By Rebecca Rennie

Though ideal to enter the NFL at a younger age, there are more 6th year prospects that will be a part of upcoming draft classes. It’s wise not to dismiss those older players, however. In particular with later round selections, should they stick around and contribute for the four years of a first contract, that still provides excellent value.

We begin this week’s look at FCS draft names to know with a pair of prospects who are six years removed from high school. They included a cornerback and tight end who both have potential to be drafted. One of the best statistical performances by a receiver this season provided a great opportunity to discuss one of the more dynamic small school talents for 2023.

We finish with two players to watch from key matchups this Saturday. The Patriot League and SWAC feature high profile games and individual talent to check out from a draft perspective:


Photo Credit: Tommy Martino/UM Athletics

In one of several high-ranking games this past week with conference and playoff implications, the top 10 matchup between Montana and Sacramento State lived up to the billing. The Hornets emerged with the win, but it took overtime to do so, while the Griz losing their starting QB in the first half. Doing his part despite the defeat, corner Justin Ford played excellent throughout. As provided by the broadcast in pre-game, Ford entered the contest having been targeted only 8 times on the season, allowing just 3 completions.

Following 9 interceptions a season ago, Ford’s ball production numbers have been relatively muted in 2022. The stat above on targets is a clear indication as to why, however. Opposing offenses have understandably chosen to avoid Ford’s side of the field as much as possible. Early in the third quarter, the Louisville transfer hinted why that’s wise. On 3rd & 10 with Ford playing off with a cushion underneath, the Hornets took the chance at the space behind the chains to the right sideline. Ford would close in a flash on a pass that was slightly on the high side. Had it been on the receiver’s numbers, the standout DB could have had a game-changing pick six.

Sac State may have avoided Ford as much as possible, but the well-built corner found an avenue for his first pick of this season. Attempting a Hail Mary pass to end regulation, the Montana playmaker climbed highest for the ball. The Senior Bowl candidate displayed his ball skills earlier too, despite not counting statistically. Late in the opening quarter, Ford casually claimed the ball with one hand on an out-of-bounds pass.

The 2021 1st team All-American showcases good overall coverage skills, technique and instincts beyond the catch-point ball skills. His deployment includes executing in press-man, bail, off and zone. In the latter, he plays with good balancing of his eyes between the quarterback and his assignments. The suddenness in his footwork and closing speed, alongside his anticipatory reads, factors into the success from zone. Physicality off the line and when running in phase can prove disruptive to receivers in man coverage.

Another key takeaway from the close overtime loss to Sacramento State was the run defense. Active in the first quarter, Ford closed downhill quick on a couple occasions to hit ball carriers with force. He ended the opening fifteen by making a key play on 3rd & 5. The short-area burst was again on show in taking out the receiver’s legs right at the first-down marker. Sure, the Hornets would go for it on 4th down successfully, but it remained an impressive play. A 6th year player at his third stop, Ford’s path has been unconventional. After transferring from Junior College, injury derailed his year at Louisville. He has thrived with the Grizzlies though and looks the part of a draftable NFL prospect. The physical and technical traits are there, with production and impact to match.


Photo Credit: Alabama State University Athletics

Despite ultimately compiling a 1-6 record, Indiana State have proved a tricky opponent for Missouri Valley teams the past four weeks. That included putting a scare in to then-ranked #1 North Dakota State a couple weeks ago. Illinois State found out last Saturday how competitive this Sycamores squad can be. After opening a 20-0 lead through the first quarter, Indiana State clawed back to 20-14 by close of Q3 and 27-21 during the final quarter. The Redbirds emerged with the win to improve to 5-2 on the year, with senior tight end Tanner Taula providing an understated but important role for the offense.

The box score may not suggest an obvious candidate to pick out for discussion in this article. Taula grabbed four catches for a modest 33 yards at an 8.25 average. It was his work as an inline blocker that particularly stood out. Such roles can go underappreciated yet can tap into a floor that secures a pro roster spot. That is not to undersell his excellent potential above and beyond that role, either. Taula has an impressive long 6’6 frame with a stout build at 260 lbs. His movement at that size is notable. He could test well for his physical measurables. During the Sycamores contest, the Redbirds senior pulled left to right as a lead blocker with effective quickness.

