Commentary

A look at HBCU's NFL prospects

Originally Published: November 19, 2008
By Donald Hunt | Special to ESPN.com

When the NFL kicks off next season, there could be a number of black college players in the league.

It was no surprise to most HBCU fans to see rookies Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Tennessee State, Arizona Cardinals), Kendall Langford (Hampton, Miami Dolphins), Alex Hall (St. Augustine's, Cleveland Browns) and Chad Simpson (Morgan State, Indianapolis Colts) playing on Sundays this year.

HBCU football on ESPNU

• Grambling State at Texas Southern
Thursday, Nov. 20, 9:05 p.m. ET

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There are solid NFL prospects coming out this season, too. In fact, they all should be invited to the NFL combine in February, as well as to any postseason all-star games like the Senior Bowl and the Hula Bowl.

This year's crop is that impressive. There's plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, as well as on special teams. For some college fans, these players may not be household names, but the NFL teams who do their homework could walk away with some great players. Here's the list of prospects from HBCU schools:

QB Jacary Atkinson, Tuskegee, 6-3, 210, Sr.
Atkinson is one of the most talented small college players in the country. He can run, throw the deep pass and do it all. A year ago, he threw 34 touchdowns against only nine interceptions and completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,979 yards. His numbers were a little down this season, but they weren't too shabby. He threw for 2,444 yards, 23 TDs and 10 interceptions and rushed for 724 yards and 11 TDs. Tuskegee has a 26-game winning streak, and Atkinson was the starting signal-caller for 22 of those games. Last year, he completed 18-of-29 passes for 279 yards and four TDs in a 64-58 overtime win against the FCS' Alabama State in the annual Turkey Day Classic.

RB Javarris Williams, Tennessee State, 5-10, 215, Sr.
Williams can run between the tackles and has the speed to get to the edge. He can also catch passes coming out of the backfield. He has rushed for 1,037 yards, scored 15 rushing touchdowns and has caught 19 balls for 245 yards and one score. He's capable of going the distance at any time.

OT Cornelius Lewis, Tennessee State, 6-5, 310, Sr.
Lewis is a big reason why Javarris Williams has been so productive this season. His size and strength have opened a lot of holes for the Tigers' running attack. He's also a good pass blocker. Some offensive tackles are better run blockers than pass blockers, but Lewis can do both extremely well.

OT Adrian Brown, Delaware State, 6-6, 327, Sr.
It's hard to get around Brown with his height and size. He takes up a lot of space, and he moves his feet very well in spite of his size. Brown has consistently been one of the best offensive linemen in the MEAC all season.

WR/PR Jeremy Gilchrist, Hampton, 5-10, 174, Sr.
Gilchrist has been a terrific receiver throughout his college career. He can definitely catch passes and make plays in the open field, but he could get on the field immediately in the NFL with his punt-return skills. He has a 15.2 yard average this season and has returned three punts for touchdowns, including a 60-yarder for a score against Norfolk State.

LB Endor Cooper, Howard, 6-3, 245, Sr.
Cooper averages 11.6 tackles a game, which leads the MEAC. He has 68 solo tackles and has the size and quickness to run down backs and drop into pass coverage. Cooper knows when to pick his spots in terms of rushing the passer -- he has three sacks this season.

LB Jarrell Guyton, Morgan State, 6-0, 225, Sr.
Guyton isn't as big as most linebackers, but he relies on speed to make plays. His quickness allows him to get to the ball in a hurry. He has 67 total tackles with 32 solo and four sacks.

LB Wakeem Goode, Hampton, 5-11, 227, Sr.
Goode is another speed linebacker. He knows how to swarm to the ball and has 105 total tackles with 34 solo. He also averages 10.5 tackles a game and has three sacks. Goode does a good job of closing on the ball.

LB Lee Robinson, Alcorn State, 6-3, 243, Sr.
Robinson is real hitter. If you run in his area, you're going to get hit. He has 100 total tackles this season, including 61 solo tackles. There aren't too many plays that get by him. He's that good.

LB Zach East, Prairie View A&M, 6-2, 230, Sr.
East has been a big part of Prairie View A&M's resurgence in the SWAC. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time and knows how to anticipate where the play is going. He has 69 total tackles and 49 solos.

LB Marcellus Speaks, Jackson State, 6-2, 230, Sr.
There wasn't a lot of talk about Speaks coming into the season. It's not that people didn't know about him, because they did. But Speaks has played as well -- if not better -- than anybody in the SWAC on defense. He leads the conference with an average of 10.6 tackles a game and has a 106 total tackles and 49 solos. He also has four sacks.

DE Marcus Benard, Jackson State, 6-4, 260, Sr.
Nobody could stop Benard from getting to the quarterback this season. He leads the SWAC with 15.5 sacks and has great moves and quickness up front (69 total tackles with 39 solos). He's a player who could probably play linebacker in the NFL because of his great athleticism.

S Travis Roland, Bethune-Cookman, 5-9, 190, Sr.
Roland has been the most impressive defensive player in the MEAC. He leads the conference with eight sacks. He's not very big, but has great speed which poses a lot of problems for opposing teams. You have to know where he's lining up. He has 78 total and 36 solo tackles this season.

DB Domonique Johnson, Jackson State, 6-2, 200, Sr.
Johnson is a big-time player, and NFL scouts really like him. He's one of the best cornerbacks in college football as far as pass coverage is concerned. He can play big receivers as well as speed guys and leads the SWAC with 15 passes defended. He has just one interception, but that's because teams don't throw in his direction. And the one ball he did intercept, he returned 60 yards for a TD. He also has 42 total and 29 solo tackles. Johnson is one of the most complete players at his position.

HBCU notes


• Defending SWAC Eastern Division champion Jackson State, which already clinched a spot in the conference title game, will face arch rival Alcorn State in the Capital City Classic on Saturday (ESPNU, 2 p.m. ET). The Tigers won their second consecutive division championship by defeating Alabama A&M. Jackson State owns a five-game winning streak after starting 1-4. Alcorn State is on a four-game skid and is coming off a road loss at Prairie View A&M.

• Grambling State, defending SWAC Western Division champions, look to move a step closer to repeating as champs when they travel to Houston to face Texas Southern (ESPNU, 9:05 p.m. ET). The Tigers are on a seven-game winning streak and could grab the crown by winning their final two games.

• Prairie View A&M running back Donald Babers has been named SWAC offensive player of the week. Babers rushed 26 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns in the Panthers' 37-3 win over Alcorn State.

• Jackson State defensive end Marcus Benard was selected as the SWAC defensive player of the week. Benard made a game-high 14 tackles (five for loss) with 3.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and one touchdown in the Tigers' 37-21 win over Alabama A&M.

• Florida A&M quarterback Curtis Pulley was named the MEAC offensive player of the week. Pulley completed six of 14 passes for 159 yards and one touchdown in the Rattlers' 45-24 win over Hampton. He also had 12 carries for 132 yards and three TDs.

• South Carolina State defensive end Markus James was named MEAC defensive player of the week. James had five total tackles, three solo, as the Bulldogs defeated Morgan State 32-0 and earned the league's regular-season title.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. You can reach him at dhunt37261@aol.com.