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Road to the Draft: A few stellar FCS prospects to keep on your radar

In the NFL, it doesn't matter where you come from – but what you do once you get there.

Countless NFL players have become consistent weapons and superstars from FCS Division I programs. Whether a player gets drafted from a Power Five program or a smaller school, all have an equal opportunity to showcase their skills on the next level. Wide receivers Jerry Rice and Randy Moss, former Raiders now in the Pro Football Hall Fame, are products of FCS programs. This offseason, the Silver and Black signed some former FCS standouts including Sacramento State's DeAndre Carter, North Colorado's Jacob Bobenmoyer and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who won the Walter Payton Award for most outstanding FCS player while at Eastern Illinois.

Looking at this year's draft class, here's a few FCS prospects the Raiders could potentially have their eyes on.

Cody Mauch, offensive tackle, North Dakota State

This offseason, I've sung the praises of Cody Mauch multiple times, and I'd like to do so once again.

The Hankinson, North Dakota, native didn't have much recruiting traction coming out of high school. He was a walk-on tight end when he stepped foot on North Dakota State University's campus, later becoming a starting tackle for the FCS powerhouse. His 39 consecutive games played and four national championships give him experience coming into the league, with an AP All-American selection in 2021.

He's received a lot of validity through the draft process, proving he can compete against Power Five talent at the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine. He ranked in the top five offensive lineman in the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill at the Combine. He also looked impressive in Mobile, Alabama, seeing reps at center and both guard positions in Senior Bowl practice. While many draft experts consider Mauch a Day 2 pick, he's beginning to creep into the first round in some eyes.

"North Dakota State prepared me pretty well," Mauch said at the Scouting Combine in February. "A really good program, successful program. The coaches are top-tier. ... No moment is too big. We've been on the big stage a lot at North Dakota State, so that really helped prepare me a lot for this."

Tucker Kraft, tight end, South Dakota State

South Dakota State won their first FCS National Championship in 2022, and Tucker Kraft was a huge reason behind that.

If you watch the tape of the former Jackrabbit, he has everything an NFL team could want in a tight end. Standing at 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, he boasts above average blocking capabilities and good hands as a receiver. However, the one thing that stands out to me about Kraft is his ability to fight for yards after contact. According to Pro Football Focus, he broke 25 tackles in the past two seasons.

Additionally he has impressive speed for his size, recording a 4.69 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine and reportedly an even faster time in the low 4.6's at his Pro Day. His 23 reps on bench press tied for the most of all tight ends at the Combine.

In Kraft's last two seasons at SDSU, he racked up 92 catches for 1,121 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He received a 85.2 PFF receiving grade in his 2021 breakout redshirt sophomore season. Raiders General Manager Dave Ziegler has stated he believes tight end to be one of the deepest position groups in this year's draft. With that in mind, Kraft could be a potential steal on Day 2.

Marte Mapu, linebacker, Sacramento State

Along with HBCU prospects Isaiah Land and Aubrey Miller Jr., Mapu is considered one of the best FCS defensive prospects in this year's draft class.

His versatility stands out when taking a deep dive into his game, with exceptional coverage skills and size that've allowed him to play linebacker, nickel cornerback and safety in college. The 6-foot-3, 221-pounder racked up 165 total tackles, 22 pass deflections, 13 tackles for loss and seven interceptions in his four seasons at Sacramento State.

Mapu continued to open eyes at the 2023 Senior Bowl, flying around the field effortlessly and making plays during practice for the American Team. Unfortunately, he suffered a chest injury while bench pressing, costing him to miss his Pro Day. Despite his injury, he's optimistic he'll be ready for Training Camp.

As the Raiders get set to pick No. 7 in the 2023 NFL Draft, take a look back at photos of past players the Raiders took in that spot.

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