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10 non-FBS players to know in the 2023 NFL Draft

Small school prospects have plenty to offer in the upcoming NFL draft.

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Every year the NFL draft is filled with recognizable names from recognizable schools, and then a handful of players nobody has ever heard of that turn out to be high impact players down the road. Today, we’re looking at 10 college football players in this year’s draft that did not play at FBS-level schools, but might be on the Cowboys’ radar anyway, whether as a draft pick or undrafted free agent signing.

Shepherd QB Tyson Bagent

The Cowboys have been consistently linked to several quarterbacks in this draft, with the idea being they’ll draft someone to develop as a backup to Dak Prescott. To that end, Tyson Bagent is a name to know.

As a four-year starter for the Division II Shepherd Rams, Bagent set numerous records and won a whole lot of games. He’s considered very raw, especially in his throwing motion, and will remind many Cowboys fans of Ben DiNucci. But Bagent has been on the radar of plenty of NFL teams, and he’ll get drafted by someone.

Virginia State RB Darius Hagans

With the rising interest in HBCU football programs over the last few years, players like Darius Hagans are being given a chance to reach the NFL. Hagans comes off three productive seasons at Virginia State, with the most recent season being his first as the lead back.

Hagans is a powerful, downhill runner who thrived in a tandem his first two years, where he played under HBCU coaching legend Reggie Barlow, now a head coach in the XFL. Additionally, Hagans was drafted into the USFL earlier this year, so he’ll definitely be playing professional football somewhere. But his skill set would be a nice addition in Dallas, where there is a need for a more physical rushing presence after cutting Ezekiel Elliott.

Hampton WR Jadakis Bonds

Few FCS receivers were more dominant this past year than Jadakis Bonds of the Hampton Pirates. Bonds is a towering prospect at 6’4” and he used every inch to be a reliable deep threat target. He had the second most contested catches in the FCS this year with the fifth highest average depth of target (15.4 yards).

More impressive is Bonds’ 16.9 yards per catch even with a high 97 targets on the year. Bonds posted a ridiculous 2.58 yards per route run, which is better than all but 10 receivers in this draft class. The North Carolina native could very well hear his name called on the third day of the draft, and should be able to compete for a roster spot on most teams.

South Dakota State TE Tucker Kraft

Tucker Kraft is a very popular name, and will be one of the top tight ends drafted this year. Kraft comes into the draft with prototypical size for the position and demonstrated top-tier skills as both a blocker and pass-catcher at South Dakota State, winning a national title in the process.

Kraft built on his good tape by wowing everyone at the combine, where he put together a Relative Athletic Score that matched Kyle Pitts’ exceptional workout from two years ago. Kraft will need an adjustment period, for sure, but he proved he has the athleticism to hang with NFL players in the long run.

North Dakota State OT Cody Mauch

Cody Mauch went viral early on in the draft process for being a quintessential Football Guy. He’s a tenacious blocker with long, flowing red hair and is missing his front teeth. Mauch absolutely fits the mold of an offensive lineman who thrives on the physicality of trench life.

The rub for Mauch is that his arm measurements are well below the average to play tackle, but he has just 15 snaps at either guard spot throughout his three-year career at North Dakota State. Mauch is likely a guard in the NFL, with the physicality to be a good one, but his lack of experience at the position offers caution. Still, turning on Mauch’s tape makes it very hard to not get excited about his ceiling.

Florida A&M EDGE Isaiah Land

Isaiah Land has generated some interest and buzz in the last two months as more scouts have taken a look at his tape. Land is very thin for an EDGE, standing at 6’3” and 236 pounds, but he was an impact player for the Rattlers. He tallied seven sacks and 35 pressures this past year.

What makes it most impressive, though, is Land doing so in limited usage. He recorded a 24.4% pass rush win rate, which would have tied him for the third best in the FBS. Quality of competition is a factor here, of course, but Land was an exceptional pass rusher at the FCS level who will have something to offer NFL teams in the back half of the draft.

Stephen F Austin EDGE B.J. Thompson

Offering a similar profile to Land is B.J. Thompson, someone the Cowboys have actually brought in for a pre-draft visit. That alone signals their interest in Thompson as a possible draft pick or undrafted free agent priority signing.

Thompson is even slimmer than Land at 6’6” and 210 pounds, but he was a force for Stephen F Austin. Thompson saw a higher volume of pass rush reps than Land, though his 18.6% pass rush win rate is a little less impressive. Still, Thompson earned the highest pass rush grade among any FCS or FBS EDGE from Pro Football Focus.

Chattanooga iDL Devonnsha Maxwell

Devonnsha Maxwell figures to be a good bet as a fifth- or sixth-round pick based on stellar production for Chattanooga. He led all FCS interior defensive linemen in sacks this year with seven, and he was fifth in pressures as well.

Maxwell also comes with great size already at 6’3” and 296 pounds. He’s already built for life as an NFL 3-technique, and demonstrated a clear ability to win in the FCS. Further refinement will be necessary, but Maxwell profiles as a typical developmental pass rusher in the NFL.

Jackson State LB Aubrey Miller Jr.

The recent rise in popularity of HBCU schools really started when Jackson State hired Deion Sanders to be their head coach, so it only makes sense that Aubrey Miller Jr. is in line to hear his name called this April.

Miller was one of the best linebackers in coverage in all of college football this year, leading the FCS in completion rate and passer rating allowed. He was also a reliable playmaker against the run, but Miller’s elite coverage skills make him a valuable commodity in an NFL becoming more and more pass-happy.

Sacramento State S Marte Mapu

Marte Mapu was one of the most physical defensive backs in the FCS this past year, posting a ludicrous 15 run stops on the year. Sacramento State used him in a similar role to Jayron Kearse, lining him up in the box and as a slot defender.

That’s led to some scouts evaluating Mapu as a potential linebacker at the next level, though Mapu offers value in coverage as well. He could end up sneaking into the end of the second day of the draft, as Mapu’s stock has soared as of late.

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