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Stan Becton | | April 30, 2023

15 undrafted FCS NFL players that can be impact rookies

South Dakota State beats North Dakota State for 2022 FCS championship

The 2023 NFL draft saw 10 FCS players drafted, but plenty more players signed contracts with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. Here are some of the undrafted FCS players that can have immediate impacts as rookies, sorted by the level of potential impact.

1. North Dakota State FB Hunter Luepke - Dallas Cowboys

Few NFL teams carry a fullback on their roster in 2023. The Dallas Cowboys don't. Yet, North Dakota State fullback Hunter Luepke signed with the Cowboys after the draft.

Luepke has a shot to be the only fullback on the roster, but he can contribute as more than just a blocker for Dallas. The Cowboys cut long-time running back Ezekiel Elliott this offseason, handing over the reins to Tony Pollard. Pollard isn't the power-back that Elliott was, and neither is the 5'5'' Deuce Vaughn that Dallas drafted in the sixth round. The Cowboys will need a back for in between the tackles on short-yardage situations and Luepke and his 24 career rushing touchdowns fit perfectly for this role.

Elsewhere, the Cowboys were in dire need of a tight end this offseason. They drafted one in the second round, but Luepke can help there too. Luepke caught nine touchdowns in college and can easily flex out as an H-back in the Dallas offense. Luepke's versatility gives him a great chance at making the roster and having an instant impact.

2023 NFL draft recap: A round-by-round recap of the 2023 NFL draft 

2. Chattanooga Mocs OL McClendon Curtis - Las Vegas Raiders

Curtis McClendon was a surprise FCS player to go undrafted, but he landed in a perfect spot with the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders entered the draft with many calling for help along an offensive line that, outside of left tackle Kolton Miller, is far from set. McClendon joins the Raiders bring versatility along the offensive line, playing guard and tackle in college. McClendon could challenge for a starting spot by the time the preseason is over.

3. Furman WR Ryan Miller - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ryan Miller played tight end at Furman but caught 12 touchdowns last year. Miller also has 4.4 speed as he makes the transition to wide receiver. He'll have a great shot at making the Tampa Bay roster that has plenty of inexperience behind its top three receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage.

4. Florida A&M Edge Isaiah Land - Dallas Cowboys

Former Buck Buchanan Award winner Isaiah Land signed with the Dallas Cowboys quickly after the draft. He follows in the footsteps of former Florida A&M teammate Markquese Bell who did the same in 2022. Bell played five games last year for the Cowboys, showing that there's a path for playing time as an undrafted free agent.

On the field, Land can have an impact as a situational pass rusher as he continues to learn the Cowboys system. Dallas has All-Pro Micah Parsons and Pro Bowler Demarcus Lawrence on the edge, but it's plenty unproven behind the duo save for journeyman Dante Fowler. That's where Land can contribute.

5. Youngstown State RB Jaleel McLaughlin - Denver Broncos

Jaleel McLaughlin finished his career as the NCAA All-Division career rushing yardage leader. He signed with the Denver Broncos and will have a chance to compete for the third running back spot. The Broncos have Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine atop the depth chart, but behind them, it's wide open. McLaughlin has a great chance at making the roster.

BOOM: 10 FCS players taken in the 2023 NFL draft

6. South Carolina State WR Shaquan Davis - New Orleans Saints

The 2021 Celebration Bowl MVP Shaquan Davis signed with the New Orleans Saints after the draft. Davis is a big-bodied wide receiver with speed as well. He figures to play on the outside as an X receiver as he did in college. 

The Saints' outside receivers are Chris Olave and Michael Thomas, but they need depth on the outside with Thomas' injury history. The Saints looked for depth this offseason, acquiring 6'3'' wideouts Bryan Edwards via free agency and A.T. Perry in the sixth round. Davis only has to beat out one for a likely roster spot, and he'll come cheaper than both receivers if it ends up being a down-to-the-wire decision.

