Thu Apr 22 2:31am ET
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance smiles as he is interviewed at the school's football NFL Pro Day in Fargo, N.D., in this Friday, March, 12, 2021, file photo. Lance will likely be one of the first two players drafted from non-Football Bowl Subdivision programs next week. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton- King, File)
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance throws at the school's football NFL Pro Day in Fargo, N.D., in this Friday, March, 12, 2021, file photo. Lance will likely be one of the first two players drafted from non-Football Bowl Subdivision programs next week. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King, File)
North Dakota State lineman Dillon Radunz does drills at the school's NFL Pro Day football event in Fargo, N.D., in this Friday, March, 12, 2021, file photo. Theres a common thread linking most of the Football Championship Subdivision players who expect to hear their name called in this months NFL draft. They didnt participate in their schools pandemic-delayed spring season. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton- King, File)
There's a common thread linking most of the Football Championship Subdivision players who expect to hear their name called in the NFL draft.
They didn't participate in their schools' pandemic-delayed spring season.
''Ultimately, it just comes down to athletes taking care of their bodies,'' North Dakota State offensive tackle Dillon Radunz said. ''You can go out and have fun and do that, and there's a certain purity to that, but next thing you know, some guy tears his ACL in the spring, and now he misses out on the spring season, and misses out on the fall season. Then he has to wait another whole year and a half just to play football again.''
When the NCAA announced that the FCS season wouldn't start until February, it left draft prospects from those schools facing a dilemma. Do they stick with their schools for the spring season or use that time to get ready for the draft?
Most decided to start preparing for their future.
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance said playing a spring season wasn't feasible because of the way the schedule was designed. The FCS playoffs start Saturday, less than a week before the draft.
''I would have had to leave my team in the middle of the season (for the draft),'' Lance said. ''Here at North Dakota State, we play for national championships. That's the expectation every single year. So for me, if I was going to stay in school and play, I would have stayed and played the spring and the fall as well.''
Lance and Radunz will likely be the first two players drafted from non-Football Bowl Subdivision programs next week. Lance is projected as a top-10 overall pick. Radunz seems likely to get taken in the second round.
They helped North Dakota State win an FCS title in 2019, the Bison's eighth championship in nine seasons. Lance and Radunz ended their college careers by playing in North Dakota State's lone game last fall, a 39-20 victory over Central Arkansas.
Radunz noted that even if he had played a spring season and avoided injury, the move could have caused long-term drawbacks. He believed playing a full college schedule in the spring and an NFL season in the fall ultimately might have shortened his career.
''You're just playing that much football in a short period of time, and it's just not good for a body, especially at this high level of play,'' Radunz said.
Here's a breakdown of some other draft prospects from schools outside the FBS ranks.
OT SPENCER BROWN, NORTHERN IOWA
Brown gained nearly 100 pounds while at Northern Iowa to develop into a 6-foot-8, 311-pound prospect. Brown opted out after Northern Iowa decided to delay its football season to the spring, but he did participate in the Senior Bowl and had an impressive pro day performance.
WR CADE JOHNSON, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
Johnson was a 2019 finalist for the Walter Payton Award that goes annually to the top FCS player. Johnson entered the transfer portal when South Dakota State delayed its season, but he ultimately decided to enter the draft. He caught a combined 139 passes for 25 touchdowns over 2,500 yards in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
OL QUINN MEINERZ, WISCONSIN-WHITEWATER
Meinerz, the lone Division III player on this list, also didn't play this fall because the pandemic prevented Wisconsin-Whitewater from having a fall season. The 6-3, 320-pound Meinerz gained plenty of attention in Senior Bowl workouts despite breaking his hand that week. He's most likely to play center in the NFL.
CB BRYAN MILLS, NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL
Mills, who is 6-1, made five interceptions and had eight pass breakups in 2019. He got a Senior Bowl invitation even though North Carolina Central didn't have a fall season in 2020.
CB ROBERT ROCHELL, CENTRAL ARKANSAS
Rochell was the rare FCS draft prospect who played multiple games for his school over the last year. Central Arkansas played a nine-game schedule last fall, and Rochell appeared in seven of those games. He also got a Senior Bowl invitation. He intercepted four passes in 2018 and five in 2019.
