(Philadelphia, Pa) — HBCU’s have notoriously been fertile grounds for the National Football League, in fact there is not enough paper in the world to list the numerous players that have made the jump from historically black colleges and universities to excellence in the NFL.
Super Scouts/Architects Bill Nunn (’70s Pittsburgh Steelers) and Lloyd Wells (’60s Kansas Chiefs) were masters of mining “Diamonds in the Rough” at HBCU’s in helping to build Super Bowl winning teams and the pipeline continues today with players like Jacksonville Jaguars LB Justin Durant (Hampton). This year the talent level at HBCU’s is exemplary and you can expect to hear many HBCU players’ names called at the upcoming 2009 NFL Draft.
QB Jacary Atkinson, Tuskegee (6-3, 205, Sr) — A spectacular athletic quarterback who has the size and arm to play in the NFL. The 2008 SIAC MVP and Offensive Player of the year led the conference and was tenth in Division II Football in passing efficiency (163.2). Led the conference in passing average per game (244.4), passing yards (2,444), passing touchdowns (23) and total offense averaging 316.6 yards per game. Atkinson was named Offensive Player of the week six times in 2008 and became the first player to win consecutive Offensive Player of the Year and MVP honors in the modern era of the SIAC. Led the Golden Tigers to their second straight SIAC championship and the Division II playoffs finishing the year 10-1. Finished his college career with a 22-1 record as a starting quarterback. Recently at his Pro Day, Atkinson ran a 4.6 forty and looked smooth throwing the football in drills.
QB Bobby Reid, Texas Southern (6-4, 225, Sr) — A tall, smart, athletic, and leadership type quarterback, who had an excellent experience in his one year of HBCU football. After putting some tough times behind him at Oklahoma State behind him — I won’t even go there repeating head coach Mike Gundy’s misleading quote – Reid excelled at Texas Southern in 2008 playing as a 5th year senior. The former Houston high school legend (compared to Vince Young) had decent passing numbers — 148-261, 1791 yards, 12 TDs, and 6 INT’s — with an additional 227 yards and 9 TDs rushing as he led TSU back from a winless season in ’07. I firmly believe if Reid was never sidetracked from the nonsense that went on at Oklahoma State that he would have been mentioned with quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman at the top of the 2009 draft class. Will need to show that his knee is totally healthy after postseason surgery.
RB Javarris Williams, Tennessee State (5-11, 215, Sr) — A solidly built tough runner with good speed and lower body strength. Williams was the OVC Offensive player of the year for 2008 and he is known for his initiating contact with defenders. He finished with a league best 103.7 yards per game with 1,037 yards in 10 games and 15 touchdowns. Finished his TSU career as the All-time rushing TD leader (42) and is now second on the All-time rushing list with 4,329 yards. Williams had six 100+ yard rushing games this season and twenty such games in his career. Rushed for 1,000 yards three consecutive years at TSU. Selected Most Valuable Player at the East-West Shrine Game and participated in the 2009 NFL Combine.
OL Cornelius Lewis, Tennessee State (6-5, 310, Sr) — This former transfer from Florida State was selected second team for the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC). Has a great size, a strong initial punch, arm extension, and footwork, which will allow him to succeed as a guard or tackle in the NFL. Lewis is an exceptional run blocker and is a true road grader. Though a mauler in the trenches, Lewis is fast enough to do well on pulling plays (5.19 in the forty). Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game and he also participated in the 2009 NFL Combine. Could be a rookie starter in the mold of small-school prospect turned solid pro New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans.
OL Cecil Newton, Tennessee State (6’1, 300, Sr.) – This All Ohio Valley Conference first teamer partnered with Cornelius Lewis to lead the way for running back Javarris Williams. Newton is a strong center who plays with a solid anchor, explosion, and balance. A very smart player that will be able to pick-up any offensive system and might fit well in a zone blocking scheme in the NFL. Was not invited to the combine, but Newton is right up there with bigger school pivots and should get a look on the second day of the NFL Draft.
WR Justin Brown, Hampton (6-2, 200, Sr.) — A junior college transfer with good size, long arms, and quickness. Brown is a tall move-the-chains receiver with solid hands. Though the former Hampton star does not have top-level speed (timed at 4.56 in the forty), Brown led the MEAC in receiving yards (887), averaging 80.6 per game. The first team All MEAC player finished second in the conference in catches per game with a 5.1 average.
