The first NFL draft took place back in 1936. Fast forward to now, and looking over the foreground to the approaching 2022 draft, not much has changed when it comes to the NFL’s lack of attention given to the athletes that call some of the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) home. In fact, just one player from an HBCU was drafted in 2020, and none in nine separate drafts spanning back to the turn of the century. Although a majority of the 2020 campaign was canceled due to the pandemic, this fall has opened scouts’ eyes to what has become an awfully talented group of prospects deserving of a professional contract. While many HBCU alumni are among those whose opinions contribute to draft selections, the goal from organizations, ultimately, is to put the best product on the field, and with a considerable drop in competition in comparison to the blueblood conferences of the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC, that level of gridiron opposition has historically worked against HBCUs and lower-conference schools. However, from Norfolk State and Florida A&M of the MEAC, to the Deion Sanders-led Jackson State Tigers of the SWAC, a newfound breath of fresh air by way of the annual Cricket Celebration Bowl and the partnering of the NFL with the Reese’s Senior Bowl that will hold an HBCU combine prior to the start of Senior Bowl week in Mobile has placed a spotlight on some of the country’s most unheralded talent yet to garner the correct attention. “Over the last 20 years, over 26 players from the SWAC have been drafted into the NFL. Of those 26, only four have been first or second-round,” Sanders said. “That’s why eyeballs are gone. They’re not here, because of the talent level and the lack thereof of scouting, recruiting and understanding. Between 1960-99, however, 196 players were drafted with 55 of them going into first or second rounds. That’s what we’re trying to do.” Legends of the game initially made their names at HBCUs. From Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), Walter Payton (Jackson State), Michael Strahan (Texas Southern), and Doug Williams (Grambling State), to more recent standouts in Darius Leonard and Javon Hargrave (South Carolina State), Terron Armstead (Arkansas Pine-Bluff), and Tarik Cohen (NC A&T), the talent is there, it just needs the necessary spotlight. With the pre-draft circuit underway for 99% of programs across the nation, here are six players with HBCU ties to keep an eye on moving into the spring.
Markquese Bell, S, Florida A&M (Shrine Bowl Invite)Placed within a Rattlers defense that incorporates a blend of multiple fronts and coverages, Bell is a downhill enforcer in run support with ideal versatility. Experienced in all areas of the defense in coverage, he has the flexibility to turn and run in man coverage, but also has the awareness in zone to remain engaged on routes entering and exiting his areas. While his aggressiveness hurts him at times, he’s a demolishing tackler who makes his presence felt on every rep. With the necessary technique to flare and cover the roof of the defense in both man and zone, he’s a day-one starter.
Aqeel Glass, QB, Alabama A&MA two-time SWAC offensive player of the year, the 6-foot-4 Glass touts ideal NFL measurables and arm strength to match his impressive verticality. With the second-highest completion percentage in the country for throws that traveled 20 or more yards downfield, his mobility and ability to command an offense could entice teams looking for competition in their quarterback room.
Isaiah Land, LB, Florida A&MAn imposing force for the Rattlers' front seven, Land was as dominant as they come with 18 sacks in 12 games. A blend of flexibility and speed off the edge, at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he’s awfully light for the position which may force him to fall back to linebacker or even further to safety, but his knack for finding the ball-carrier and making plays is hard to ignore.
Joshua Williams, CB, Fayetteville State (Senior Bowl Invite)A supremely athletic prospect—like Bell—Williams is a downhill defender who isn’t afraid to stick his face in the mud in the run game. His fluid feet and quick-twitch ability to flip his hips in man pops on tape and are traits that should immediately translate to Sundays. He’s looking to become the first Bronco to be drafted since 1976.
Keyshawn James, IDL, Fayetteville StateA defensive tackle with the ability to serve as a two-gap defender at the next level, James is a versatile product who possesses the necessary strength and technical prowess to consistently push the pocket and stuff creases in the run game. Whether he’s out at 5-technique with his hand in the dirt, aligned in a two-point stance as an A-gap blitzer, or as a gap-plugging nose guard, James’ versatility has his draft stock rising.
Decobie Durant, CB, South Carolina StateOne of the country’s most intriguing secondary talents regardless of program prestige, Durant has the chance to become an impact defender from the moment he steps into an NFL facility. Molded in the ideal frame of a loose nickel defender with high-level ball skills, Durant is an alpha on the perimeter.
- Sep 22, 2023
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