By Rebecca Rennie

Our latest edition of FCS Friday is loaded with big names. We take a look at one of the bigger-name prospects on each of the offensive and defensive sides  of the ball. Also featured is the first quarterback of the series this season. The productive passer is among the early leading contenders for the Walter Payton Award.

This week’s ‘Players to Watch’ section highlights an excellent matchup in the trenches to check out on Saturday. We also recommend taking a look at yet another of the talented tight end group for the 2023 NFL Draft class.


Photo Credit: Zachary Lucy

In this upcoming class for the 2023 NFL Draft, positional value may result in Hunter Luepke being selected behind several other small school prospects. There is every chance he ultimately proves to be among the best pros from the group, regardless. Speaking of positional value, it would do a great disservice to simply refer to him as a fullback. The versatile contributor rarely lines up in the same position on two consecutive plays within the offensive formation. Luepke excels as a fullback, running back, H-back and inline tight end. The blocking work is outstanding, he can factor as a pass catcher and is a devastating power runner.

South Dakota were the latest opponent to be reminded of how brutal attempting to contain Luepke can prove. Despite a deep rotation of backs, Luepke totalled 20 carries for 146 yards (7.3 average) and 2 touchdowns. Primarily involved as a blocker during the early drives, Luepke came alive during the third quarter. A 10-yard run up the middle saw the senior follow his blockers well before driving through contact to take several defenders and an official with him. He helped finish the drive by executing a key block, turning his man inside to create the running lane for his QB to head to the end zone.

Perhaps his best run came late in the third quarter with the game tied at 17-17. Luepke picked his way between heavy traffic before bouncing off a pair of tackle attempts and dragging a defender for several additional yards. That 17-yard gain set up the Bison at the 2-yard line. Luepke finished off the drive himself for the go-ahead touchdown. The bruising chunk-yardage runs continued in the final quarter. Tackle-breaking carries of 16 yards and 12 yards were part of a lengthy NDSU field goal drive that ate up seven crucial minutes of clock.

The All-American has not seen significant use as a pass catcher in his career. He has taken two of his five this season for scores though, including against FBS opponents Arizona in the previous week’s narrow loss. He has averaged 18 yards-per-catch since 2021, including five receiving TDs. As a runner, Luepke is more than just a battering ram. He shows patience while utilizing his blockers effectively, with the vision and timing to exploit openings. The drive-through-contact dynamic follows, to turn the good runs into great ones. The power, effective stiff-arm and balance compliments the imposing run style.

His blocking features sound technique, use of leverage and hand placement to clear paths and dictate movement. It is no surprise to learn that even back in high school, his varied deployment included play at running back, linebacker, defensive end and kick returner. Luepke’s reputation rose to wider prominence following a dominant playoff run to the National Championship last season. He is building on that momentum in 2022 and is set to smash his personal records for season totals, despite the rotation. It feels highly likely that Luepke will be a part of the post-season Senior Bowl roster.


Photo Credit: Fordham University Athletics

Entering last weekend, Rams quarterback Tim DeMorat led the FCS in passing yards and passing touchdowns on the season. The experienced redshirt senior, who has started since being his true freshman year, padded those numbers significantly against FBS opponents Ohio. DeMorat compiled a monster stat line that included 503 passing yards on 35 attempts (14.4 average), completing 77% of passes. Six of those throws went for touchdowns, with no interceptions. On the season, he now has 22 TD passes to 3 picks through the first four games.

Given the huge performance, it felt worthwhile to watch DeMorat’s outing against competition greater than seen in the Patriot League. As good as the simple numbers were against MAC opposition, context is key. The Bobcats secondary contributed substantially to the ability of DeMorat to collate his colossal totals. Through the first half, multiple coverage busts led to a series of scores. The first TD throw early in the second quarter was a simple pitch-and-catch to his leading receiver Fotis Kokosioulis. With around five minutes left in the half, Kokosioulis was again left wide open deep downfield. DeMorat slightly underthrew the pass, requiring his teammate to slow down to bring it in, before finishing for the 74-yard score.

Indeed, after much of the first half, it felt as through this was a more a case of disappointing defense than a dismantling by DeMorat. As the game proceeded though, more positive projectable play emerged. The Rams QB showed excellent touch and timing on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Kokosioulis down the right sideline early after the break. Quickly after, good use of his eyes and a pump fake preceded an accurate throw to the back of the end zone to MJ Wright for a 25-yard touchdown.

Beyond certain specific plays for the Ohio contest, there was a lot to like about other aspects of DeMorat’s execution. The process is quick from his drop back, setting of the feet and relatively compact release of the ball. There is good footwork from a clean pocket, showing consistent coordination between his upper and lower body as part of his overall conventionally proficient form and mechanics. The arm strength is not top tier but solid, featuring a fairly high-angle release that combined with his tall frame should avoid frequent pass deflections. He is well built with enough mobility to take advantage of space and to absorb the occasional hit.

At this point, perhaps the leading small school QB prospect for the 2023 class is Division 2 Shepherd’s Tyson Bagent. There is room for others to make their case, and through the early parts of this season, DeMorat is doing just that. Out-with a 3-game shortened 2020 season, DeMorat was averaging under 60% completions every season. This season so far, that mark is up to 68%, to go with the improved touchdown-interception rate. Those are basic numbers relative to modern analytical data but are positive improvements none-the-less. Continuing his prolific numbers through the remained of his final season could lead to an NFL opportunity.