DE ELERSON SMITH, NORTHERN IOWA
Smith had a huge season in 2019 with 14 sacks, 21 + tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups. He didn't play for Northern Iowa this spring after its fall season was pushed back. The 6-6, 252-pound Smith projects as an edge rusher in the NFL.
S CHRISTIAN UPHOFF, ILLINOIS STATE
Uphoff had 70 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions for Illinois State in 2019 and earned a Senior Bowl invitation. Uphoff, who is 6-2 and 209 pounds, has NFL size and showed enough speed to return kicks at one point in his college career.
The New England Patriots are re-signing veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer to an undisclosed one-year deal on Monday, according to a source. Hoyer will be added to a quarterback depth chart that includes Cam Newton, rookie first-rounder Mac Jones and Jarrett Stidham. The 35-year-old journeyman started one game for New England last year, going 15-for-24 for 130 yards with an interception in the Week 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The 13-year NFL veteran will mostly just provide valuable experience as he battles for the third-string job with Stidham this summer in training camp. You can continue to ignore Hoyer in all fantasy leagues.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Travis Etienne took repetitions from the wide receiver position during the team's three-day rookie minicamp over the weekend. "At the worst-case scenario, you have a running back with the skillset of a wide receiver," head coach Urban Meyer explained. "Best-case scenario you'll have a hybrid player who does both and that's what we're hoping to develop out of Travis." The Jags took Etienne at No. 25 overall in the first round of the draft. He had 48 catches for 588 yards and two touchdowns in his senior season at Clemson and had 7.2 yards per carry in his four years. Jacksonville already has James Robinson in the backfield, but Etienne could be a Swiss Army Knife for this offense alongside pass-catchers D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault Jr. and Marvin Jones.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said that quarterback Trevor Lawrence (shoulder), the first overall pick of the draft, "looked great" during rookie minicamp over the weekend. Lawrence was on a 30- to 40-throw "pitch count" after February surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. The Jags are being cautious with their franchise signal-caller, but Meyer expects Lawrence to be "pretty close to full go" before the end of organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, which are scheduled to begin May 24 and go through June 17. The team is keeping him away from handoffs and direct snaps under center to avoid falling and getting his arm jammed. Lawrence's shoulder no longer bothers him and is healed, and he's currently getting accustomed to a coordinator calling plays into his helmet. He'll be the Week 1 starter in his rookie season and could have some QB1 streaming value in the right matchups if he makes a seamless transition to the NFL.
Detroit Lions rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has a large chip on his shoulder after 16 receivers came off the board before him in this year's NFL draft. St. Brown was the 112th overall selection in the fourth round after catching 178 passes in his three-year career at USC. He lined up both outside and at slot receiver during practice on Sunday, and head coach Dan Campbell said it's too early to define St. Brown's role for the upcoming season. "I'm excited to be here," St. Brown said. "I'm excited to work and I'm ready to take someone's job." Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman are the team's top starters, but neither one of them have proven much yet in the NFL, so St. Brown could carve out a pretty big role in this offense in his rookie season.
The New York Giants signed former first-round wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin following a tryout at rookie minicamp last weekend. Benjamin, who hasn't been on an NFL roster since the end of the 2018 season, will play tight end. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder will be reunited with general manager Dave Gettleman, who drafted Benjamin with the Carolina Panthers in 2014. Benjamin caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns in his rookie season, but that has been the high point of his career after he tore his ACL the next season. While he has the necessary size at tight end, he'll join a crowded room in New York, headed by Evan Engram and former Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph. The Giants also have Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo as backups, so Benjamin will be a long shot at this new position. New York also signed running back Corey Clement on Sunday.
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (ankle) is back at the team's facilities on Monday for Phase 2 of the offseason program. Miller was looking really good in training camp a year ago before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury just before the start of the regular season. There will be a lot of eyes on the All-Pro pass-rusher in the final year of his contract in 2021. The Super Bowl 50 MVP will be motivated to prove that he's still one of the best pass-rushers in the league at age 32. If Miller looks as good as he did last summer and stays healthy, the Broncos defense could be very good this year. The eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro had a disappointing eight sacks back in 2019, only the second time in his career that he hasn't reached double-digit sacks.
