Top 5 NFL rookies from FCS programs

CRAIG HALEY (Stats Perform FCS Senior Editor=)
·3 min read
Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson (30) runs for a first down during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

(Stats Perform) - Two rookies from FCS programs stand out in the NFL this season and are at least in the conversation for rookie of the year honors.

Carolina Panthers safety/outside linebacker Jeremy Chinn was the first FCS player selected in the 2020 draft - the Southern Illinois product going last in the second round at No. 64 overall. Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson went undrafted out of Illinois State. Both played collegiately in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Only six FCS players were 2020 draft choices, but plenty of undrafted signees have worked their way onto NFL teams. This past week, the FCS level had 18 rookies on active rosters and another 25 rookies on practice squads.

Here's a top-five ranking of FCS rookies in the NFL's superb first-year class this season:

1. James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Mr. Robinson has rumbled through the neighborhood unlike few undrafted players. Through 11 games, he ranks third in the league in rushing yards (890) and rushes of 10 yards or more (28), and he's fourth in carries (194). Add in 280 yards off 36 receptions and he's fourth in scrimmage yards (1,170) - just 158 shy of Dominic Rhodes' record (1,328 in 2001) by an undrafted rookie in the common draft era. Robinson's season-high 128 rushing yards against Cleveland on Sunday was his fourth 100-yard outing.

2. Jeremy Chinn, S/OLB, Carolina Panthers

Note Chinn is more 1A than 2. He had one of the season's biggest games on Sunday at Minnesota when he became the first player in NFL history to score defensive touchdowns on consecutive plays (both fumble returns) and posted a season-high 13 tackles. He leads the Panthers and all rookies with 87 tackles (49 solo) and has five passes defensed, including an interception against Chicago in Week 6.

3. Jacob Bobenmoyer, LS, Denver Broncos

It can be viewed as a positive that you don't hear Bobenmoyer's name mentioned often because it means the former Northern Colorado linebacker is doing his long snapper's role well. He's been consistent with his snaps over 11 games, which reflects in place-kicker Brandon McManus and punter Sam Martin having excellent seasons. Bobenmoyer went undrafted in 2019 and was in Broncos camp, but didn't make a roster, so he maintained rookie status this year.

4. Adam Trautman, TE, New Orleans Saints

Dayton's first draft pick since 1977 flashed his potential in a Week 9 win over Tampa Bay, catching three passes for 39 yards, including his first career touchdown. However, it's been a slow developmental process for Trautman, who has eight receptions for 100 yards - his long of 29 yards coming in the Buccaneers' game. The Saints thought enough of the 6-foot-5 pass catcher to trade fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks to Minnesota to nab him with the second-to-last pick of the third round.

5. Ben DiNucci, QB, Dallas Cowboys

DiNucci's inclusion on the list is telling about FCS rookie production - mostly, a lack of it - but give the former James Madison signal caller extra credit for the national attention he drew for a Week 8 prime-time start at Philadelphia when both Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton were sidelined by injuries. DiNucci was average in the loss and then removed from the starter's role. In three games, he's completed 23-of-43 passes for 219 yards, but he's also been sacked seven times and lost two fumbles.