Photo Credit: FAMU Athletics

Atop many pre-season lists, Land has frequently been cited as one of the small school prospects to know for 2023. The previous season saw the Rattlers rusher wrecking backfields, accumulating 25.5 tackles for loss with 19 sacks. The Buck Buchanan Award unsurprisingly went his way in being named the most outstanding defensive player in the FCS. There was the potential of Land transferring to the FBS for his final season of eligibility. However, four days after entering the transfer portal, he announced he would be remaining with the Rattlers.

It has been something of a relatively slower start to 2022 for the FAMU edge defender. Land was among the many on the A&M roster that were ineligible to play in the opener versus North Carolina. That was a significant opportunity missed to perform against a higher competition level. Through the first couple of games to follow, he has flashed moments, including a sack and pass breakup against Jackson State. Statistically, this weekend saw a slight uptick in the numbers against Alabama A&M. Land collected 3 tackles with 2 TFLs and a sack, while breaking up another pass.

Many of his rush attempts during the early Bulldogs’ drives included attempts to stunt inside of the tackle. An inside move contributed to his first TFL in which he was mostly unblocked but read the play intentions well to quickly shut down the running back’s progress. Land’s next backfield stop in the second quarter also saw him left essentially untouched, allowing him to close quick on the ball carrier. Similarly, a free opening to close on the QB shortly before halftime led to smartly getting his hands up to deflect a pass. The burst was again demonstrated in run pursuit with a couple of early assisted tackles, using his long wingspan effectively to wrap up.

While his showing against Alabama A&M was his most productive of the season to this point, it was notable that the majority of his plays were from situations in which he was not accounted for with a direct blocking assignment. That’s partly factoring in that his threat is well known to opposing offensive coordinators. Scheming away from Land only makes sense. Still, it would be encouraging to see more definitive wins from single blocker situations. It reminds of a contest last season when studying film of Southern O-lineman Ja’tyre Carter last draft cycle. Land had two sacks that game, but only after switching away from Carter’s side, where he was mostly shut down.

All that said, there are undeniable tantalizing traits to Land’s game. While very lean and light for an edge rusher, he has long limbs with outstanding agility and flexibility to bend, dip, evade and turn the corner. His burst and stride length allow him to close on ball carriers and QBs quickly to finish the final phase of rush attempts. The technique to his rushes can improve, as with his plans and counters. There is a tendency to get narrow in a manner that can lead to being knocked off balance. Land could prove fascinating over the pre-draft process. The athletic traits are legit, with Land set to test very well.



Photo Credit: Trevon Ware, 318 Photo

Last week’s FCS Friday featured an early personal favorite prospect in Arkansas-Pine Bluff left tackle Mark Evans II. He will provide the opposing force for another talented NFL hopeful in Southern edge Jordan Lewis. On the presumption that they will engage often, this is set to be one of the best individual matchups of draft prospects on show this weekend. Lewis has a sack in each of the first three games this season, including against LSU. If he keeps up his pace, the current FCS career sack leader can pass James Cowser for the all-time FCS sack record. If he can add to his total against Evans, that is only beneficial for his pro projection.

Lewis is another edge rusher with a smaller-than-conventional frame. Listed at 6’3, 223 lbs, it will be interesting to see if he has added bulk to his playing weight and for pre-draft testing. The versatile Jaguars standout moves around the formation frequently. He will line up on both sides of the line, from a 2- and 3-point stance, while also seeing occasional work as an off-ball linebacker in space. That may reduce the number of times he faces off with Mark Evans at left tackle. Given his smaller size, the off-ball usage is interesting for the next level, though he will need to improve at the point of attack and in shedding blocks.

Off the edge, Lewis wins more with burst and finesse than power at the point. His speed and agility can lead to early wins in the initial phase of rush attempts. He often achieves a good jump off the snap through good reactions and release from his stance. A useful rip move combined with dipping underneath blocks can shorten his angles toward the quarterback. A former high school hurdler, it would not surprise to see Lewis test well in the post-season. His run defense is a work-in-progress, factoring in the stack-and-shed consistency referenced. The potential as a situational pass rusher is intriguing though, while the tangible production is undeniable. It will be well worth the time to tune into this Saturday’s Southern vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff to see Lewis and Evans match up.


Photo Credit: UC Davis Athletics

The number of potential pro tight end talents has been a common feature of FCS Friday this season. Through the first few weeks, Eastern Kentucky’s Dakota Allen and Furman’s Ryan Miller have been included in articles. South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft has struggled with injury this year but may be the top FCS prospect this class if he declares. Another expected to be in the mix entering the season is UC Davis’ McCallan Castles. The transfer from the Cal Bears has flashed his potential the past few seasons, with exciting upside as a receiving threat.

Last week’s loss to Weber State was Castles’ most active game yet this season, though his five receptions led to only 22 yards gained. Through four games, he has 12 receptions for 126 yards and one touchdown. Another test awaits this Saturday as the Aggies take on Montana State next. The 6’5, 238 lb tight end looks the part with a solid build, length and impressive movement. His acceleration off the line and sharp changes of direction complete the well-rounded physical attributes on offer.

Where Castles stands out in his excellent abilities as a pass catcher. In addition to having a large catch radius and nice vertical, he showcases rare hands to cleanly and comfortable secure the ball. Whether high-pointing over coverage, corralling the ball in stride or adjusting to off-target throws outside his frame, his ball skills appear natural and effortless. His blocking can leave a lot to be desired and currently needs some work to prove passable. The ceiling as a receiving tight end is where the intrigue lies, however. After close losses to good opposition in South Dakota State and Weber State this season, Castles will hope to produce against Montana State in another attempt to overcome tough opposition.

Feature Image Credit: Zachary Lucy.

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.