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8 HBCU Offensive Players To Watch This Season

  • Ryan Fowler
  • June 23, 2022
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The first NFL draft took place back in 1936. Fast forward to now, and looking over the foreground to the 2023 NFL 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, the 2021 fall 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 of 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 held an HBCU combine prior to the start of Senior Bowl week, has placed a spotlight on some of the country’s most unheralded talent yet to garner the correct attention. 

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 collegiate season right around the corner, here are a few offensive players with HBCU ties to keep an eye on moving into the fall.

*Not all players are draft eligible

Travis Hunter, WR/CB, Jackson State

One of the most athletically gifted players in the nation, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2022 prep class was overwhelmingly dominant in the Tigers’ spring game and has all the makings of a potential top 10 pick in the 2025 draft. He’ll play on both sides of the ball for Deion Sanders this year and should post gaudy numbers week in and week out. He has zero limitations and a performance ceiling as lofty as any college football player in the country.

Eden James, RB, Howard

The son of Hall of Famer Edgerrin James, Eden James enters the Bison program as a three-star recruit out of Port Saint Lucie, FL. Despite offers from his dad’s alma mater in Miami, Wake Forest, Indiana, Navy, and Army—among others—James was one of six three-star prep talents to commit to head coach Larry Scott and offers a bit of the same get-up-and-go that his father had during his 11 years in the NFL. 

Jadakis Bonds, WR, Hampton 

An FCS All-American, Bonds touts an NFL frame and could challenge to be the top HBCU prospect in the 2023 draft. At 6-foot-4, Bonds uses his length extremely well and understands the optics of high-pointing the football over small corners. He could work to add muscle to his 190-pound frame, but he touts sticky hands on the perimeter with a “my ball” attitude and showcased well against FBS opponent Liberty (eight catches, 144 yards, two TDs). 

Kevin Coleman, WR, Jackson State

The signing of Hunter drew headlines—and rightly so—but Coleman will earn snaps right away on the outside for the Tigers’ offense and quarterback Shedeur Sanders. A four-star talent, Coleman returned a kick for a touchdown at Jackson State’s spring game, offering a glimpse of the game-breaking talent he will showcase this fall.

Kemari Averett, TE, Bethune-Cookman

A Louisville transfer, Averett was NFL-ready yesterday. A massive man with the athletic prowess of a modern-day flex option, Averett led the Wildcats with 876 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. As a member of the Cardinals, he recorded two touchdowns in the first half against Alabama back in 2018 and should present a tough challenge to the Miami Hurricanes defense in Week 1 this fall. 

Shedeur Sanders, QB, Jackson State

The son of Tigers head coach and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, the dual-threat signal-caller should thrive this fall. Armed with Hunter, Coleman, and Warren Newman on the outside, Sanders should enjoy an uber-productive season. He totaled 30 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions in his freshman season, and should only improve with more snaps under center. 

Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim, WR, Alabama A&M

In 2021, Ibrahim was one of the top HBCU and FCS wideouts in the country. He was Aqueel Glass’s top target on the perimeter, spearheading the nation’s fourth-best passing offense with 1,008 receiving yards. He returns as the Bulldogs’ only wide receiver with more than 20 catches last year and is a name to watch moving into next spring.

Phaizon Wilson, WR, Grambling State

A former Texas Longhorn commit, Wilson should immediately assert himself within the Tigers’ offense as a go-to weapon in the passing game. He’s a dominating presence with the ball in the air but remains extremely raw regarding his short-area quickness and ability to mask routes at the top of his stem. However, with elite hands and a massive catch radius, Wilson checks off a ton of boxes and could become the next Tiger to be drafted when the 2025 draft rolls around.

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Ryan Fowler