Moving up to the second level, Taula is a factor blocking in space. It didn’t require much on a smaller and off-balance defensive back, but he took out the secondary defender on Illinois State’s opening touchdown run in the first quarter. The screen game was part of the passing game plan that saw Taula work well in space to seal off blocks. He bookended the first scoring TD by doing the job again on the final score. On a short-yardage goal line run, Taula pancaked the opposing defender to provide an easy run-in touchdown.

The blocks typically feature good use of his length in the arm extension and a solid initial punch. That said, there are a few examples of slipping off contact in the secondary phase of blocks. The grip strength to sustain could be more consistent. Though only seeing a few targets versus the Sycamores, Taula’s impact inline allowed him to drift out into a passing lane for a couple open completions. The well-rounded positional skillset is a great positive for his projection to the pros.

While much of the discussion has revolved around doing the dirty work, Taula’s receiving contributions should not be undersold. Currently, Taula leads the Redbirds in receptions and tied first in yards through the air. Through seven games, the tight end has 25 catches for 254 yards and a touchdown. He uses his length and strength well with his positioning and high pointing. The movement and acceleration are nice relative to his frame and bulk.

The 2023 FCS class at TE is highly congested, outside of Tucker Kraft if he declares. It would be perfectly reasonable for a team to view Taula above the remaining group, particularly if he tests well to complete the physical tools. He could surprise as a late draft selection before some better-known FCS names at the position.


Photo Credit: SFA Athletics

It certainly did not seem to be a scenario set for a huge performance through the air at Eccles Coliseum in Utah last weekend. Strong winds, including up to 28mph noted in the first quarter, had punts blown back in the opposite direction among the weather-related struggles. Despite those obstacles, SFA receiver Xavier Gipson put together a monster statistical showing. The fourth-year player took his 10 receptions for 256 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns, while adding a 2-yard rush. The dominant performance of over 25 yards-per-catch helped the Lumberjacks outlast Southern Utah for a dramatic 41-38 win.

The varied utilization shone through in the slightly built but dynamic receiver’s contributions. A backfield end-around and quick screen outside were among the early touches. What stood out often during the first quarter was the tenacious blocking from the 170lb Gipson. In every game watched this season, he has consistently taken on bigger-bodied defenders with aggressive intent. The post-block jawing spoke volumes to his competitive fire. Early in the second quarter deep in Thunderbirds territory, Gipson lined up in the backfield. Leaking out to his left, the SUU defender misjudged the read or angle to leave him wide open for a simple 24-yard touchdown.

The first of several big yardage plays led to the Lumberjacks standout’s second score. After SFA secured a surprise onside kick, the offense took a deep shot with the wind in their favor. Gipson got behind the secondary with a couple of cuts on a 54-yard TD catch. Adjusting to the ball impressively, a pirouette was required to turn back to the ball, before completing the spin and finishing in the end zone.

By far the most consistently effective usage saw Gipson win time-and-again with the slant route. In a tight finish, several big plays through the final 20 minutes were pivotal in Stephen F. Austin completing drives for the win. Late in Q3, an intermediate slant and crosser left-to-right provided a 31-yard gain. Gipson’s longest reception came early in the fourth. Taking a slant from the left slot, he then cut back outside to maximize yardage on a field-flipping 61-yard catch-and-run. With SFA trailing 31-32, that crucial play set up the Lumberjacks for a field goal. Down again next drive at 34-38, Gipson crossed the backfield as the defense bailed out. Left wide open for a 35-yard chunk gain, the offense was set up for the final score of the game.

Gipson may not have elite size or strength but plays bigger than his frame and with unrivalled toughness. The shifty receiver should test well with ideal short-area suddenness and elusiveness in space. He has his moments of rounding off routes that could be sharpened. However, footwork and route running are both a strength and with further upside as those areas improve. The strides may be short, yet Gipson eats up yardage with his footspeed. He’s proven highly effective to all levels of the field. The week prior to Southern Utah, an 84-yard punt return touchdown versus Tarleton was another example of the special teams element he can offer.