Former Washington Football Team defensive end Ryan Kerrigan announced on his Instagram that he's signing an undisclosed deal with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday. After spending 10 seasons with Washington, the four-time Pro Bowler will remain in the NFC East and join the division-rival Eagles. The 32-year-old veteran has racked up 454 tackles (119 for loss), 147 QB hits, three interceptions (all for touchdowns), 25 passes defensed, 26 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 95.5 sacks in 156 career games (141 starts) after he was the 16th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. For an Eagles team lacking a ton of depth on the defensive front, Kerrigan represents a very nice pickup.
Former Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots wide receiver Marqise Lee is signing an undisclosed deal with the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, according to a source. Lee spent the first five seasons of his NFL career with Jacksonville after they selected him in the second round out of USC in 2014. The 29-year-old opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, so he never actually played a game with the Patriots. Lee hasn't played in a full season since 2017, but he'll have a real chance to make the Niners roster this summer if he can stay healthy. He dealt with injuries in 2018 and 2019 and played a combined six games those two years. In 59 career games (30 starts) with Jacksonville, Lee had 174 catches for 2,184 yards and eight touchdowns. He'll be hoping to provide some depth behind Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and will compete with the likes of Mohamed Sanu, Richie James, Trent Sherfield and Jalen Hurd.
The Cincinnati Bengals signed former San Francisco 49ers slot receiver and punt returner Trent Taylor to an undisclosed deal on Monday, according to a source. Taylor is a good fit with Cincinnati, who lost slot receiver/punt returner Alex Erickson in free agency this offseason. Taylor, 27, caught 10 of his 21 targets for 86 yards and no touchdowns in 12 games (one start) for the 49ers last season. The fifth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech in 2017 by the 49ers caught 79 passes on 122 targets for 731 yards and three touchdowns in his three seasons with the team over 41 games (two starts). With Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Auden Tate and rookie Ja'Marr Chase in the fold, Taylor will be providing receiving depth, so don't expect much in terms of fantasy value.
Free-agent DE Ryan Kerrigan (Football Team) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Philadelphia Eagles Monday, May 17.
Free-agent WR Trent Taylor (49ers) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Cincinnati Bengals Monday, May 17.
Chicago Bears QB Andy Dalton will work with the first-team offense when offseason workouts begin even through QB Justin Fields performed well during the rookie minicamp, according to head coach Matt Nagy.
Fantasy Spin: It appears like Dalton will enter training camp as the leading candidate for the starting job, but Fields likely will push for the job. Dalton may begin the season as the starter but probably will lose it to Fields at some point during the season. Fantasy players in most leagues should consider the starting Chicago quarterback as a No. 2 fantasy quarterback.
Free-agent DE Kendall Donnerson (Bengals) signed with the Carolina Panthers Sunday, May 16. Terms of the contract were not disclosed. The team also waived PK Matt Ammendola, LB Daniel Bituli and DT PJ Johnson.
Free-agent S Lano Hill (Seahawks) agreed to terms with the Carolina Panthers Sunday, May 16, according to a source. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Free-agent RB Troymaine Pope (Chargers), TE Jerell Adams (Lions), CB Antonio Hamilton (Chiefs) and S Curtis Riley (Vikings) agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, May 16. Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Free-agent OG Alex Redmond (Bengals) and CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Cardinals) recently worked out for the New England Patriots, but neither is close to a contract with the Patriots.
Free-agent WR/TE Kelvin Benjamin (Chiefs) signed with the New York Giants Sunday, May 16. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers SS Jordan Whitehead (shoulder) reportedly looks good but may be held out of the team's minicamp in June, according to head coach Bruce Arians. He is recovering from a torn labrum sustained in last season's NFC Championship Game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard (Achilles) is expected to attend mandatory minicamp in early June, according to comments from head coach Bruce Arians. 'Yeah, he's really close now. He looks fantastic working out every day,' Arians said.