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Published: Sept. 9, 2016 at 12:51 p.m.

10 FCS players that will make impact in NFL

A year ago, if someone told you a quarterback from Football Championship Subdivision power North Dakota State would be starting for the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie, you would have shaken your head and walked away. Carson Wentz is being given that chance, however, this Sunday.

If you're looking for another FCS quarterback to jump up into the first round, you'll probably be waiting a while. But there are plenty of players at that level likely to make an impact in the NFL. Here are my top 10 worth watching during the 2016 season.

10 Photos Total

  • 10. Julie'n Davenport, OT, Bucknell 10

    Hans Pennink/Associated Press

    10. Julie'n Davenport, OT, Bucknell

    Davenport has started at left tackle since arriving on campus for the Bison, and I won't count him out as a heavy contributor in the NFL. At 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds, he shows the footwork and anchor to be an excellent pass protector. Davenport also sticks on his blocks better than many FBS linemen, something pro coaches will notice and appreciate.

  • 9. De'Shawn Jones, RB, Campbell 9

    Will Bratton/Campbell University Athletics

    9. De'Shawn Jones, RB, Campbell

    Despite measuring at 6-0, 215 pounds, Jones has impressive cutting ability and quickness. He also possesses the ability to churn through contact to break tackles, whether breaking through the line or at the second level. Without a doubt, this Camel has the ball-carrying skills to carry the water for an NFL team. Improving his blocking during the course of his senior season will help him earn the trust of coaches and quarterbacks on passing downs.

  • 8. Samson Ebukam, DE/OLB, Eastern Washington 8

    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    8. Samson Ebukam, DE/OLB, Eastern Washington

    Ebukam impressed in the Eagles' win over Washington State last weekend. The two-time second-team All-Big Sky Conference pick had two sacks in Pullman, showing scouts his potential as a pass-rush specialist at the next level.

  • 7. Donald Payne, S, Stetson 7

    Jim Hogue/Stetson University

    7. Donald Payne, S, Stetson

    In a world where safeties are being asked to play more around the line of scrimmage, guys like Payne are coveted. He'll attack the quarterback when used in the nickel position, and is adept at making plays in coverage, as well. Showing coaches he is willing to consistently take on and shed blocks around the line, as well as fulfill his man coverage abilities, will earn him playing time by the end of his rookie season.

  • 6. Jessamen Dunker, OG, Tennessee State 6

    Samuel Jordan/Tennesse State Athletics

    6. Jessamen Dunker, OG, Tennessee State

    Dunker's get-off and mobility from the left guard spot are immediately noticeable when watching TSU. Of course, he started his career at Florida as a four-star recruit -- so it's not that surprising that he stands out among FCS talent. NFL general managers will no doubt dig into the off-field trouble he got into before transferring from Florida, but it's clear he is a solid talent.

  • 5. Nick DeLuca, ILB, North Dakota State 5

    Mike Stone/Associated Press

    5. Nick DeLuca, ILB, North Dakota State

    DeLuca is one of those guys that scouts will say is "just a damn good football player." While that saying is sometimes a euphemism for "slow", that's not the case with DeLuca, who will track down ball carriers to the sideline when needed. A heady, steady player who will be a special-teams stalwart in the NFL, it won't surprise me one bit if he ends up starting inside for a team with a 3-4 base scheme -- not unlike Green Bay Packers rookie Blake Martinez.

  • 4. David Jones, S, Richmond 4

    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    4. David Jones, S, Richmond

    Jones' athleticism belies his 6-3, 215-pound frame. He can stay in phase with receivers downfield as well as bring down ball carriers in the box. His nine interceptions tied for most in the FCS last season. If he tests well, teams will consider him a solid top-100 value next April.

  • 3. Derek Rivers, DE/OLB, Youngstown State 3

    Bradley Leeb/Associated Press

    3. Derek Rivers, DE/OLB, Youngstown State

    If you get a chance this weekend, check out Rivers and the Penguins taking on West Virginia in Morgantown. He's accumulated 23 sacks over the past two years, plus one last weekend against Duquesne, with a combination of strength and quickness that isn't prevalent with pass rushers from smaller programs. A big weekend against the Mountaineers will go a long way toward shaping scouts' opinions about his NFL future.

  • 2. Brady Gustafson, QB, Montana 2

    Patrick Record/Associated Press

    2. Brady Gustafson, QB, Montana

    In his first year as a starter, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Gustafson showed the arm talent to be considered a solid NFL prospect. He only played seven games due to injury, however, and didn't show exceptional accuracy in the intermediate game or on deep passes. Gustafson also had nine interceptions in seven games last season, and then threw two more picks in the season opener last week against St. Francis (Pa.). He'll need to tighten that up before NFL scouts consider him a sure-fire NFL starter.

  • 1. Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington 1

    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    1. Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington

    Already one of the most prolific receivers in FCS history with over 4,700 receiving yards, Kupp put up 206 more, with three touchdowns, on 12 catches against Washington State in the Eagles' 45-42 victory in Week 1. His hands have never been in question, but scouts were once again reminded of his toughness and agility after the catch, as well as a nice burst when in the open field. He's a legit Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) draft pick next April who will be a No. 2 or 3 option for his new team right away.

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