(Stats Perform) – FCS college football is primed to bounce back in the NFL Draft after opening the decade with only six selections in back-to-back years.

Bounce back? OK, make that a leap.

This year’s three-day draft will be held from April 28-30 in Las Vegas – the first round Thursday night, second and third rounds Friday night, and fourth through seven rounds on Saturday.

To see how the leading FCS prospects may stack up in the draft, we’ve ranked them in order by the average round projections of five different draft evaluators: Draft Scout, NFL Draft Bible, The Draft Network, NFL Draft Buzz and Pro Football Focus.

Said Josh Buchanan, small school analyst for Draft Scout: “I think the overall class is about what I expected due to super seniors. The best position groups are offensive line and defensive back, and this class overall could have a couple Pro Bowlers and six to seven very good starters. I have been a big fan of (Trevor) Penning, (Christian) Watson and (Pierre) Strong since the beginning and then (Cole) Strange, (Troy) Andersen, (Zyon) McCollum and (Matt) Waletzko played their way from late round or (priority free agent) to potential top-125 picks. I also like Braxton Jones and Isaiah Weston as well.”

Note grad transfers who left FCS programs to complete their careers on the FBS level are included in the list. (a PFA grade is Priority Free Agent, which is more coveted than an FA grade, or Free Agent)

1. Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa, OT, 6-7, 325

Average Projection: Round 1 (1 Draft Scout, 1 Draft Bible, 1 Draft Network, 1 Draft Buzz, 2 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: The only offensive lineman who was a Walter Payton Award finalist last season is projected to be UNI’s first-ever first-round draft pick.

2. Christian Watson, North Dakota State, WR, 6-4, 208

Average Projection: 2 (2 Draft Scout, 2 Draft Bible, 2 Draft Network, 3 Draft Buzz, 3 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Since 2015, Watson’s 49.9-yard average on scores from scrimmage (14 receiving, two rushing) is the highest among FCS players with 10 or more touchdowns.

3. Troy Andersen, Montana State, OLB, 6-3 1/2, 243

Average Projection: 3 (3 Draft Scout, 2 Draft Bible, 3 Draft Network, 3 Draft Buzz, 2 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Versality personified: Andersen was the 2017 Big Sky freshman of the year while playing both running back and linebacker, a 2018 first-team all-conference selection at quarterback, a 2019 first-team selection at outside linebacker and the 2021 Big Sky defensive player of the year at middle linebacker.

4. Cole Strange, OG/C, Chattanooga, 6-5, 307

Average Projection: 3 (2-3 Draft Scout, 3 Draft Bible, 3 Draft Network, 3 Draft Buzz, 3 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Older than most prospects in the draft – he will turn 24 before the start of the 2022 season – the Southern Conference’s two-time offensive lineman of the year helped Chattanooga in 2021 to its highest rushing average (205.5 ypg) in five years.

5. Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State, RB, 5-11, 207

Average Projection: 4 (3-4 Draft Scout, 5 Draft Bible, 4 Draft Network, 4 Draft Buzz, 4 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Strong tied for the fastest 40-yard dash among running backs at the NFL Combine (4.37 seconds) after averaging nearly 7.2 yards per carry over his SDSU career, finishing just shy of the FCS record for 600 or more attempts.

6. Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston, CB, 6-2, 199

Average Projection: 4 (4 Draft Scout, 3 Draft Bible, 6 Draft Network, 4 Draft Buzz, 4 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: A superb NFL Combine built on a huge college career in which McCollum had 54 passes defended (13 interceptions, 41 breakups). Sam Houston was 12-1 in games when he had a pick.

7. Braxton Jones, Southern Utah, OT, 6-5, 310

Average Projection: 4 (4-5 Draft Scout, 4 Draft Bible, 4 Draft Network, 5 Draft Buzz, 4 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Utilizing an 84 1/4-inch wingspan, Jones plays with a nasty streak that is coveted by NFL teams. He earned All-Big Sky honors three times, including twice on the first team.

8. Matt Waletzko, OT, North Dakota, 6-8, 312

Average Projection: 4-5 (4 Draft Scout, 6 Draft Bible, 5 Draft Network, 4 Draft Buzz, 4 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: One of the tallest players in the draft class, Waletzko anchored an offensive line that last spring ranked second in the FCS in fewest sacks allowed per game and was third-best in the fall.

9. Bailey Zappe, Houston Baptist/Western Kentucky, QB, 6-0 1/2, 215

Average Projected Round: 5 (4 Draft Scout, 5 Draft Bible, PFA Draft Network, 5 Draft Buzz, 4 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: While at Houston Baptist, Zappe set the FCS record for passing yards against an FBS opponent (567 versus Texas Tech on Sept. 12, 2020). In his only season at WKU, he set FBS single-season records for passing yards (5,967) and TD passes (62).