7. Missouri State CB Montrae Braswell - Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs used plenty of unheralded cornerbacks last year, highlighted by former DII HBCU star Joshua Williams. Montrae Braswell fits the recent mold of the Chiefs' secondary, but it's what the former Missouri State corner can do beyond defense that has him primed for a roster spot.

Braswell was an All-American kick returner during his FCS career, taking three kicks back for touchdowns. Current Kansas City kick returners Kadarius Toney, Isaiah Pacheco and Skyy Moore all figure to have starting roles in 2023, leaving room for Braswell to take over primary duties. 

8. Northern Iowa S Benny Sapp III - Green Bay Packers

Benny Sapp III has a great shot at making the Green Bay Packers roster as the fourth safety. Sapp's primary competition for the fourth safety spot is two seventh-round picks from the last two years. Sapp brings to the NFL eight interceptions in his final two collegiate seasons. Should those ball skills translate quickly, Sapp could find a new home in Green Bay as a deep safety in a nickel package.

NUMBERS: Colleges and conferences with the most players drafted in the 2023 NFL draft

9. Alabama State CB Keenan Isaac - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Keenan Issac signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the draft. It's a great landing spot for Issac as the Buccaneer secondary is wide open behind its starters. 

The secondary includes Dee Delaney, on his fifth team since going undrafted in 2018. It has former Sam Houston star Zyon McCollum, a fifth-round 2022 selection, and Josh Hayes, a sixth-round pick in 2023. There's space for Issac to make the team and crack the secondary rotation quickly.

10. Holy Cross LB Liam Anderson - Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts have an All-Pro linebacker from the FCS in Shaquille Darius Leonard on the team. Leonard leads a 4-3 defense that keeps three linebackers on the field more than most teams, thanks to Leonard's versatility. That defensive scheme creates an opportunity for Holy Cross linebacker Liam Anderson to make the team and potentially contribute as a rotational linebacker.

Anderson can play in coverage (six collegiate interceptions), a necessity for an every-down linebacker in today's NFL. With former FCS linebacker Forrest Rhyne (Villanova) and 2023 draft pick Titus Leo (Wagner) on the roster, the opportunity is there for Anderson to make the team and contribute.

11. Gardner-Webb WR T.J. Luther OR Stephen F. Austin WR Xavier Gipson - New York Jets

Gardner-Webb's T.J. Luther and Stephen F. Austin's Xavier Gipson signed with the New York Jets after the draft. At least one of these FCS wide receivers could make the roster.

The Jets currently have wide receivers Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, Corey Davis and Denzel Mims on the roster. All likely make the final roster. However, the Jets were involved in the Odell Beckham Jr. sweepstakes, indicating the want for a sixth wideout. Throw in the addition of future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers and what should be a more pass-heavy offense, and Luther or Gipson have a shot at making the team.

The duo will have to compete with each other and the likes of Dionte Spencer, Irvin Charles and Malik Taylor, but Luther and Gipson each have a shot at making the roster as the sixth — and maybe seventh — receivers to catch passes from a future Hall of Famer.

LOOKING AHEAD: Way-too-early FCS tiers for every team entering the 2023 season

12-15. The Los Angeles Rams UDFAs

The Los Angeles Rams are notorious for trading away early draft picks, relying on late-round picks and undrafted free agent success. This year is no different after the Rams didn't have a pick until the second round. This year they signed several undrafted free agents, but four at the FCS level stand out:

  • Florida A&M WR Xavier Smith
  • Incarnate Word LB Kelechi Anyalebechi
  • Western Carolina CB Cameron McCutcheon
  • Rhode Island CB Jordan Jones

Xavier Smith heads Los Angeles, which already has two FCS wideouts on the roster — Cooper Kupp and Lance McCutcheon. Yet, deep speed is missing, and Smith's 4.3-second speed could bolster the receiving corps, carving out a role as a deep threat.

On defense, the Rams need inside linebacker depth after losing Bobby Wagner during the offseason; Kelechi Anyalebechi provides that. Cameron McCutcheon and Jordan Jones join a secondary without a player drafted before the fourth round. 

The quartet of Rams UDFAs could be asked to contribute early, thanks to a thin roster.

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