2017 FCS draft class review

North squad wide receiver Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington (10) carries the ball as he gets around South squad defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon of Villanova (92) during the first half of the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

(STATS) – For the FCS, Friday night lights basically shined brighter than the sunlight did Saturday afternoon during the 2017 NFL Draft.

While this year’s outdoor draft was held on the same Philadelphia Art Museum steps that Rocky made famous for underdogs, the FCS produced only 15 selections. That was down from an annual average of about 18 picks and from the 20 last year, led by the Philadelphia Eagles’ selection of former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz at No. 2 overall.

The last year with only 15 FCS picks was 2012.

The final total was a bit surprising because there were five FCS selections made Friday night – a strong number for the subdivision on the middle day of the draft. Still, the majority of FCS draft selections occur on the third and final day, and there were just 10 added to the second- and third-rounders.

But there were terrific finds as NFL teams continue to look to the FCS for impact players. This year’s haul came on the heels of recent drafts producing the likes of Wentz, Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (2015, third round), New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (2014, second round), New Orleans Saints left tackle Terron Armstead (2013, third round) and Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (2012, fifth round).

The FCS can be a haven for players who fell through the cracks in FBS-level recruiting or were late-bloomers. Second-round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon of Villanova (Kansas City Chiefs) and third-rounders Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington (Los Angeles Rams) and Derek Rivers of Youngstown State (New England Patriots) helped bring the FCS star power to this year’s draft.

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FCS SELECTIONS IN THE 2017 NFL DRAFT=

Day 2 – Friday, April 28 (Rounds 2 and 3)

Kansas City Chiefs (2nd round, 59th overall selection) – Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova: Five-technique D-end has freakish athleticism for his size (6-foot-7, 289 pounds). The last defensive player drafted from Villanova was Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long (1981). CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Los Angeles Rams (3rd, 69) – Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington: Four-time FCS first-team All-American holds Division I records for receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and touchdown catches (73) in a career. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B+

New England Patriots (3rd, 83) – Derek Rivers, DE/OLB, Youngstown State: Super Bowl champs’ first pick of the draft was a pass rusher (41 career sacks) with the versatility favored by coach Bill Belichick. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B+

Arizona Cardinals (3rd, 98) – Chad Williams, WR, Grambling State: A 13-catch, 152-yard performance against Arizona as a senior stood out for Grambling’s first draft selection since 2006. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Denver Broncos (3rd, 101) – Brendan Langley, CB, Lamar: At the NFL Combine, press corner flashed speed with a 4.43-second time in the 40-yard dash and showed off power with 22 reps on the 225-pound bench press (most among cornerbacks). CBSSports.com Pick Grade: C

Day 3 – Saturday, April 28 (Rounds 4 through 7)

Chicago Bears (4th, 119) – Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T: The MEAC’s all-time rushing leader (5,619 yards) figures to make the most of touches with the Bears as a runner, receiver and returner. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: D+

Los Angeles Rams (4th, 125) – Samson Ebukam, OLB, Eastern Washington: Terrific athleticism allows Nigerian-born Ebukam to make an impact in different ways. College teammate Kupp was a Rams’ pick just 16 hours earlier. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: D

Houston Texans (4th, 130) – Julie’n Davenport, OT, Bucknell: Four-year starting left tackle – Bucknell’s first draft pick since 1969 – hopes to fill a role on a Texans team in need of help up front. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B+

Detroit Lions (5th, 165) – Jamal Agnew, CB, San Diego: Despite lack of height (5-9, 180), Agnew plays with confidence and sizes up with quickness and a fluid style. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: C

New York Giants (5th, 167) – Avery Moss, DE, Youngstown State: Former Nebraska Cornhusker didn’t take a secondary role to Rivers at Youngstown State, totaling 17½ tackles for loss and 10½ sacks with four forced fumbles as a senior. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Atlanta Falcons (5th, 174) – Eric Saubert, TE, Drake: Developed into an excellent red-zone threat at Drake, catching 21 touchdowns, including 10 as a senior. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B-

