Everyone is going to try to find the next Carson Wentz in FCS next season, and the truth is, another Carson Wentz probably doesn’t exist. But with that said, there is still tons of talent at the FCS level.
Many had Wentz pegged as a mid-round NFL draft pick at the beginning of last season; by the time the draft rolled around, he went second overall. The lesson? These players are legitimate, and it’s always fun to try and predict who’s going to pop by season’s end.
On that note, here are some FCS players you’ll be hearing plenty about this season.
WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
A former teammate of Vernon Adams, Kupp was a beast in 2015. He racked up 1,642 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns last season, including an unforgettable performance against Oregon:
Granted, Oregon didn’t have the stingiest of defenses last season. But to put up 246 yards and score three touchdowns against anyone is impressive; to do it against an FBS school as an FCS receiver is nothing short of remarkable. Cupp is 84 receptions away from breaking the all-time FCS record, and if he stays healthy, he seems like a lock to do so.
QB Brady Gustafson, Montana
Gustafson isn’t Wentz, but Montana did deal North Dakota State a loss last season. At 6-7, 230 pounds, Gustafson is an instinctual quarterback that makes sound decisions and reads.
Gustafson was solid across the board last season despite missing several games due to a leg injury. In seven affairs, the signal caller threw for 1,984 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 57.6 percent of his passes. That size is going to intrigue anyone, and with a moderate statistical uptick, Gustafson could have a break out season for the Grizzlies.
DE Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
With an increased emphasis on the passing game at all levels, linemen who can attack the quarterback are extremely valuable. Rivers can do just that.
Last season, the rangy defensive end made the All-Missouri Valley first team, and he holds the Youngstown State all-time mark in sacks with 26. Rivers is a chess piece for the Penguins. He can line up inside, as an end or at the outside linebacker spot, and he’s effective in any capacity. Rivers will wreak havoc on FCS offenses once again in 2016.
LB Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State
DeLuca is the leader of a stout North Dakota State front seven, and with their quarterback’s departure, the Bison will need to be firing on all cylinders on the defensive side of the ball.
DeLuca became a starter late in 2014, and he hasn’t looked back. The 6-3, 240-pounder is a tackling machine; last season, he totaled 135 of them. That mark led the Bison by a mile. North Dakota State is the most prestigious FCS program there is, and DeLuca is its leader. You’ll be hearing from him if the Bison can hoist the trophy once again.