Top NFL prospects at HBCUs
You can never underestimate the quality of football players from historically black colleges and universities. The Super Bowl was well represented by players from HBCUs, such as Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver and free safety Nick Collins and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac Redman.
In 1999, Driver was a seventh-round pick from Alcorn State. In 2005, Collins was a second-round choice from Bethune-Cookman. Redman was an undrafted free agent out of Bowie State who just completed his first season in the NFL.
The scouts and general managers that do their homework and watch these players in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, Bayou Classic, Magic City Classic, Florida Classic and other HBCU games usually come away with some gems.
It's amazing how many black college players are available during the NFL draft. There haven't been many HBCU players taken in the first round. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who attended Tennessee State, was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 NFL draft.
It's not likely that there will be any selected in the first round this year. Nevertheless, the list of NFL prospects from HBCU ranks is quite impressive. This year's crop has talented players at just about every position.
The names included in this group could be called on the first and/or second day of the draft. If not, they will find their way into the NFL as free agents.
1. K.J. Black, Prairie View A&M
Black got off to a slow start because of a knee injury. He still managed to throw for 2,154 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. In 2009, he guided the Panthers to the SWAC championship. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he's the prototype QB.
Strengths: He can throw the deep pass and the short route. He has the ability to avoid the heavy rush. He can stand up in the pocket and make the throws. He can roll out, too.
Weaknesses: The injury may have hurt his stock a little bit. Although he came on toward the end of the season, he still needs to get his timing back. He has a tendency to force the ball into coverage. He could use a good pro day.
2. Matt Johnson, Bethune-Cookman
Johnson was one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the FCS. He guided Bethune-Cookman to a share of the MEAC title and a trip to the playoffs. He threw for 2,053 yards with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He rushed for 896 yards on 136 carries while scoring seven TDs.
Strengths: His biggest asset is his ability to explode out of the pocket when the play breaks down. He can connect on the short routes. He's a good scrambler.
Weaknesses: At 5-10 and 175 pounds, he doesn't have great size. He needs to work on his deep passing and his footwork.
1. Frank Warren, Grambling State
Warren is a big time running back. He passed Hall of Famer Walter Payton on the SWAC's all-time rushing list with 3,910 yards.
Strengths: He has the ability to get outside very quickly. He's good at reading the defense. He knows how to cut back and make a big run.
Weaknesses: He will have to work on catching the ball out of the backfield. He averaged only 8.8 yards a catch.
2. DeAngelo Branche, Norfolk State
Branche was a terrific running back for the Spartans throughout his career. He led the MEAC in rushing with 1,330 yards on 272 carries while scoring 13 TDs.
Strengths: He can run inside as well as outside. He does a good job of hitting the holes.
Weaknesses: He didn't catch a lot of passes. That's something he'll need to do in the NFL.
3. Donald Babers, Prairie View A&M
Babers has been a real playmaker for Prairie View A&M. He had 918 yards and 10 TDs. He was a big part of the Panthers' 2009 SWAC championship team.
Strengths: He has good moves in the open field. He's a good receiver out of the backfield. He can hurt you from a number of positions.
Weaknesses: Babers is just 5-10 and 190 pounds. He needs to get stronger. He needs to follow his blocking a little better.
4. Walter Sanders, Saint Augustine's College
Sanders led the CIAA in rushing with 1,377 yards and 15 TDs. He was the nation's fourth ranked Division II rusher.
Strengths: He's one of the most explosive backs in Division II. He has the speed to get to the edge. He does a good job of making people miss as well.
Weaknesses: Sanders, a 5-11, 215-pounder, has to improve pass catching ability. He caught just four passes this season.
1. Ricardo Lockette, Fort Valley State
Lockette has been invited to the NFL Combine. He had 23 receptions for 262 yards. The 6-2, 207-pounder, averaged 11.4 yards a catch. He also averaged 24 yards on kickoff returns.
Strengths: He has great speed. He can get deep at any time. He has a good pair of hands.
Weaknesses: He has to improve his route running. He has to be able to catch more passes down the field. He has to take a little more advantage of his big-play ability.
2. Raymond Webber, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Webber led the country with 101 receptions and 1,429 receiving yards. The 6-2, 220-pounder was a huge part of the Golden Lions' passing attack.
Strengths: He can make the big play with the game on the line. He has good speed in the open field. He does a good job of coming back to the ball.
