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FCS Football Players Who Made it to The NFL

Three of football’s greatest wide receivers came from FCS schools. And while the level is largely overlooked, it’s produced plenty of talent.

Terrell Owens and more former FCS players who dominated the NFL
Joker Mag Illustration

With over 100 teams throughout the United States, FCS football represents one of the highest levels of competition in college football.

And though it may be considered a step below FBS, it is still Division I college football. Some of football’s greatest players – past and present – spent their college years setting records for FCS programs.

At the start of the 2022 NFL season, there was at least one FCS player represented on all 32 NFL teams.

However, Due to the stigma around FCS football, it can be difficult for players to stick around in the NFL. Especially when the majority of resources are invested in FBS draftees.

Despite this perceived roadblock, there are many players who have risen from FCS football to NFL stardom. Here are the best to ever do it.

Table of Contents

Who Is The Best FCS Football Player of All-Time?

Jerry Rice – WR, Mississippi Valley State University

Jerry Rice is the best FCS football player of all time. Although many Power 5 collegiate programs showed interest in Rice, including his home state school of Mississippi State University, Rice ultimately chose Mississippi Valley State University.

At MVSU, he set an incredible 18 NCAA records and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

In the NFL, Rice broke more records, mostly with the 49ers, as he became arguably the greatest wide receiver in football history. The three-time Super Bowl champion was named to 13 Pro Bowls and holds NFL records for the most receiving yards and receiving touchdowns of all time.

Best Former NFL Players From FCS Schools

Kurt Warner – QB, Northern Iowa University

Kurt Warner rolls out of the pocket for the St Louis Rams, protected by Marshall Faulk
Credit-AP

Warner played collegiately at Northern Iowa University but wasn’t even named the starter until his senior year.

After leaving Cedar Falls, Warner was a journeyman quarterback, bouncing around from the NFL briefly at first, back to Iowa to play in the AFL, and even to a stint in Europe.

Eventually, Warner landed with the St. Louis Rams, where he improbably won both league MVP and Super Bowl MVP with “The Greatest Show on Turf.”

RELATED: The Best NFL Underdog Stories of All-Time

Randy Moss – WR, Marshall University

Legal issues prevented Moss from playing for high-profile schools that were originally on his radar, including Notre Dame and Florida State.

After serving time in jail, Moss enrolled at Marshall University, near his hometown in West Virginia. Now an FBS school, Marshall was an FCS (formerly referred to as Division I-AA) school at the time.

Moss set several receiving and kick return records in his freshman season alone, in which Marshall won the Division I-AA championship. Following both Moss’ and the team’s success, the Thundering Herd moved up to what is today known as the FBS level the next season.

Moss became one of the best wide receivers in franchise history for the Minnesota Vikings, and later on, for the New England Patriots. He led the NFL in receiving touchdowns on five occasions.

Terrell Owens – WR, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

As dominant as a receiver Owens became in the NFL, he did not start on his high school football team until his junior year.

Following high school, Owens enrolled at FCS school the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A prolific pass catcher for the football squad, he was also a mainstay of the school’s track team.

In the NFL, Owens led the league in receiving touchdowns three times. He was also a five-time All-Pro selection.

Michael Strahan – DE, Texas Southern University

One of the best players in New York Giants history played for the football team at Texas Southern University, where his uncle Art also played the defensive line position.

Strahan became one of the best defensive players in the entire SWAC, earning multiple conference player of the year honors. In his junior year, he led the conference in total sacks with 14.5 on the season.

In the NFL, Strahan was a two-time first-team All-Pro selection and won a Super Bowl ring in his final season with the Giants. Since retiring from football, he’s embarked on a successful television career.

Best Active NFL Players From FCS Programs

Cooper Kupp – WR, Eastern Washington University

The Super Bowl LVI MVP finished high school without any collegiate scholarship offers.

He eventually received calls from a couple of FCS programs and enrolled at Eastern Washington University. After four years at EWU, Kupp broke career FCS records for total receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. His receiving yards mark was the most for any NCAA receiver, regardless of competition level.

Kupp’s NFL career got off to a solid start over the first several years, but it wasn’t until 2021 that he found national stardom. Kupp led the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns that year, and caught an additional six touchdowns in the playoffs to help the Rams win the Super Bowl.

Carson Wentz – QB, North Dakota State University

Wentz became the highest-selected FCS quarterback ever when the Eagles nabbed him second overall out of North Dakota State University.

At NDSU, Wentz starred as a starter in both his junior and (fifth-year) senior seasons, both of which resulted in championship wins for the Bison. In fact, NDSU won the national championship in all five years that Wentz was part of the program.

At the NFL level, Wentz was the quarterback for the Eagles for the majority of their Super Bowl-winning season before tearing his ACL late in the regular season. Since leaving Philadelphia, Wentz has found success as the starting quarterback for both the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Commanders.

Joe Flacco – QB, University of Delaware

Although Flacco has spent his spent several seasons as a backup quarterback for a few teams, he rose to stardom with the Baltimore Ravens, winning Super Bowl XLVII MVP with them in 2013.

Flacco starred at the University of Delaware, but only ended up there after transferring from the FBS-program at the University of Pittsburgh.

He helped the Blue Hens advance to the 2007 FCS National Championship game and left Newark having set 20 school records.

Darius Shaquille Leonard – LB, South Carolina State University

Since playing collegiately for South Carolina State University, Leonard has quickly become one of the best linebackers in the NFL. In his rookie season of 2018, Leonard won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award while leading the league in tackles.

He’s already been named a three-time first-team All-Pro with the Indianapolis Colts and led the league in forced fumbles in 2021.

Kyle Juszczyk – FB, Harvard University

The Harvard alum is one of the rare dominant fullbacks left in the NFL today, and his stellar play in the league has been recognized with six Pro Bowl selections.

At Harvard, Juszczyk tallied over 1,500 receiving yards and 22 receiving touchdowns. He was named an All-Ivy League selection in his senior year.

He set another university record well into his NFL career, as he became the first Harvard graduate to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

More notable FCS alumni who made it to the NFL:

  • Jared Allen – DE, Idaho State University
  • Phil Simms – QB, Morehead State University
  • Tony Romo – QB, Eastern Illinois University
  • Robert Mathis – DE, Alabama A&M University
  • Steve McNair – QB, Alcorn State University
  • Rodney Harrison – S, Western Illinois University
  • Adam Vinatieri – K, South Dakota State University
  • Jimmy Garoppolo – QB, Eastern Illinois University
  • Chase Edmonds – RB, Fordham University
  • Dallas Goedert – TE, South Dakota State University
  • Javon Hargrave – DT, South Carolina State University
  • Taylor Heinicke – QB, Old Dominion University
  • James Robinson – RB, Illinois State University

Check out the rest of our college-to-pro series:

Like underdog stories? Join our Underdog Newsletter to keep up with the unsung heroes and overlooked stories happening in sports.

Written By

Muhlenberg College alum based in New York City. Bylines at Joker Mag, Elite Sports NY, and The Apple.

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