Ben Ijalana, who is only 21, is basically a better version of Ducasse, a CAA Football product who also should go in the second round as the highest-drafted FCS player. Ijalana has long arms, large hands and a relentless style of play, so he should adjust quite well to the NFL, especially if he converts from tackle to guard.

2011 NFL Draft
Thursday: Round 1, 8-11:30 p.m. (ESPN, NFL Network)
Friday: Rounds 2-3, 6-10:30 p.m. (NFL Network); 6-8 p.m. (ESPN); 8-10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday: Rounds 4-7, noon-7:30 p.m. (ESPN, NFL Network)
Lehigh's Will Rackley, who uses his strength wisely, isn't far behind Ijalana, and Missouri State's David Arkin, especially adept as a run blocker, should be selected in about the same spot as Hudson a year ago. The trio combine for an excellent group of offensive linemen.

Karim was one of the finds of last year's class, but Eastern Washington running back Taiwan Jones is much more explosive, and just needs to stay healthy. Karim did much of his damage on kickoff returns and Jones can, too. But his burst of speed makes him an excellent change-of-pace back who shouldn't last past the third round.

Some scouts would say Hampton nose tackle Kenrick Ellis, an athletic beast at 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, is this year's best talent from an FCS school. His past off-the-field problems have tempered draft expectations to about the fourth round. But he could be a steal there.

Combine Ellis with Richmond defensive tackle Martin Parker - roughly a fifth- round choice - and it's a combination that last year's class didn't have.

Portland State tight end Julius Thomas can be compared to Harbor. The latter had the more accomplished college career considering Thomas played four seasons of basketball and only one of football. Thomas' physical tools could help him to close the gap quickly.

Add in Northern Iowa's Schuylar Oordt and perhaps Fordham's Stephen Skelton, and it's a solid group of tight ends as well.

The Cardinals didn't expect John Skelton, Stephen's older brother, would start four games last season when they drafted him in the fifth round. At one point, Delaware's Pat Devlin was projected to go higher than that in this year's draft, but a disappointing NFL Combine and East-West Shrine Game has his stock falling. Still, the way he can run an offense seems to compare favorably to Skelton.

The defensive backs, blessed with athleticism, can do laps around last year's class. Cornerbacks Korey Lindsey-Woods of Southern Illinois, who somehow didn't receive an invite to the Combine, Buster Skrine of Chattanooga, Justin Rogers of Richmond and Cortez Allen of The Citadel, as well as Appalachian State safety Mark Legree and perhaps Fordham safety Isaiah Abdul-Quddus, could all be plucked off the draft board within two rounds of each other, starting around the fifth round.

There's really no wide receivers to match last year's group of Roberts, Edwards (who underachieved) and Mariani, and the class boasted outstanding depth with its defensive ends, but overall this year's class would stand to make a bigger impact.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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