When people talk about how North Dakota State has won six FCS national titles in the last seven years, defense is usually one of the first things to come up. The Bison offense, outside of former quarterback Carson Wentz, hasn’t gotten much love since this run began in 2011. Along with one of the best defenses in the FCS in 2017, NDSU also had one of the best offenses, scoring 38.7 points per game to rank second in the FCS.
The Bison return a majority of their starters on that side of the ball. Two of which have caught the attention of pro scouts.
One of our favorite NFL Draft resources to use at HERO Sports is NFLDraftScout. It not only is routinely updating its prospects list throughout the year for the upcoming draft, but the next two drafts as well. That gives us a good idea which FCS juniors have the eye of NFL scouts entering their senior seasons.
NDSU’s offense has two players ranked as the No. 1 FCS prospect at their position for the 2019 NFL Draft. Quarterback Easton Stick, who is ranked No. 19 in all of college football, and running back Bruce Anderson, who is No. 22. Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud is No. 23 overall and Lehigh running back Dominick Bragalone is No. 29.
For reference, 10 quarterbacks were selected in the 2017 draft and 26 running backs were picked.
For a defensive-minded team, having two top pro prospects in the FCS on the offensive side of the ball is impressive. Stick and Anderson are in store for big senior seasons. Here’s what they did as juniors to earn some NFL attention:
There is a small percentage of NDSU fans that weren’t believers in Stick before he won his own national title ring this season. Doubters still remain. Whether it’s because they’re comparing him to his predecessors like all-time FCS wins leader Brock Jensen (whose record could be broken by Stick next season) and to the first-round NFL Draft pick Wentz, or because they put his performance against James Madison in 2016 and South Dakota State in 2017 under a microscope, Stick has his critics.
But the truth is he has a better arm than Jensen and is more athletic than Wentz. Stick has NFL talent, and the scouts recognize that. His junior season was just as impressive as Wentz’s junior year when simply looking at the numbers.
Wentz (2014, 15-1 record): 228-358 passing, 3,111 yards, 25 TDs, 10 INT., 138 rushes, 642 yards, 6 TDs
Stick (2017, 14-1 record): 164-264 passing, 2,466 yards, 28 TDs, 8 INT., 112 rushes, 663 yards, 12 TDs
Obviously, stats don’t tell the whole story. Wentz had a cannon of an arm at NDSU, stood 6-foot-6 with good speed and ended up being the No. 2 overall draft pick. Stick is 6-foot-2 with better speed and while he can’t make all the throws Wentz could, he still has the arm strength and runs the same offensive system that is attractive to scouts. Stick has the freedom to change the call at the line of scrimmage based on what the defense shows. And he’s asked to go through his progressions on passing concepts compared to one or two-read quarterbacks in spread offenses.
He’s one of the better athletes on the Bison roster.
And his accuracy on the run or when he’s off-balanced continues to get better.
Perhaps two of his most impressive throws of his career came in the first half of the 2017 semifinals against Sam Houston State. Unfortunately they were dropped, but these are the type of throws on a rope that gives Stick a chance at a pro contract.
Will Stick be a draft pick? That’s debatable. But he’s certainly going to have a lot of eyes on him and can improve his stock if his game continues to improve.
Things finally clicked for Anderson late in the 2017 season. He was terrific as a true freshman, but was limited with an ankle injury in 2016. Early on this last season, he seemed to take more pride in being a power back than the explosive runner seen during his freshman year when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the playoffs.
When starter Lance Dunn suffered a hip injury that sidelined him and with Ty Brooks also banged up, Anderson became the workhorse back. After a couple mediocre games that left fans wondering what happened to the Bruce Anderson of old, the Florida native reminded them how special he could be.
At 5-foot-11, 216 pounds, Anderson became a well-balanced running back who made plays instead of just running for the yardage blocked for him.
He ran with power.
And in the playoffs, those explosive plays returned. He was untouchable in the semifinals, showing his breakaway speed for five total touchdowns against SHSU.
The game against SHSU was on national television, which perhaps helped get some eyes on him and help his NFL prospect rankings. It also should be mentioned that SHSU ranked 110th in the FCS in total defense. Nonetheless, he still ran away from Division I defensive backs with ease, which is something not many backs built like him can do.
If Anderson continues to show his combination of speed, power and vision and stays healthy all throughout the 2018 season, he’ll have a larger sample size and will be looked at as a late-round draft pick come this time next year.