10. John Ridgeway, Illinois State/Arkansas, DT, 6-5, 327

Average Projected Round: 5 (7 Draft Scout, 4 Draft Bible, 3 Draft Network, 6 Draft Buzz, 7 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Ridgeway was the starting nose tackle for a 2019 Illinois State squad that led the FCS in total sacks and ranked fourth in scoring defense.

11. Eric Johnson, Missouri State, DT, 6-4, 300

Average Projected Round: 5 (5 Draft Scout, 4 Draft Bible, 6 Draft Network, 7 Draft Buzz, 5 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: A fast riser following the all-star games, the durable run-stuffer set the Missouri State record by playing in 55 consecutive games.

12. Markquese Bell, Florida A&M, SS, 6-2, 212

Average Projection: 6 (6 Draft Scout, 4 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, 7 Draft Buzz, 6 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Projected to be FAMU’s first draft pick since 2013, Bell posted the most solo tackles (16) in an FCS playoff game since the NCAA’s defensive record-keeping began in 2000.

13. Cordell Volson, North Dakota State, OG/OT, 6-6, 315

Average Projection: 6 (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, 4 Draft Network, 6 Draft Buzz, 6 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: The durable Volson appeared in an NDSU-record 63 career games, including 41 consecutive starts over his final three seasons.

14. E.J. Perry, Brown, QB, 6-2, 211

Average Projected Round: 7 (7 Draft Scout, 4 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, 7 Draft Buzz, PFA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: In two seasons at Brown, the East-West Shrine Bowl’s offensive MVP had the most yards of total offense in an Ivy League season (3,678 in 2019) as well as the third-most (3,435 in 2021).

15. Samori Toure, Montana/Nebraska, WR, 6-0 1/2, 191

Average Projected Round: 7 (6 Draft Scout, 6 Draft Bible, 5 Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Toure set the FCS playoff record for receiving yards with 303 in Montana’s 2019 first-round win over Southeastern Louisiana.

16. Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana, QB, 6-7, 249

Average Projected Round: 7 (7 Draft Scout, 7 Draft Bible, 4 Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, PFA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: The 2020 Walter Payton Award recipient had little trouble seeing over oncoming defenders – his 72.1 completion percentage at Southeastern (685 of 950) set the FCS career record.

17. Nick Zakelj, Fordham, OT, 6-6, 316

Average Projection: 7 (6-7 Draft Scout, 6 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, 7 Draft Buzz, 7 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: The Fordham big man made 44 starts and played in 45 games while being named All-Patriot League four times (three first team, one second team).

18. Isaiah Weston, Northern Iowa, 6-3 1/2, 214

Average Projection: 7 (5 Draft Scout, 6 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, PFA Draft Buzz, PFA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Weston’s ability to stretch a defense was on display in eight career 100-yard receiving performances. He averaged 31.6 yards per catch and caught 10 touchdowns in those games.

19. Jason Poe, Mercer, OG/C, 6-1, 300

Average Projected Round: 7 (7 Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, 7 Draft Buzz, 5 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: The former Division II All-American who played his final season in the FCS posted exceptional pro day numbers, including 4.89 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 34 bench press reps.

20. Decobie Durant, South Carolina State, CB, 5-10, 180

Average Projection: 7 (7 Draft Scout, 7 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, 7 Draft Buzz, 7 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: “Cobie” intercepted a pair of passes in a noted performance against Clemson last September and averaged 1.19 passes defended (12 picks and 32 pass breakups) in 37 career games.

21. J’Atyre Carter, Southern, OG, 6-3, 311

Average Projection: 7 (PFA Draft Scout, 3 Draft Bible, PFA Draft Network, PFA Draft Buzz, PFA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: The veteran of 37 starts at Southern is seeking to become the school’s first draft selection since 2004.

22. Dai’Jean Dixon, Nicholls, WR, 6-2 1/2, 200

Average Projection: 7-PFA (PFA Draft Scout, 7 Draft Bible, PFA Draft Network, PFA Draft Buzz, 7 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Dixon’s 236 receptions, 3,802 receiving yards, 35 touchdown catches are not just Nicholls’ career records, but the highest totals in the FCS since 2017.

23. Noah Elliss, Idaho, DT, 6-4, 359

Average Projection: 7-PFA (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, PFA Draft Network, PFA Draft Buzz, 6 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Elliss is part of an NFL family – his father Luther was a 10-year defensive tackle, including two Pro Bowl seasons, and his older brothers Kaden and Christian are currently in the league.

