Ranking HBCU prospects for the NFL draft: 15 names to know, Legacy Bowl players to watch

This is a big week for HBCU prospects who could be selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. On Monday, 47 players took part in the second annual HBCU gathering, where scouts and raters from all 32 NFL teams watched practice at the New Orleans Saints practice facility. The Black College Football Hall of Fame and the NFL teamed up for an event that featured field trials and practice sessions similar to the annual Indianapolis Scouts. 98 players are expected to take part in the HBCU Legacy Bowl (4pm ET NFL Network) at Tulane University this Saturday.

Four HBCU players were selected in last year’s NFL Draft, a ten-year record. Detroit Lions defenseman James Houston ended his rookie year with eight sacks, and Kansas City Chiefs defenseman Joshua Williams played a key role in the team’s Super Bowl victory. How many HBCU alumni can be selected or placed on the Undrafted Free Agents (UDFA) list this year? Who made a splash at combine training? Here’s an updated look at the top 15 HBCU picks in the 2023 draft, including nine that are in New Orleans this week.

Note. Members of the Legacy Bowl and/or HBCU are marked with an asterisk.

1. Isaiah Land, OLB, Florida A&M

HT: 6 feet 3 | Weight: 226 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: Mid-late day 3

A highly productive pass rusher, Land had his best season yet in 2021. He finished with 19.5 sacks and won the Buck Buchanan Award for FCS Defensive Player of the Year. The ground is long but burst, buckled and took a quick first step out of the starting blocks, which was usually too much for FCS offensive tackle. He finished last season with 12 tackles for a loss and eight sacks in nine games.

We’ve seen him play mostly in a standing position outside of linebacker in the Senior Bowl, and that’s probably his position at the next level. Getting into the coverage area will be an adjustment for him, but he will be the designated pass rusher early in his career as he continues to gain weight. For teams that need immediate help with obvious misses, the Earth can be an additional incentive.

2. Aubrey Miller, Jr., ILB, Jackson State

HT: 6 feet | Weight: 229 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: Mid-late day 3

Having moved from Missouri in search of an expanded role, Miller found the perfect place to land in Jackson State, where he was the heart and soul of the Tigers. He was primarily a linebacker for Mike, but Miller’s versatility showed throughout his career. And he has consistently demonstrated the ability to read, diagnose, and attack downhill, proving he is capable of being a three-down player who can also maintain lighting. Miller was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year last season after 117 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and five forced fumbles.

I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback about Miller’s game from the scouts, and many are surprised that he did not receive an invitation to the NFL camp in Indianapolis. However, he can be an instant impact player in special pro teams while continuing to develop as a midfielder.

3. Mark Evans II, OL, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

HT: 6 feet 2 | Weight: 293 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: Mid-late day 3

Evans has played his entire career with a left tackle and has demonstrated good fitness and balance while continuing to improve in many areas. Due to his lack of height, scouts predict Evans will play at the next level center and the 293-pound boxer has been strictly inside for a week of training at the East-West Shrine Bowl. His game is best suited to NFL teams that use out-of-zone formations where he can use his quick feet and quick wits to win with hands and corners. Terron Armstead (2013) was the last player selected from the Arkansas-Pine Bluff program, but Evans has a good chance of being selected on Day 3.

4. Shakuan Davis, WR, South Carolina

HT: 6 feet 4 | Weight: 217 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: Mid-late day 3

Davis comes from one of the best NFL channels among HBCU schools. South Carolina State has trained Darius Leonard, Javon Hargrave and Kobe Durant, and Davis looks set to be next in line. He was one of the most effective pass catchers in the FCS last season, throwing 45 passes for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has also averaged at least 20 yards per catch in three of his four seasons, showing that he can win bottom field using his big frame or gaining yards after a catch. Davis still needs to improve his route tree and body control in the lower areas, but has shown progress during a week of training in the East-West game.

