The FCS has seen great quarterback play over the last two years, whether it was from back-to-back Walter Payton Award winners Eric Barriere (Eastern Washington) and Cole Kelley (Southeastern Louisiana) or spring 2021's Jerry Rice Award winner Cameron Ward (UIW). However, all three are gone in 2022, leaving an opening at the top of the FCS quarterback totem pole.
What FCS quarterbacks are the best candidates to rise to top-dog status? It starts with the returning quarterbacks.
The key word is returning. That means no incoming freshmen and no transfers, regardless of if they played at an FCS school in the year prior.
That said, let's break down the best of the best.
Top 5 returning FCS quarterbacks
Tim DeMorat | Fordham
Tim DeMorat may not be a name you've heard of before as he's the only quarterback in the top five that failed to play in a postseason game last year, but he definitely should be on your radar entering 2022.
DeMorat returns to Fordham in 2022 with the most passing yards per game and passing touchdowns in 2021 of any returning FCS quarterback. His 8,393 career total yards of offense are the most of any returning FCS player.
However, DeMorat's not simply putting up empty stats, he's helping Fordham to win; last year, DeMorat guided Fordham to its first winning season — not counting the COVID-shortened spring — since 2016.
DeMorat was also a Walter Payton Award finalist in 2021 and the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year. Expect DeMorat to keep Fordham in its conference title conversation throughout the year as one of the FCS's best quarterbacks.
Xavier Shepherd | Kennesaw State
Should Kennesaw State's Xavier Shepherd be counted as a quarterback over an all-purpose player in 2022?
To not consider Shepherd among the FCS's best quarterbacks is a discredit to how he commands a dominant triple-option offense.
Shepherd returns to Kennesaw State in 2022 coming off a season where he led the country with 23 rushing touchdowns, scoring 38 touchdowns total — the most of any returning FCS player.
Shepherd is dynamic with the ball in his hands and has displayed the ability to attack through the air when the triple-option rushing attack doesn't work. More importantly, Shepherd wins games; he did not lose a regular-season FCS game in 2021. He's without a doubt one of the best quarterbacks entering this year.
Shedeur Sanders | Jackson State
Shedeur Sanders took the FCS by storm in 2021, winning the Jerry Rice Award and a SWAC championship as a freshman at Jackson State. Sanders went undefeated against FCS competition during his regular season as a starter, displaying poise and precision under center. He finished with a 30-8 touchdown to interception ratio and 3,231 passing yards.
Now, Sanders enters the season as the best HBCU quarterback and one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS. With an influx of talent via recruits and the transfer portal, Sanders will have weapons galore this year as he looks to rise to the top of the FCS.
Jason Shelley | Missouri State
In 2021, quarterback Jason Shelley won Missouri Valley Football Conference player of the year. In 2022, Shelley leads a national title-contending Missouri State team.
The Missouri State hype train is rolling entering 2022 and Shelley is a big reason why. He returns with the most passing yards (3,342) and total yards of offense (3,789) of any returning FCS quarterback from 2021. Each stat set a school record as Shelley finished as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award.
Under the tutelage of renowned head coach Bobby Petrino, Shelley's progression should continue in 2022 and he could finish the season as the FCS's best quarterback.
Nic Baker | Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois' Nic Baker was a top-10 passer in 2021, finishing with 3,231 passing yards, a school record. In 2022, he returns to lead a talented Southern Illinois team. Baker was good enough to lead the Salukis to a playoff win last year, where he completed 70 percent of his passes. With another year of experience under his belt, Baker has earned his spot in the upper echelon of FCS quarterbacks.
The next 5
Here are the returning FCS quarterbacks who just missed the cut.
- Nolan Henderson | Delaware
- Tommy Mellott | Montana State
- Trae Self | Stephen F. Austin
- Carson Camp | South Dakota
- Mark Gronowski | South Dakota State