Trey Lance, Quarterback (North Dakota State) — Round 1, No. 3 overall
It was widely assumed that Lance would be the first FCS player selected in the 2021 NFL draft and he was. The 2019 Water Payton Award winner is now just one of four players from the division to go in the top 10 since 1978 — the other three are Carson Wentz (NDSU, 2016), Steve McNair (Alcorn State, 1995) and Phil Simms (Morehead State, 1979). The San Francisco 49ers took Lance third overall, matching the Tennessee Titans’ selection of McNair in 1995. Only Wentz was drafted higher as the second overall pick.
Lance only played one full season at NDSU, but he made the most of his time in Fargo, North Dakota. He was a consensus All-American, national player of the year and Most Outstanding Player of the 2020 FCS Championship Game after leading the Bison to their eighth title in nine years. Lance finished the 2019-20 season with 2,786 passing yards and 28 touchdowns without throwing a single interception. He also racked up 1,100 rushing yards and another 11 scores on the ground. He played one game in 2020, gaining 293 scrimmage yards while scoring four total touchdowns.
Dillon Radunz, Offensive lineman (North Dakota State) — Round 2, No. 53 overall
North Dakota State was the lone FCS program with players taken through the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL draft. After Lance was the first Bison off the board, his blind side protector was the second. The Tennessee Titans grabbed Radunz in the second round with the 53rd overall pick.
Radunz brought stability to the NDSU offensive line with 32 consecutive starts over his final two-plus seasons. And those weren’t just injury-free snaps, the Bison’s left tackle was near-immovable by the end of that streak. Radunz logged 682 snaps in the regular season without allowing a single sack to earn first-team All-America recognition. He was also part of an offensive line that helped NDSU set a school record with 4,601 rushing yards en route to a national championship.
Spencer Brown, Offensive lineman (Northern Iowa) — Round 3, No. 93 overall
Three rounds down and two FCS offensive lineman were off the board. This time it was Northern Iowa’s Spencer Brown going to the Buffalo Bills with the 93rd overall pick. The 6-8, 314-pound Brown was a mainstay for the Panthers at right tackle as a three-year starter.
Brown anchored the right side of the line with 28 starts for UNI in his sophomore and junior season. He was named All-Missouri Valley Conference second team in 2019 and was a FCS preseason All-American in 2020.
Elerson Smith, Linebacker (Northern Iowa) — Round 4, No. 116 overall
Smith was the first FCS player selected on Day 3 of the 2021 draft after the New York Giants called his name with the 116th overall pick. The former UNI outside linebacker was one of the top FCS defenders in 2019 and named FCS preseason Defensive Player of the Year before the 2020 season.
Smith was a force at UNI, capable of disrupting the run or rushing opposing quarterbacks. He registered 82 tackles and 21.5 sacks in 28 games. His junior season ended with a first-team All-America nod after Smith racked up 21.5 TFL, 14 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, five forced fumbles and a pair of blocked kicks.
Robert Rochell, Cornerback (Central Arkansas) — Round 4, No. 130 overall
The first defensive back out of the FCS was Central Arkansas’ Robert Rochell. UCA’s top cornerback is headed to Los Angeles after the Rams selected him with the 130th overall pick. Rochell spent four years with UCA and most recently appeared in seven games during the 2020 season.
He started 31 games for the Bears and registered 28 pass breakups and 10 interceptions during his college career. Rochell’s strongest campaign came in 2019, when he registered 44 tackles, 13 pass breakups, five interceptions, 2.5 tackles for loss and recovered a fumble in 13 starts to earn first-team All-America recognition.
* Note — Former NDSU linebacker Jabril Cox was drafted 115th overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Cox transferred to LSU prior to the 2020 season.