Weaknesses: He didn't catch a lot of passes over the middle. He will have to do that in the NFL.
3. Shaun Stephens, Prairie View A&M
Stephens had a great season for the Panthers. He caught 63 passes for 859 yards and nine TDs. He and Black were a marvelous passing combination in the SWAC.
Strengths: He has good quickness. He's very elusive.
Weaknesses: At 5-9 and 170 pounds, Stephens will have to get stronger. He'll be facing bigger defensive backs in the league. He has to be able to catch the ball in traffic.
4. Anthony Mayes, Jackson State
Mayes averaged 17.3 yards a catch. He was the big-play receiver for the Tigers. He caught 42 passes for 727 yards and six TDs.
Strengths: He can stretch the field. He knows how to get open. He can make the spectacular catch.
Weaknesses: At 5-9 and 180 pounds, he's not very big. He has to come back to the ball and continue to run better pass routes.
5. Ronnie Childs, Albany State
Childs led the SIAC with 1,005 receiving yards and 12 TDs. He averaged 22.3 yards a catch.
Strengths: He can make the big catch on third down. He's a good athlete. At 6-3, he has good size.
Weaknesses: He has to run sharper pass routes. He needs to work on his individual moves in getting open.
1. Johnny Culbreath, South Carolina State
Culbreath has been one of the best offensive linemen in the country over the past two years. The 6-6, 280-pounder made the Bulldogs' ground attack one of the best in the MEAC.
Strengths: He can get out in front on all sweeps. He has good quickness. He is tall and has good length.
Weakness: He needs to put on another 20 pounds on his frame. He needs to work on his pass blocking.
2. William Falakiseni, Norfolk State
Falakiseni opened a lot of holes for Branche, the Spartans' 1,000-yard runner. The 6-2, 315-pounder is one of the biggest offensive linemen in the MEAC.
Strengths: He's a great run blocker. He does a nice job pass blocking.
Weaknesses: He needs to be able to move his feet better. He needs to work on his lateral movement.
3. Kendall Noble, Norfolk State
Noble played alongside Falakiseni on the offensive line. These two guys were quite a combination. The Spartans left tackle was a big factor in Norfolk State's vaunted running game.
Strengths: At 6-4 and 290 pounds, Noble has good size and quickness. He's a solid run blocker.
Weaknesses: He needs to improve his overall technique. His pass-blocking skills could be embellished as well.
4. Antonio Colston, Jackson State
Jackson State threw the football all season long. Colston, a 6-2, 295-pounder, helped Tigers quarterback Casey Therriault have a monster year throwing the ball for 3,436 yards and 41 TDs.
Strengths: He's a terrific pass blocker. He knows how to stay with his block.
Weaknesses: He needs to work on his run blocking. He has to be able to drive his man a little better in the run game.
5. David Mims, Virginia Union
Mims can definitely clear the way. Whenever Virginia Union needed a first down, they ran behind him. The 6-7, 330-pounder helped the Panthers lead the CIAA in rushing.
Strengths: He takes up a lot of space on the offensive line. He's a great run blocker.
Weaknesses: He needs work on his lateral movement. He has to improve his pass blocking.
6. Justin Wells, Saint Augustine's College
Wells helped Walter Sanders become the CIAA's leading rusher this season. The 6-5, 290-pounder had a path for Sanders to run through all season long.
Strengths: He's a great run blocker. The Falcons' offensive guard can really pull.
Weaknesses: He has to polish his pass blocking skills. He has to do a better job of getting in position against the pass.
1. Malcolm Jenkins, Elizabeth City State
Jenkins was the CIAA Defensive Player of the Year. He was a first-team All-American. He led the conference in sacks (12) and tackles for loss (14).
Strengths: He has great movement from side to side. He's a great pass rusher.
Weaknesses: The 6-5, 235-pounder needs to put on 35 pounds to play defensive end in the NFL. He has to play the run a little better.
2. Derrin Nettles, Morehouse
Nettles is a great all-around player. The 6-4, 304-pounder had 60 total tackles and 38 solos. He had nine sacks. He was the SIAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Strengths: He has a knack for making big plays. His size and length makes him tough to contain.
Weaknesses: He has work on different schemes in terms of getting away from double teams. He has to do a better job of getting off the blocks.
