One of our favorite topics to cover here at Draft Countdown is the small school players. Plenty of Non-FBS prospects emerge every year and make a huge impact in the NFL, so it is worth identifying and watching these players early to see where they fit into the draft and the NFL.
Here is my proposed list for the top non-FBS prospects at each position. It is still early, and there is plenty of time for new players to emerge and rise up draft boards. But, these are early names to pay attention to who should be in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Tyson Bagent, Shepard
The Non-FBS QB ranks are not strong this season, but Bagent has been breaking records as a Day One starter for Division II Shepard. Already this season he has over 1,000 yards passing in just three games, and that is after already having broken the Shepard career record for passing yards (now over 13,000). He has solid size, is a mobile and the pocket, and can take off to run. The system allows short completions that turn into more yardage. The buzz is brewing for Bagent who is having a top notch season and flashing improved arm strength to get him drafted late.
Jaleel McLaughlin, Youngstown State
As much as I love South Dakota State RB Isaiah Davis, he is unlikely to be in the 2023 draft. That puts McLaughlin up as the next best non-FBS RB. His pass catching ability and quickness is what sells him for the NFL. Against Kentucky this year, he was the Penguins best weapon catching 3 passes for 60 yards and making some future NFL defenders miss tackles. Another undrafted camp body most likely, McLaughlin is intriguing.
Hunter Luepke, North Dakota State
Most years, I would not have a separate FB category, but Luepke is on another level. His exciting performance against Arizona both as a runner and receiver shows what type of weapon he can be at the next level. Luepke is a tough inside runner who can block one on one. He would be a perfect fit in a Shannahan type of offense to utilize his complete skillset. Moving up to a 3rd-4th round pick is possible.
Andrei Iosivas, Princeton
The sheer athleticism of 6’3, 200 pound Iosivas is pretty eye popping amongst the Ivy League conference. As a track star who is starting to develop pure football skills, Iosivas is an intriguing late round NFL Draft pick. The Hawaiian native is putting it together catching two TDs in Princeton’s first game. With the right all-star game and a Combine invite, Iosivas could jolt up the boards
Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State
Kraft suffered an ankle injury against Iowa in the SDSU opener this year, but he should be back soon and show his NFL potential. The two-way player is a solid run blocker with great lower body strength, and his soft hands and ability to settle into spots in zone coverage are NFL caliber. If he can get healthy and flash his effectiveness, look for Kraft in Day Two of the draft.
Cody Mauch, North Dakota State
A former walk-on, Mauch is known for long red hair and lack of front teeth. But, his play on the field speaks more volumes than his look as Mauch has a country strong push in the run game and rarely gets overwhelmed. Add in his surprising athleticism, and there is an NFL prospect there. Already, Mauch has shown technical improvements with his hands and feet. If those continues, he could be a late round pick to develop for the pros.
McClendon Curtis, Chattanooga
Curtis is just fun to watch. He has massive size and is as tough as they come on the OL. A smart player who clearly analyzes his opponents tendencies, Curtis knowledge and toughness make him hard to penetrate. He racks up pancakes and is nimble enough in pass protection to not be a liability. My guess is that he will be one of the biggest NFL Draft risers this offseason, similar to teammate Cole Strange last season.
Jalen Sundell, North Dakota State
The Center small school class is pretty disappointing as a whole. I haven’t watched or heard of any prospect who is a legit NFL prospect. Sundell showed flashes this past week against Arizona in the run game and has some juice there, so he is the best available right now. Is there enough athletic ability and strength to go up against NFL DTs? I’m not so sure, but he is worth a watch on a run first offense.
BJ Thompson, Stephen F. Austin
Thompson is an athletic marvel with a big frame and long arms. If OTs don’t get clean contact, Thompson makes them pay. Getting around the edge with a nice bend and good closing speed, Thompson has a ton of NFL potential. He has shown a knack for big plays too. Already this season, Thompson has a scoop and score TD. Expect him to be a mid round pick who could be a riser throughout the process.
Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga
Maxwell is a sack machine who is so good at inside penetration. His first step is incredible to watch and often leaves OL heads spinning. His 33 career sacks show the penetration ability from a diverse role along the defensive front. Playing some DE and DT, Maxwell could be a versatile defensive weapon and athlete for an NFL team to develop into a big time player.
Isaiah Land, Florida A&M
The Buck Buchanan Award Winner from last season, expectations were high for Land coming into the season. He almost transferred to the SEC, but decided to stay at Florida A&M and be the top small school player in the country. Academic Ineligibility left him off the team for the first few games, but he got into the big game against Jackson State and recorded a sack. It was a rough game for Land with some missed opportunities, but he has Day 2 potential and his athleticism/production will match. He is explosive and very difficult to keep away from the QB. As HBCUs are represented more in the NFL Draft, Land will lead the charge this year.
Montrae Braswell, Missouri State
A sticky corner with numerous accolades, Braswell has already started the year with a bang. He had a solid game against Arkansas, especially early, and is a physical jammer at the line of scrimmage. He also adds some special teams return ability and has the ball skills to take passes back the other way. Small school corners have had a lot of success in the NFL, and Braswell should be next in line as an early Day 3 pick with upside.
Marte Mapu, Sacramento State
The small school safety class usually has a gem or two, but it is a bit bereft of talent this year. Mapu is an interesting case since he plays the nickelback position for the team as a hybrid LB/S who drops into coverage a ton but also plays the run. His unique role could make him a tough fit for some teams. But other teams may love his good ball skills and racking up tackles along with a potential special teams role in the NFL.
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