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In the FCS Huddle: A good year to draft FCS talent

<p>It's not Jimmy Garoppolo's fault.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It's not Jimmy Garoppolo's fault.

All he did as a senior at Eastern Illinois last year was to go out and quarterback the Panthers to a second straight Ohio Valley Conference championship and the No. 2 ranking in the FCS for much of the season, while winning the Walter Payton Award.

He never set out to overshadow the terrific all-conference and All-America talent on EIU's roster.

Just like Garoppolo isn't trying to overshadow the talent available from the FCS ranks for the NFL Draft come May 8-10. The media is making it happen that way.

Quarterbacks often dominate the draft talk, of course, and Garoppolo has been discussed as a possible first-round selection, which hasn't happened with an FCS player since 2008. Even if that's too lofty of an expectation - and probably so - he surely will be the first selection from the FCS level.

Once Garoppolo is taken, draftniks will want to perk up to who will follow him. It's a solid year for FCS talent, early on and perhaps even after the draft's conclusion.

"It's a little above average, pretty good at the top and in the middle rounds. A lot of potential late-round and PFA (priority free agent) gems out there," said Josh Buchanan, one of the leading voices in small school draft evaluation and the small school scout for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which continues to grow in the eyes of NFL personnel.

An average year brings 18 or so FCS selections. That number may not change much next month, but the potential candidates for the second day of the draft - rounds two and three - reflect the draft class' strength, and that the spotlight should be shining beyond Garoppolo.

Towson running back Terrance West entered the draft as a junior and rightfully so after he set FCS single-season records with 2,509 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns last year. He's a big back who can run, catch and be a workhorse.

Offensive linemen Dakota Dozier of Furman and Billy Turner from three-time reigning FCS champion North Dakota State also are second-day candidates, and there are defensive stalwarts in Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid and Montana outside linebacker Jordan Tripp, a duo whom Buchanan believes will be the most successful from the FCS draft class.

"They are as good between the ears as they are below the neck," Buchanan said of their combination of work ethic, smart play and high character.

While Buchanan likes the depth of the FCS draft class, he's impressed with Garoppolo as well. He just believes the media's focus on Garoppolo has pushed him up draft lists too much, and though he expects Garoppolo to develop over time, if he's taken in the second round - as Buchanan projects - the FCS player of the year might be expected to contribute too quickly to his franchise.

"I like Jimmy's skills," Buchanan said. "As much hype as there is on him - some love him and some don't - he's got a quick release, off-the-chart intangibles, and he is very smart in reading defenses.

"The issues for him are that he doesn't have great velocity, (is) not great on deep balls, and he had six other All-Americans around him, so as much hype as he has been given, others on that team deserve more than they have gotten. It was truly a team effort at EIU and I think Jimmy would tell you that. He's a great kid and I think he can be a great No. 2 QB in the NFL with time."

Buchanan projects draft selections for 15 FCS players and he has another seven as seventh-round possibilities who could be priority free agents.

Among mid- to late-round possibilities, Buchanan believes Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens and Montana linebacker Brock Coyle have helped themselves with impressive pro days. He also says Old Dominion offensive guard D.J. Morrell, Appalachian State wide receiver Tony Washington, Harvard tight end Cameron Brate and Tennessee State free safety David Van Dyke will be players to watch after the draft when NFL teams sign so many available undrafted free agents.

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