(STATS) – NFL scouts likely have special interest in the NCAA Division I FCS championship game on Saturday because North Dakota State and James Madison have been churning out pro-ready prospects.
The NFL regular season ended with eight former James Madison players and seven former North Dakota State players on rosters.
Josh Buchanan, considered one of the nation’s top evaluators of small-school draft prospects and an analyst for Draft Scout and Phil Steele Publications, provided his top candidates from both rosters to Stats Perform. He especially likes the depth of James Madison’s NFL prospects, but his top talent is Bison redshirt junior linebacker Jabril Cox, who would be draft-eligible if he applies for early entry by the Jan. 20 underclassmen deadline.
Buchanan’s top prospects in the championship game:
NORTH DAKOTA STATE
1. Jabril Cox, LB, R-Jr., 6-3, 233 (jersey No. 42) – Cox has very good size and speed numbers and is a pretty active player with good range. He needs to clean up some things and work on technique and reading his keys. He still needs to improve consistency, but is a gifted player with high upside. Grade: 4th round.
2. Dillon Radunz, OT, R-Jr., 6-6, 298 (No. 75) – Had a good junior season, where he has put himself high on the NFL radar for next year. Has good size and moves well. Does a good job of latching on and sustaining blocks in space, and he completely shut down the all-star ends from Montana State in the semis. Grade: 6th-7th round.
3. Zack Johnson, OG, R-Sr., 6-6, 315 (No. 68) – Big body guy with average strength. Needs to work on hand use and sustaining blocks more consistently. Grade: Priority free agent.
4. Derrek Tuszka, DE, R-Sr., 6-5, 246 (No. 91) – Has a solid get-off and will disrupt the passing game by batting balls down. Has a good motor and shows a pretty good spin move. Makes some flashy plays, but needs to be more consistent. Grade: Priority free agent.
5. Christian Watson, WR, R-Soph., 6-3, 196 (No. 1) – Watson had a breakout season and has good size and speed. Has showed big-play potential in the playoffs and should be one of the best FCS wide receivers in 2020. Grade: Priority free agent.
Honorable mention – Ben Ellefson, TE, R-Sr., 6-3, 250 (No. 82); James Hendricks, FS, R-Sr., 6-0, 206 (No. 6); Cordell Volson, OT, R-Jr., 6-6, 309 (No. 67); Ty Brooks, RB, R-Sr., 5-9, 180 (No. 28); Trey Lance, R-Fr., 6-3, 221 (No. 5).
1. Ron’Dell Carter, DE, R-Sr., 6-3, 269 (jersey No. 5) – Average height, but has filled out body to almost 270 pounds. More of a power guy than speed, but runs well enough. Has a decent get-off and can make plays against both the run and pass. A very productive player who should be drafted late. Grade: 6th-7th round.
2. Ben DiNucci, QB, R-Sr., 6-3, 210 (No. 6) -Athletic dual-threat guy who’s a second-year Pittsburgh transfer. Solid accuracy and good feet. Could go undrafted, but he should at least be a good free agent pickup who can make a practice squad or be a backup on a 53-man roster. Grade: Priority free agent.
3. John Daka, DE, Sr., 6-2, 227 (No. 7) – Daka is a tweener who might have to move to linebacker, but he is quick off the ball, has good speed and is disruptive. He was all over the place at times in the semis and has been in the backfield as much as Carter. His ability to change positions may be key for him. Grade: Priority free agent.
4. Dylan Stapleton, TE, Sr., 6-5, 242 (No. 84) – Big-bodied Slippery Rock transfer can catch and block. Has gone from a role guy to a very important piece for the Dukes in both the run and pass game. Runs well and can get out and block in space or inline. Has pretty good hands and can pick up yards after the catch. Should make a roster. Grade: Priority free agent.
5. Brandon Polk, WR, R-Sr., 5-9, 175 (No. 3) – Small slot guy who transferred from Penn State. Was very productive this season and brings big-time speed. He was a track star in high school and it reflects on his game tape. Polk can impact the return game as well. He has a good shot to stick on a roster. Grade: Priority free agent.
Honorable mention: Riley Stapleton, WR, R-Sr., 6-5, 230 (No. 10); Rashad Robinson, CB, R-Sr., 5-10, 188 (No. 1); Adam Smith, SS, Sr., 6-1, 190 (No. 21); Dimitri Holloway, R-Sr., ILB, 6-1, 217 (No. 2); D’Angelo Amos, FS, R-Jr., 6-1, 184 (No. 24); Wayne Davis, R-Jr., 5-10, 190 (No. 8); Liam Fornadel, Jr., OT, 6-4, 308 (No. 77).