24. DaRon Bland, Sacramento State/Fresno State, CB, 6-0, 203

Average Projection: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, FA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, PFA Draft Buzz, 6 Pro Football Focus)

Notable: A cover corner who was statistically consistent with 44, 43 and 45 tackles over his final three seasons plus at least one interception and five pass breakups each time.

25. Christian Benford, Villanova, CB, 6-0 1/2, 196

Average Projected Round: PFA (7 Draft Scout, 7 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Benford’s career average of 1.31 passes defended per game is the highest among FCS players in the draft class.

26. De’Shaan Dixon, Norfolk State, DE, 6-4, 251

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, 6 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Although he didn’t have an interception in his four-year college, Dixon’s size was effective in defending the pass. He totaled 10 pass breakups.

27. Jerreth Sterns, Houston Baptist/Western Kentucky, WR, 5-7 1/2, 183

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, 7 Draft Bible, PFA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Over 30 career games, Stern averaged double figure receptions, just over 10 per outing with 302 overall.

28. Daniel Hardy, Montana State, OLB, 6-2, 239

Average Projected Round: PFA (7 Draft Scout, 7 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: A move to defensive end from SAM linebacker agreed with Hardy in Montana State’s FCS runner-up season as he racked up 24.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks.

29. Jequez Ezzard, Sam Houston, WR, 5-9 1/2, 194

Average Projected Round: PFA (6-7 Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Ezzard’s career average of 22.3 yards per catch (on 155 receptions) ranks No. 1 in the FCS in the last 10 seasons.

30. Qwynterrio Cole, Alcorn State/Louisville, S, 6-0, 206

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, PFA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, PFA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: The big-bodied defender had nine interceptions in his final three seasons, including the 2018 and ’19 campaigns at Alcorn State.

31. Liam Shanahan, Harvard/LSU, C, 6-5, 300

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, 7 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Shanahan started all 53 games of his five-season career and gained experience all along the O-line.

32. Dee Anderson, Alabama A&M, WR, 6-5, 218

Average Projected Round: PFA (FA Draft Scout, 6 Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: In his only season at AAMU last fall, the former LSU and Oklahoma State receiver had three games with three TD catches while tying for the SWAC high of 12.

33. Tanner Conner, Idaho State, WR, 6-2 1/2, 230

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, PFA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: A high school state champion hurdler, Conner had an impressive 39.5-inch vertical jump on his pro day. He averaged nearly 18 yards a catch over his final three seasons.

34. Andrew Ogletree, Youngstown State, TE, 6-5 1/2, 256

Average Projected Round: PFA (7 Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Ogletree’s greatest success was at Division II Findlay, but he built on a 28-catch senior season at Youngstown State with offensive MVP honors at the 2022 Hula Bowl.

35. James Houston IV, Jackson State, OLB, 6-1, 241

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Nicknamed “The Problem,” Houston was just that for offenses in his lone FCS season as he finished second nationally in sacks (16.5, 1.27 per game), sack yardage (117) and tackles for loss (24.5).

36. Benton Whitley, Holy Cross, DE/OLB, 6-2 1/2, 257

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Whitley flew under the radar nationally despite earning three All-Patriot League first-team selections on conference championship squads. He was particularly productive in postseason games.

37. Trae Barry, Jacksonville State/Boston College, TE, 6-6, 238

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Barry’s pro day was a showcase for his excellent length, including 6-6 height, 10-inch hands, 85-5 wingspan and 7-1 catch radius wingspan.

38. Josh Babicz, North Dakota State, TE, 6-6, 252

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Known for his blocking skills, Babicz was a legitimate red zone weapon, hauling in 11 of his 40 career receptions for touchdowns.

39. Roderick Perry III, South Carolina State/Illinois, DT, 6-2, 315

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Racked up 14.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks from the interior as a redshirt junior at South Carolina State in 2019.

40. Jack Cochrane, South Dakota, LB, 6-2 1/2, 234

Average Projected Round: PFA (PFA Draft Scout, PFA Draft Bible, FA Draft Network, FA Draft Buzz, FA Pro Football Focus)

Notable: Posted his second 100-tackle season as aa senior, showing pass coverage skills with four interceptions and six pass breakups.

10 More Prospects With Free Agent Grades

Julius Chestnut, Sacred Heart, RB, 5-11, 226

Dylan Cook, Montana, OT, 6-6 1/2, 308

Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M, QB, 6-3 1/2, 236

Dennis Houston, Western Illinois, WR, 6-1, 194

Cole Johnson, James Madison, QB, 6-5, 216

Chris Oladokun, South Dakota State, QB, 6-1, 207

Aaron Shampklin, Harvard, RB, 5-9, 194

Brayden Thomas, North Dakota State, OLB, 6-2 1/2, 259

Rodney Thomas II, Yale, S, 6-1 1/2, 190

Montrell Washington, Samford, WR, 5-9, 176