Denver Broncos (6th, 203) – De’Angelo Henderson, RB, Coastal Carolina: The teal turf at Coastal was great, but “Hop” was found in the end zone – he scored a touchdown in a Division I-record 35 straight games. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: C-

Tennessee Titans (6th, 217) – Corey Levin, OG, Chattanooga: Titans stayed in-state for a four-year starter who is excellent on the move. Versatile enough to gain a potential role at center. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Oakland Raiders (7th, 231) – Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama State: Displays good movement for his 6-7½, 317-pound size and is considered to have quick-advancing skills for a developmental prospect. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Tennessee Titans (7th, 236) – Brad Seaton, OT, Villanova. His run-blocking movement must encourage the Titans, but he needs to get stronger for pass sets. Good length at 6-7, 310. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: C+

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PICKS BY CONFERENCE=

It was particularly odd that the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, which had two all-time draft picks prior to this year, had more selections than some of the larger conferences of the FCS.

Five conferences tied for the FCS high with two selections each.

The breakdown by conference: CAA, Big Sky, Missouri Valley, Pioneer League and SWAC – 2 selections each; MEAC, Patriot League, Southern, Southland and FCS Independent – 1 selection each; and Big South, Ivy League, Northeast and Ohio Valley – no selections.

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NOTABLE=

Talk about a stacked playing field: When Youngstown State and Eastern Washington met in a memorable national semifinal last December, there were four 2017 draft picks on the field: Rivers and Moss for Youngstown State, which won 40-38 on a last-second touchdown, and Kupp and Ebukam for Eastern Washington. … The most-drafted FCS position was defensive end. Kpassagnon, the first FCS selection, Rivers, Ebukam and Moss were dominant pass rushers in college. Ebukam is moving to outside linebacker in the NFL and Rivers might do the same. … No position has been drafted more often from the FCS this decade than cornerback. Lamar’s Langley and San Diego’s Agnew increased the total to 28. … With the CAA getting one more selection than the SoCon, those two conferences share the FCS lead with 22 selections each in the 2010s. The Big Sky is third with 20 and the Missouri Valley fourth with 18. … Incredibly, the seven active FCS programs that had the most draft selections from 2010-16 – Montana (seven), South Carolina State (five), William & Mary (five), Central Arkansas (four), North Dakota State (four), Samford (four) and Tennessee State (four) – were shut out this year.

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UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS=

Going undrafted can allow a player with multiple free agent offers the chance to pick a favorable situation. A number of coveted free agents would have potential offers late in the draft and then come to terms in the hours following it.

Josh Buchanan, an NFLPA Collegiate Bowl scout and perhaps the nation’s leading evaluator of small school draft talent, had the following 10 undrafted FCS players as his highest-rated:

Tennessee State offensive guard Jessamen Dunker (fourth-round projection); Chattanooga defensive end Keionta Davis; Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole; Tennessee State cornerback Ezra Robinson; Saint Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome; South Carolina State offensive tackle Javarius Leamon; Illinois State offensive guard Cam Lee; Richmond free safety David Jones; William & Mary offensive tackle Jerry Ugokwe; and Maine defensive tackle Patrick Ricard.

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SNEAK PEEK TO NEXT YEAR=

The 2018 draft class coming from the FCS appears particularly deep.

Included are Sam Houston quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, the 2016 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award winner, and defensive end P.J. Hall, the runner-up for last year’s STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award. As a pro, Hall projects to move inside to defensive tackle.

Speaking of teammates, there’s the dynamite receiving duo from South Dakota State, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke, who as juniors combined for 170 receptions, 2,609 receiving yards and 27 touchdown catches.

Other draft prospects include North Dakota State inside linebacker Nick DeLuca, Fordham running back Chase Edmonds (who’s on pace to become the all-time rushing leader in the FCS), North Dakota cornerback Deion Harris and strong safety Cole Reyes, Illinois State cornerback Davontae Harris, Tennessee State defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko and North Carolina A&T offensive tackle Brandon Parker.