The production from Gipson has been exceptional. The former 3-star commit to SMU has played some of his best football against better opposition. In 2021 against Texas Tech, he claimed 13 receptions for 158 yards against the Red Raiders. In total last season, Gipson contributed 74 catches for 1,367 yards (18.5 average) and 14 touchdowns. The high school track standout has translatable elusiveness and separation skills to compensate for the smaller build. He’ll back down to no-one, nor should anyone bet against such a determined, competitive playmaker. He could return for another collegiate season but would be justified in heading to the NFL in 2023.



Photo Credit: Fordham University Athletics

Though not one of the Big Three FCS conferences, the Patriot League arguably features one of the best matchups of the week. Tied-5th-ranked Holy Cross (7-0) and 22nd-ranked Fordham (6-1) face off in the crucial conference contest. Fordham may not be as lofty in the polls as the Crusaders, but boast an exceptionally productive offense. Led by quarterback Tim DeMorat, the Rams will go against a Holy Cross defense that has several potential pro talents. Linebacker Jacob Dobbs, another previously listed here as a player to watch, has not played since late September, however.

Fordham feature a pro prospect at linebacker themselves, who could play a big role. Senior Ryan Greenhagen is averaging close to 10 tackles a game in 2022. In addition to 67 stops, he’s added 5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and a pass breakup. Against FBS opponents Ohio, Greenhagen was around the ball constantly in piling up 16 tackles. He has been a consistent tackle machine over his career, including 123 tackles and 18.5 TFLs in 2019. In only 5 games in 2021, he somehow managed to rack up 102 tackles, including 31 against Nebraska.

Enough of listing numbers, Greenhagen’s film reflects the stats. Unsurprisingly, the Fordham defender is an active downhill playmaker. His quick processing gives him an early jump toward the action. The physicality at the point of attack assists in fighting through the traffic and shedding blocks to contribute with stops. His smart play and positioning can assist when working laterally and in space, though his testing will be interesting as part of his overall potential to be an every-down backer. If Fordham are to outlast their higher-ranked conference foes, Greenhagen could be a key contributor.


Photo Credit: Dallas Daniels (Twitter)

With Gameday travelling to the Jackson State Southern matchup this weekend, it seems appropriate to highlight a prospect to watch. There are multiple interesting talents on both squads. Earlier this season, Jaguars edge defender Jordan Lewis was a player picked out here and will again be worth a watch. Few have made more of an impact this season on the Tigers though, than wide receiver Dallas Daniels. The transfer from Western Illinois and former community college player has had an immediate impact and chemistry with QB Shedeur Sanders.

Daniels will enter the Southern contest with 511 yards and 6 touchdowns on the season. Despite a deep group of pass targets and a solid run game, he has still succeeded in standing out, leading the team in all major receiving categories. At 6’0, 170 lbs, Daniels is slightly built but flashes well when faced with man coverage. Using his hands to deflect, he has a knack for working off press attention, with the footwork and burst to open up an early step advantage. He earns his targets through working open often. Daniels’ route running and change of direction gets results at the top of his breaks and exploiting space underneath. Seeing his share of short targets, he’s proven effective after the catch with the ball in his hands.

The Tigers’ senior impresses consistently at the catch point, rarely failing to secure a ball within his catch radius. He has excellent timing with his hands and his vertical leaps. Combining with sharp focus as the ball arrives, he’s not easy to force incompletions under tight coverage. Given his lighter weight for the position, his fortitude when facing physical coverage is commendable. With multiple touchdown performances against Grambling (3) and Bethune-Cookman (2), he is capable of being the difference for Jackson State. In one of the more high-profile matchups of the season, another big performance will continue the positive strides as an NFL prospect.

Feature Image Credit: Tommy Martino/UM Athletics.

Rebecca Rennie

rebecca rennie


Rebecca is an NFL Draft analyst focusing primarily on the FCS and Group of Five conferences, and a fan of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Stanford Cardinal. You can find her other articles here and follow on Twitter @bex_r86.