3. Kenrick Ellis, Hampton
Ellis was one of the most highly touted defensive linemen in the MEAC. He's high on several draft lists. The 6-8, 280-pounder had 93 total tackles, 33 solos and two sacks.
Strengths: He's a tough guy to block. He has good technique. He knows how to use his size and strength.
Weaknesses: He has to bring it every day. He needs to develop a couple moves to get to the quarterback.
4. Andre Caroll, Delaware State
Caroll is one of the most improved players in the MEAC. He had a good final season with the Hornets. The 6-2, 280-pounder had 96 total tackles, 47 solos and four sacks.
Strengths: He's a real blue-collar player. He doesn't mind doing the little things. He has a good knowledge of the game.
Weaknesses: In spite of his improvement as a run stuffer and pass rusher, he still needs develop a little more in those areas. He has to continue to raise his level of play.
5. Quinton Spears, Prairie View A&M
Spears is one of the quickest linemen in the SWAC. The 6-4, 240-pounder had four sacks and 70 total tackles.
Strengths: He knows how to get around the bigger offensive linemen. He has good range. He's relentless.
Weaknesses: His size will be a factor at the next level. He's going to need to put on 30 pounds. He has to play the run better.
1. Brandon Peguese, Hampton
Peguese is a playmaker. He led the MEAC with eight sacks. He had 88 total tackles and 38 solos. The 6-1, 250-pounder is very athletic.
Strengths: He can play tight ends and running backs in pass coverage. He can cover a lot of ground with his speed. He likes to make contact.
Weaknesses: He has a tendency to over run the play. He gets a little anxious occasionally.
2. Darius Johnson, Hampton
Johnson is a tackling machine. The 6-1, 220-pounder can really move. He had 100 total tackles and 59 solos.
Strengths: He knows how to read and make plays against the run. He has great quickness to the ball.
Weaknesses: He has to improve his pass coverage. He has to be able to cover backs across the middle.
3. David Erby, South Carolina State
Erby has been one of the steadiest defensive players in the MEAC. The 6-1, 220-pounder has made a lot of plays throughout his career. He had 96 total tackles, 58 solos and six sacks.
Strengths: He plays well against the run. He knows how to come up and stop big plays on the ground. He has good quickness.
Weaknesses: He's done well in pass coverage, but does need some work in that area. He has to be able to pick his post in terms of blitzing.
4. Brandon Jackson, North Carolina A&T
Jackson is one of the most underrated players in the MEAC. He didn't receive a lot of attention. Nevertheless, he has some skills. The 5-11, 220-pounder had 104 total tackles, 43 solos and three sacks.
Strengths: He knows when to blitz. He does a nice job of getting to the quarterback from different spots. He's a good open-field hitter.
Weaknesses: He's not a big linebacker. He could have trouble in pass coverage. He has to be able to cover tight ends that have good size.
1. Chris Adingupu, Prairie View A&M
Adingupu has stopped a lot of big plays on the ground. He does a good of turning running plays inside where he can get help or make the tackle himself. He had 83 total tackles and 46 solos.
Strengths: He has great closing speed. He can come across the field and make tackles. He has good size.
Weaknesses: He has to get better in pass coverage. He can't just depend on his quickness.
2. Michael Williams, Bethune-Cookman
Williams is a sensational cover guy at cornerback. The 6-2, 190-pounder can run with most receivers. He had a big year pulling down six interceptions.
Strengths: He has great anticipation. He has a good feel for the game.
Weaknesses: His only shortcoming seems to be tackling. He made just 25 solo tackles. He has to become a little more physical.
3. Eugene Clifford, Tennessee State
Clifford, a 6-2, 205-pounder, had a magnificent year. The Tigers safety had 83 total tackles, four interceptions, 10 pass breakups and 14 pass deflections.
Strengths: He has good instincts in the secondary. He has a nice sense of where the play is going to be on the field.
Weaknesses: He has a tendency to take chances. Every now and then, he will over run a play.
4. Derrick Wilhite, Grambling State
Wilhite knows how to shut down the run. He stopped a lot of plays from getting to the edge. The 5-1, 190-pounder had 82 total tackles and 48 solos.
Strengths: He's a great hitter. He's always around the football. He comes up well on sweeps.
Weaknesses: He's not very tall. He will have to work on covering the bigger receivers.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Hunt? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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