WR Raytron Mayfield, Langston (6-1,205, Sr.) — A Division II jack-of-all-trades, who reminds me of Hines Ward coming out of college. This former high school running back had 799 yards receiving on 59 catches with nine touchdowns and 165 yards rushing with three touchdowns plus he threw for 77 yards and one touchdown. Mayfield running hard after the catch and has reliable hands. Led his team in scoring with 76 points and was selected First-Team All-CSFL (Central States Football League Conference). Guided the Lions to the NAIA National Playoffs second round and an 11-2 record.
WR/PR Jeremy Gilchrist, Hampton (5-10, 174, Sr.) —A smart receiver/return man that combines solid speed with good vision. A 2008 ALL-MEAC second team receiver, who will probably make his mark in the NFL as a specials teams players and returner. Gilchrist came to Hampton after transferring from Virginia Tech and earned All-Conference honors as a receiver and kick returner in ’07. In his breakout junior season, Gilchrist amassed over 1,000 yards receiving and led D1AA with an amazing 19 yards per punt return. Though his senior might have not been everything he wanted due to double teams, Gilchrist catch 40 balls for 544 yards and two touchdowns plus he returned 28 punts for 437 yards and three scores. Gilchrist is not a blazer like former Hampton Pro Bowl returner Jerome Mathis, but he has more than adequate speed to take a return to the house. Averaged 15.6 yards per return and had 3 TD’s in ’08.
DL Chris Baker Hampton (6-2, 305, Jr.) — A fiery combination DE/DT who blossomed after transferring to Hampton. Former transfer from Penn State was selected first team for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). A forceful lineman that has good size, quickness, and strength. Baker led the Pirates and the MEAC with 8.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, and 13 quarterback hurries, to go along with 69 tackles – the third-highest total on the team. Baker plays with a nasty disposition, excels at playing the run and is very good at shooting the gap to get after the passer. Participated in the 2009 NFL Combine.
DL Louis Ellis, Shaw (6-4, 295, Sr.) — Maybe the HBCU’s ranks next great pass rusher following in the footsteps of Colts DE Robert Mathis. Ellis has an excellent first step and is explosive in rushing the passer. The former Shaw standout was named CIAA Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year in ’08 as Shaw won their second consecutive CIAA Championship. Ellis was the leader of a Shaw defensive unit that was ranked Number #1 in total defense (#1), rushing defense (#1), tackles for a loss (#1) in Division II. The CIAA’s leader in tackles for loss (16 solo and 8 assisted) and was second in the conference with 8 sacks. Ellis was also credited with 60 total tackles. Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game.
DL Sammie Lee Hill, Stillman (6-4, 329, Sr.) — A big and athletic defensive tackle who is versatile enough to play in the middle of a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme in the NFL. An All-SIAC pick for the second straight, Hill produced 59 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and seven pass breakups playing as a huge defensive end. Hill is hoping to follow in the footsteps of DB Brian Witherspoon (Jacksonville Jaguars) going from the Division II school to the NFL. A former high school baseball player whose mother is a minister and his father a retired coal miner. Participated in the NFL Combine, 2008 East-West Shrine Game, and 2008 Cactus Bowl.
LB Eddie Lee Robinson, Alcorn State (6’2, 250, Sr) — Robinson is a big physical linebacker, who runs very well for his size (4.68 seconds in the 40). Has sideline-to-sideline smarts that allows him to pick through the trash to make plays everywhere. The All-SWAC first teamer posted 111 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles as a senior. The four-year starter had 334 tackles (44 tackles for loss) in his career, so you know an NFL team will find a spot for him. NFL defensive coordinators who use 3-4 scheme principles may view him as a potential starter at rush linebacker. Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game and participated in the 2009 NFL Combine. Shined in the draft post-season process so definitely look for him to be on an NFL roster on opening day helping rush the passer and on special teams.
LB Marcellus Speaks, Jackson State (6-2, 230, Sr) — An active attacking outside linebacker. Speaks led the SWAC with 115 tackles (54 solo; 20.5 for loss), along with 5.0 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, and one blocked kick in leading the Tigers to the SWAC Championship Game for the second consecutive year. Was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year for ’08 and was also honored as SWAC Player of the Week three times this season. Speaks made a season-high 16 tackles (with 1.0 for loss with 0.5 sacks) vs. Southern (Oct. 4).
LB Endor Cooper, Howard (6-3, 245, Sr.) — A big tough hole-plugging inside linebacker in the mold of former Steelers inside man Earl Holmes (Florida A&M). Cooper was an All-MEAC Conference first team player in 2008. The senior middle linebacker had an outstanding season in 2008 leading the MEAC in total tackles per game with 11.4 and in forced fumbles with four. Also finished tied for third in tackles for losses in the MEAC. Recorded double digits in tackles in nine of 11 games played. At his recent Pro Day ran a 4.83 and 4.85 in the forty; jumped 27.5-inch in the vertical and 8-foot, 11-inch broad jump; ran 4.60 short shuttle and 7.05 in the three-cone drill.
