April’s NFL Draft introduced the football watching nation to a corps of talented defensive backs who plied their trade in the Football Championship Subdivision. Names like Trumaine Johnson, Ryan Steed, Justin Bethel and Josh Norman are associated with the St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers. But followers of the FCS knew them from Montana, Furman, Presbyterian and Coastal Carolina.
The upcoming season’s bumper crop of FCS talent plays opposite the secondary. Wide receivers Rodrick Rumble, Nicholas Edwards, Greg Herd, Ryan Spadola, Quentin Sims and Aaron Mellette lead a deep class.
Edwards and Herd fuel the uptempo, vertical offense Beau Baldwin employs at Eastern Washington. Each finished in the top 15 nationally for receptions made per game. The two are similar players, but complement each other. Think when Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were each Arizona Cardinals.
Their efforts helped quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to the Walter Payton Award, given to the subdivision’s offensive MVP.
Mitchell’s gone, but his former back-up (at SMU, go figure) Kyle Padron is likely to assume the reins. Padron will have a smooth transition with this dynamic duo fronting the best team receiving corps in the FCS.
Edwards is an especially intriguing pro prospect, a consummate red zone threat at 6-foot-3 with an explosive vertical leap. That presence manifested in a ridiculous 19-touchdown 2011. That was more than Oklahoma State star Justin Blackmon, who finished the season with 18 in two more games than Edwards played.
EWU Big Sky Conference foe Idaho State boasts its own receiving threat in Rumble. The Bengals have languished near the bottom of the league, but Rumble’s been at its pinnacle. He brought in over 10 catches a game game for 1348 yards last season, and scored nine touchdowns. An All-American in 2011, Rumble is almost assuredly going to appear on the pre-season Payton Award watch list revealed next month.
The only receiver more individually prolific than Rumble was Elon’s Aaron Mellette. Mellette led the nation in receptions per game last season with 10.27, and for the past two seasons has been the stalwart of the Phoenix’s vertical attack. Mellette filled the vacancy Terrell Hudgins left after rewriting record books in 2009.
At 6-foot-4 with a solid 220-pound frame, Mellette has the body type of another former FCS/Division I-AA great, Terrell Owens. Owens is a likely NFL Hall of Famer, adapting to the pro game because of how versatile his game was. Mellette is a threat in red zone situations, but also dangerous on the long ball. He hauled in 14.5 yards worth per catch to lead the nation in total yardage in a walk, with 1639.
Though there are the style similarities between Mellette and Owens, T.O. never boasted the eye-popping numbers at Chattanooga Mellette has accrued at Elon.
Mellette shared Associated Press All-American honors with Lehigh’s Ryan Spadola. Spadola is another long receiver with possession target written all over him. Chris Lum connected with his favorite catcher Spadola 96 times through the regular season and another 13 in the Mountain Hawks’ playoff defeat of Towson.
A talent who should emerge into the upper echelon his senior season is Tennessee-Martin’s Quentin Sims. A transfer from Georgia Tech, Sims integrated into the Skyhawks’ 34.6 point per game offense well. Sims scored 10 touchdowns last season. With talented quarterback Derek Carr returning to man the UTM offense, expect an uptick in Sims’ production — and consequently, his pro prospect status.
The most famous receiver from an FCS program is Jerry Rice, who torched record books while at Mississippi Valley State. Rice was immortalized last season with the introduction of the Jerry Rice Award, an honor bestowed on the top freshman in the subdivision. Projecting contenders for such an honor before the season’s begun is difficult, but there are names worth following from the crew of 2016 wideouts.
• Rashawn Proctor, Old Dominion: A candidate for the award last season, quarterback Taylor Heinicke returns after leading the Monarchs to a top 20 passing offense. Proctor comes from Virginia powerhouse high school Bethel in Hampton Roads. He garnered some BCS conference interest before committing to ODU.
• Cameren Hemmings, Eastern Washington: A recruit from CIF Southern Section program Norco High School, Hemmings may find difficulty finding a niche in the loaded EWU receiving corps. However, there will be no shortage of passes to go around. He averaged over 18 yards per reception his senior year at NHS.
• Tysean Holloway, Appalachian State: BCS conference schools like North Carolina and Kansas State came calling, but Jerry Moore won out. His gain should translate into losses for other Southern Conference programs. Holloway was rated a three-star recruit by ESPN.com.