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 Green Bay Packers will bring in quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Kurt Benkert to this weekend's rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Benkert went undrafted out of Virginia and spent the last three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, mainly on the practice squad. Kelly, the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, was taken with the final pick of the 2017 draft by the Denver Broncos, but he washed out of Denver after two seasons. He's been with the Indianapolis Colts the last two years but was released. Both players could become camp arms with upside further down the depth chart if they sign in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, last year's first-round pick, are the only signal-callers currently on the roster.
Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio said there is no pressure for rookie quarterback Davis Mills to perform in a hurry despite the turmoil surrounding Deshaun Watson and more than 20 lawsuits filed against him. "No different than any other player," Caserio said of the timeline of bringing along the first-year signal-caller. "Bring him in, teach him our system, teach him our terminology, take it one step at a time." It's unclear what will happen with Watson as the legal proceedings play out, but the Texans weren't looking to trade him, despite his public request, before his legal issues arose. Since then, trade chatter surrounding Watson has quieted down. The three-time Pro Bowler could remain with the Texans in 2021, but wherever he's playing, he could be facing a lengthy suspension as well.
Tennessee Titans TE Parker Hesse, LB Matthew Orzech and LB Nate Orchard were waived Monday, May 10.
Free-agent QB Kurt Benkert (Falcons) and QB Chad Kelly (Colts) will participate in the Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, according to sources.
Free-agent WR Dede Westbrook (Jaguars) has had preliminary conversations with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Washington Football Team signed wide receiver Curtis Samuel to a three-year deal this offseason, reuniting him with head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner from their time together with the Carolina Panthers. Rivera drafted Samuel in 2017, and Turner was the quarterbacks coach in Carolina from 2018-2019. "You can do a lot of different things with him," Turner said. "He's only 24 years old, I think he's just scratching the surface on what he's capable of." Samuel broke out in 2020, catching a career-high 77 passes for 851 yards and three touchdowns, adding 200 rushing yards and two more TDs. Samuel will be the No. 2 behind Terry McLaurin and will be an ideal fit for this offense. He'll be a low-end WR2 with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing him passes.
The Los Angeles Chargers signed free-agent defensive tackle Christian Covington to an undisclosed deal on Monday, according to his agent. Covington was a sixth-round pick by the Houston Texans out of Rice in 2015. He's also spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals in his six NFL seasons. Covington started 14 of the 16 games he played in for the Bengals last season and was on the field for 53 percent of the team's defensive snaps. The 27-year-old had 39 tackles (14 solo) and one QB hit. In his NFL career, Covington has 132 tackles (15 for loss), 20 QB hits, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and 8.5 sacks in 82 games (29 starts).
The Kansas City Chiefs signed former linebacker Tamba Hali to a one-day contract on Monday so he can officially retire with the organization. The six-time Pro Bowler played with the Chiefs for his entire 12-year career. The 37-year-old last played in the NFL in 2017, but he made the Pro Bowl with Kansas City in five straight seasons from 2011 to 2015. He was the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft and finished his illustrious career with 596 tackles (105 for loss), 159 QB hits, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), 16 passes defensed, 33 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries (one for a TD) and 89.5 sacks in 177 regular season games (157 starts).
Ex-Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin has drawn interest from multiple teams and should find a home soon, according to sources informed of the situation. The fifth-rounder in 2018 appeared in 46 games for the Seahawks, recording one sack, six QB hits and 25 tackles. Griffin's twin brother, Shaquill Griffin, signed a big deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. The twins played together at UCF and in Seattle, so Griffin may be looking to join his brother in Jacksonville. His new club could be looking at him as a full-time pass-rusher after he played off the ball in Seattle. The 25-year-old became the odd-man out in Seattle after the team added Jordyn Brooks, Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven to the position in recent seasons.
Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher is signing a one-year, $9.4 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, according to a source. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 will now be quarterback Carson Wentz's blind-side protector in 2021. The 30-year-old tore his right Achilles before the Super Bowl last year and was cut by KC. The Colts won't rush Fisher back, though, so there's a chance that he's not ready to play until early October. Coming out of this year's NFL draft, the left tackle position was still a big area of need for the Colts, but this signing takes care of that and makes their offensive line even more elite. It's excellent news as Wentz tries to bounce back from a disastrous final season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020. It's also great news for second-year running back Jonathan Taylor.
Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Antwaun Woods, who was waived last week, is visiting the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, according to a source. Woods, a former undrafted free agent out of USC, played two seasons with the Tennessee Titans before joining the Cowboys in 2018. The 6-foot-1, 310-pounder has recorded 83 tackles (25 solo), four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one pass defensed and two fumble recoveries in 40 career games (32 starts) with the Titans and Cowboys. Woods helped spark Dallas' midseason improvement on defense last year when he was moved into the starting lineup, and he finished with 23 tackles (seven solo), one sack and two QB pressures in 14 games (seven starts) in 2020. He'd be a rotational nose tackle for Indy if he were to sign.
Free-agent LB Tamba Hali (Chiefs) signed a one-day contract with the Kansas City Chiefs Monday, May 10, so he can retire as a member of the organization.
Free-agent DE Christian Covington (Bengals) agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Chargers Monday, May 10. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Free-agent QB Blaine Gabbert (Buccaneers) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday, May 10.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers could realistically land with the Denver Broncos, who have the second-most salary cap space in football.
Fantasy Spin: Rodgers' fantasy value will be about the same wherever he calls signals next season. Denver's thin air can be brutal on a body, and Rodgers has a lengthy injury history. That would be the only concern for the upper-middle QB1.
Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley leads all receivers with 180 catches over the last three seasons while lined up in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.