LB Jarrell Guyton, Morgan State (6-0, 225, Sr.) — A tough hard-nosed linebacker, who combines smarts and speed to make plays all over the field. The 2008 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year led one of the most dominating defensive units in the FCS (formerly 1-AA). For the second year in a row the Morgan State Bears led the FCS in total defense giving up less than 213.4 yards per game. Guyton collected 35 solo and 35 unassisted tackles for the Bears this season. He put up numbers in almost every defensive statistical category including 70 total tackles, 13 tackles for a loss of 41 yards, four sacks for a 22 yard loss, one interception for a 22 yards return, three broken up passes, one hurry, and one forced and recovered fumble.
DB Domonique Johnson, Jackson State (6-2, 200, Sr.) — An extremely fast corner, who has the size and instincts to play safety in the NFL too. Johnson maybe this year’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Arizona Cardinals) as he has been clocked at 4.40 in the forty. The All-SWAC performer originally played for Missouri, leaving for undisclosed reasons after the 2006 season. One of the best defensive backs in the upcoming NFL draft, Johnson finished his senior year with a team high four interceptions (returned one for a touchdown) and a league high 13 pass break-ups. Had his best game against Mississippi Valley State recording 10 tackles and 2 INTs. Played in the 2009 Senior Bowl and also participated in the 2009 NFL Combine.
DB Gregory Toler, Saint Paul‘s (6-0, 191, Sr.) — Another candidate competing to be this year’s Rodgers-Cromartie. Toler is a big, fast, and physical corner who was a 2008 All-CIAA selection. Participated in the East Coast All Star game, Cactus Bowl, and 2009 NFL Combine after leading the CIAA with 6 INTs (ranked third in NCAA DII) and 19 passes defended. Toler was excellent in the Cactus Bowl producing one interception that he returned for a game record 44 yards. The Washington DC native has 4.37 speed in the 40-yard dash and had 14 career interceptions in college. Performing for scouts from at least 10 teams at Richmond’s pro day, Toler ran a 4.45 in the 40, jumped 33½-inch vertically, ran a 6.95 three-cone drill and did 13 bench press reps of 225 pounds.
DB Niles Rainey, Virginia Union (5-10,180, Sr.) — A fast physical corner who has no problem coming up and jamming a receiver. Rainey had a very good senior season despite playing in a rotational system, finishing with 3 INTs. Reminds me of tough Minnesota Vikings corner Antoine Winfield as he is known for not shying away from tackling larger players. Rainey was named CIAA Defensive Back of the Week, for the week ending on October 18, 2008 for his defensive efforts in a 68-6 victory over Lincoln University (Pa) recording 2 touchdowns in the game (one on a fumble recovery and the other on an interception). Recently timed at 4.45 seconds in the forty at his Pro Day.
DB Don Carey, Norfolk State (5-11, 192) – A four-year starter, who was second-team All-MEAC as a junior and was named on the first team in 2008 as a senior. Carey had eight interceptions and 14 pass breakups over his last two seasons. Is a fluid player with good height and solid frame that allow him to play physically while coming up to make tackles. Received a lot of interest after a very good East-West Shrine Game and practice week versus bigger name opposition. Worked out for over 15 teams at his Pro Day recording a 4.54 in the forty, 32 1/2-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump, a 4.20 short shuttle and a 6.87 three-cone drill time in soggy conditions. A very smart player, who had the second-highest GPA on the Norfolk team and also had a chance to attend Yale coming out of high school.
Others to watch:
QB Carlton Hill, Miles College (6-3, 212, Sr)
QB Lamar Little, Virginia Union (5-10, 190, Sr)
OT Adrian Brown, Delaware State (6-6, 327, Sr)
OL Dennis Conley, Hampton (6-4, 303, Sr.)
WR Raytron Mayfield, Langston (6-1,205, Sr)
TE Octavius Darby, South Carolina State (6-4, 240, Sr)
LB Jeffrey Cargile, Morehouse (5-9, 200, Sr)
LB/SS Travis Roland, Bethune-Cookman (5-9, 190, Sr)
DL Richard Washington, Clark-Atlanta University (6-3, 305, Sr)
DL Melvin Matthews, Grambling State (6-4, 305, Sr)
DB Rodrick Jones, Elizabeth City State University (5-11, 179, Sr)
DB Stephen Jackson, Fort Valley (5-10, 182, Sr)
DB Eddie Young, Fort Valley State (6-0, 205, Sr)
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)