5. Jadakis Bonds, WR, Hampton

HT: 6 feet 2 | Weight: 205 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: End of day 3

A dynamic vertical asset for the Hamptons, Bonds consistently pulled away from the third tier of defense and ended his college career with 34 touchdowns. He has the kind of speed that makes defending defenders fall back quickly and panic, but he can also tear off his routes and then create yards after grabbing bottom patterns. His reliable hands have been on full display in East-West Shrine training, including when he came down with a good one hand grip during the second day. Teams that missed out on some speed options in the earlier rounds can take a closer look at Bonds on Day 3.

6. Keenan Isaac, CB, Alabama*

HT: 6 feet 2 | Weight: 186 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: End of day 3

The highest ranked player in this week’s tournaments, Isaac, is a lanky cornerman who provided glimpses of the ball (two interceptions in his career with the Hornets). I saw him up close at NFLPA Collegiate Bowl practice, and his size, length, and ability to change direction were obvious. Isaac works best in a zone where he can compete with his understanding and high-end instincts. But he still needs to hone his technique and put on weight.

7. Darius Hagans, RB, Virginia*

HT: 5 feet 11 | Weight: 209 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: Late Day 3/UDFA

An honest and productive runner, Hagans had a breakout season in his final year with the Trojans. He finished 2022 with 1,012 yards and six touchdowns before helping himself during the All-Star Game with outstanding performances. His running style and vision are clear, and he is determined when attacking at the first level. But can he become more involved with the game? Hagans received a lot of information about this part of the game at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, and he has potential as a late-round backup defenseman. NFL scouts were also impressed with Hagans after Monday’s HBCU combine practice.

8. Emanuel Wilson, RB, Fort Valley State*

HT: 5 feet 10 | Weight: 229 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: Late Day 3/UDFA

Wilson was one of the top rushers in Division II last season. Initially starting his career at Johnson C. Smith, he then played two seasons at Fort Valley State and finished the 2022 season with 1,371 yards and 17 touchdowns. And after an outstanding week of training in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, Wilson is becoming a little more popular with NFL teams. He is a hard hitting runner and that ability to bounce and break grips carries over well to the next level.

9. Kemari Averett, TE, Bethune-Cookman*

HT: 6 feet 5 | Weight: 260 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: Late Day 3/UDFA

Averett began his career in Louisville and then settled in Daytona Beach, Florida with Bethune-Cookman. He was quickly targeted by the Wildcats and ended his two-year stint with 1,333 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. It’s been a long run in the collegiate ranks for a major tight end – mind you, he caught his first career touchdown from Lamar Jackson in the 2017 season.

Averett helped himself during a productive week at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he demonstrated body control and strong arms. Early in his professional career, he has the makings of depth, and NFL teams will be intrigued by his red zone advantage.

10. Dallas Daniels, WR, Jackson State

HT: 5 feet 10 | Weight: 176 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: UDFA

Daniels spent two seasons of his junior college years (2018 and 2019) before moving to Western Illinois. He finished 2022 with 61 catches for 657 yards and six touchdowns in multiple rows. Despite limited production, he was one of the most prominent members of the East-West Temple. With strong hands and quick feet on routes, Daniels could be the team’s first choice as an undrafted free agent of choice.

11. Xavier Smith, WR, Florida A&M*

HT: 5 feet 10 | Weight: 170 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: UDFA

Smith is an explosive three-level threat and spends most of his time outside the slot. I saw him live against FBS during the season opener in North Carolina when he caught 10 balls for 78 yards. During his college career, Smith has amassed 2,893 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns and has been useful as a return specialist. Smith could be a priority target among undrafted free agents for several teams.

After the HBCU combine on Monday, a local scout told me, “I thought he easily looked better than any prospect running here, and I made him run with a high 4.3 in 40.”

12. Andrew Farmer II, Delaware, Lane*

HT: 6 feet 3 | Weight: 260 pounds | Grade: Older
Suggested draft range: UDFA

One of the highest scoring defensemen in Division II, Farmer ended an impressive two-year streak of 44 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. His game is focused on effort, heavy hands and stealth as a pass rusher, and he has the explosive and finishing ability to overwhelm blockers and close QB. Farmer will likely start his career as a designated pass rusher as he continues to learn how to pass consistently, but his performance will definitely intrigue teams.

13. De’Jan Warren, CB, Jackson State*



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