The COVID pandemic affected the season of many college programs and NFL Draft prospects around the nation last season. However, the FCS was especially affected as their season moved to the spring. Many of the FCS prospects opted out for their own reasoning, and some teams opted out completely.
The FCS was the spotlight of college football during this time. Now that the FCS season is back to normal and playing in the fall, they may not gather as much attention. Despite being smaller programs, the NFL Draft talent in the FCS shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here are five underrated players to look out for during this year’s FCS season.
Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State
Watson is one of the most electric FCS prospects. Standing at 6’4” and being clocked at running over 20 MPH. He is one of the best deep threats in all of FCS. Throughout his career, he averages 21.6 yards per reception. Watson is North Dakota State’s kick/ punt returner as well and does a very well job of it.
When you watch the film on Watson, you first notice he is electric. Every time he touches the ball he has a chance to score. His vision as a runner and ability to make people miss is what separates him from other receivers in the FCS.
My biggest concern with Watson for the is his amount of manufactured touches. Yes, it is good his team recognizes his talent and gets him the ball. That being said, a large majority of his touches are touch passes or bubble screens. Watson also has a limited route tree as he runs go routes a majority of the time. North Dakota State’s offense as a whole regressed last year with Tray Lance declaring for the NFL Draft and therefore opting out. If the offense can back on track and Watson can improve as a receiver, expect him to be a hot topic this fall.
Here's the field level angle of the Christian Watson touchdown from Saturday's game. Might be the coolest thing I've shot so far. pic.twitter.com/ujk68xzFwl
— Isak Dinesen (@isak_dinesen14) October 15, 2019
Kedrick Whitehead, DB, Delaware
Whitehead is one of the more underrated FCS prospects. He is the heart and soul of Delaware’s (Troy Reeder’s alma mater) stout defense. When you watch Delaware’s defense, you notice Whitehead is always around the ball. He makes plays when the defense needs them the most.
Although he isn’t a huge playmaker, he is consistent and shows up week in and week out. Whitehead is one of the better run defending safeties in the FCS. In the NFL, Whitehead would be better suited to play a safety-linebacker role like Jeremy Chinn.
Whitehead’s production overall in the 2020-2021 season dipped some compared to 2019. He played in eight games and only had 31 tackles. The year prior he had 103 tackles in 12 games. His pass defense is average but has been improving every year. Whitehead has average athleticism which is he would be better suited for a hybrid role. If Whitehead can start to form into a better defensive back (having better hip flexibility mostly), he could turn into one of the top defensive backs in the FCS heading into the NFL Draft.
PICKED OFF AGAIN!
— Delaware Football (@DelawareFB) October 20, 2018
Julius Chestnut, RB, Sacred Heart
Chestnut is one of the more dominant running backs among FCS prospects. When you watch the film on Chestnut, you notice that he has incredible vision, great balance, and deceptive speed. Standing at 6’1″ and weighing 215 pounds, you would not expect Chestnut to have the speed he does.
As a runner, he can really do it all and is the definition of a complete back. His ability to make defenders miss using just about any move he wants is very impressive. He has a great juke and spin move, but as you can see in the clip below, he can run you over as well.
— Dan Gardella (@DanGardella) April 12, 2021
During his college career, Chestnut was not used in the passing game as often as some may have hoped. During his career so far he only has 26 catches in 27 games. That does not mean Chestnut is a non-factor in the passing game, but he will not be as versatile as Alvin Kamra or Christian McCaffrey.
Chestnut also has a ton of tread on his tires. He has 502 carries in 27 games. This is not a huge concern as Chestnut has never had any big injuries. We are also starting to see backs with a huge number of college carries have successful and healthy NFL careers.
Jace Lewis, LB, Montana
Montana is one of the few (if not the only) schools to run a 3-3-5 defense in the country. This means that your middle linebacker better be good as he needs to cover a ton of ground and read plays quickly. Jace Lewis can do exactly that.
Lewis does a little bit of everything for Montana as he is a terrific run defender and can cover if needed. In 2019 Lewis had a whopping 131 tackles to go along with four pass deflections, four and a half sacks, two forces fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
— Montana Griz Football (@MontanaGrizFB) April 17, 2021
Due to COVID-19, Lewis only played in two games last season. It will be interesting to see if he can pick up where he left off, especially since Dante Olsen is now gone. Olsen was the team’s true middle linebacker during the 2018-2019 season and had an FCS leading 179 tackles. That season, Lewis was the secondary backer but still played very well. If Lewis can pick up where he left off and can fill the shoes that Olsen left behind, he can become the best linebacker in FCS.