2010 NFL Draft – HBCU Prospects

Norfolk State WR Chris Bell is one of several HBCU standouts who are hoping to here their name called at the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft

The excellence of the HBCU brand of football was recently celebrated with the opening of the Black College Football Hall of Fame this past February in Atlanta, Georgia and it is not surprising considering that HBCU’s have notoriously been fertile grounds for the National Football League. In fact there were over 60 former HBCU football players making impacts on NFL rosters during the 2009 NFL Season. 

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 in the past and the pipeline continues today with players like Houston Texans receiver Jacoby Jones from Lane. 

This year the talent level at HBCU’s is exemplary and you can expect to hear more than a few HBCU players’ names called at the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft. 

OFFENSE

QB Bryant Lee, Southern (6-3, 205, Sr., Boutte, LA) – A finalist for the Walter Payton Award, which is awarded to the top player in the FCS.  Lee was named the 2009 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year after posting passing numbers: 158-of-250 (63%), 2,039 yards passing, 19 passing touchdowns and  7 interceptions with 166 yards rushing and 5 TDs. Finished the 2009 season ranked 10th nationally in passing efficiency and 17th in total offense. Lee is the all-time passing leader at Southern with 7,654 yards.  Had probably his best game of the season in a 34-24 win over Alabama State, where he threw for a season-high 384 yards and four touchdowns. Threw at least two touchdown passes in seven-of-nine games this season.

QB Curtis Pulley, Florida A&M (6-4, 200, r-Sr., Hopkinsville, Ky.) – A former highly recruited high school prospect who started out at the University of Kentucky.  Pulley led the MEAC in total offense with 2,705 yards in 2009 and beat teams in a variety of ways.  This athletic dual-threat quarterback wowed NFL scouts last season with his strong arm (137-of-226, 60%, 1824 yards and 12 TDs) and legs (rushed for 881 yards on 122 carries and 6 TDs). Pulley was a finalist for the Walter Payton award after earning five MEAC Offensive Player of the Week awards.

RB William Ford, South Carolina State (5-11, 185, Sr., Travelers Rest, S.C.)  — The MEAC’s and Bulldog’s 2009 leading rusher finished with 1,010 rushing yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 8 TDs.  Ford also is the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher with 4,650 career rushing yards, surpassing the mark of Hampton’s Alonzo Coleman (4,648) set in 2006.  The former tough Bulldogs runner finished 8th in voting for the Walter Payton Award.

RB LaMarcus Coker, Hampton (5-10, 195, Sr., Nashville, TN) — Began his college football career at the University of Tennessee where he contributed including a 42-yard touchdown run in the 2006 Outback Bowl against Penn State. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s leading rusher last season totaled 1,027 rushing yards with six touchdowns. Participated in the East Coast Bowl, where he ran the 40 for scouts in 4.28 seconds. Also caught a 33-yard TD pass in the HBCU Bowl All-Star Game and finished with a game-high 82 yards receiving on three catches.

OL Robert Okeafor, Florida A&M, (6-4, 295, Sr., Jacksonville, Fl) – Another great offensive lineman from FAMU.  Okeafor is a battler who has great feet and is a strong leader.

OL Xavier Manuel, Alabama A&M (6-1, 307, Sr., Vineger Bend, Ala.) – A tough interior lineman that is a smart player.

OL Steve Brazzle, Florida A&M (6-3, 332, Sr., Coatesville, PA) – A bigger center who can make all the calls at the line of scrimmage.  Brazzle also has the good feet and plays with very good leverage plus he can help out at guard too.

OL Ramon Harewood, Morehouse (6-6, 355, Sr., Barbados) – A big offensive tackle who is still learning the game, but has a huge upside. 

OL Dennis Conley, Hampton (6-4, 303, Sr. Suffolk, Va.) – A solid offensive lineman, but still has room to grow.  Has a good punch at the snap and should be a hard worker at the next level.

TE Tony Cotton, Langston, (6-1, 210, Sr., Kellyville, Ok.)  — An emerging tight end, who has good field-stretching ability.  An All-CSFL for the second straight season, Cotton led all HBCU tight ends in receiving yards (601) via only 35 receptions for an incredible 17 yards per catch average.  The Langston versatile pass catcher also contributed 5 touchdowns.

WR Juamorris Stewart, Southern (6-3, 195, Sr., Baton Rouge, La) This big physical receiver led the SWAC with 81 catches for 1,028 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2009.  Stewart, who was quarterback Bryant Lee’s favorite target, finished his distinguished career at Southern as the school’s all-time leader with 201 receptions for 2,668 career receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.  The FCS All-American played in the 4th annual Texas vs. the Nation all-star challenge football game. 

WR Thomas Harris, Alabama A&M (5-11, 172, Sr., Alexander City, AL ) — A big-play receiver with solid speed (4.57), Harris along with Stewart and Bell look to be prime candidates to join a growing list of HBCU receivers making an impact in the NFL including Donald Driver (GB Packers/Alcorn State). Harris has great hands and is very good in open space after making the catch. Finished with 2009 receiving numbers: 56 catches for 808 yards, 14.4 ypc, and 7 touchdowns plus averaged over 26 yards per kickoff return.   Harris broke Arena Football legend Barry Wagner’s Alabama A&M school record for receptions.

WR Chris Bell, Norfolk State (6-2, 211, Jr., Norfolk, Va) – A big receiver prospect, who originally started out at Penn State then transferred after an off the field incident.  Bell had a very good NFL Combine where he was timed at 4.47  seconds in the 40-yard dash (tied for 11th among receivers), put up 15 reps in the bench press, broad jumped 9-9 and ran a the 3-cone drill in 6.76 seconds.   In 2009, Bell had 51 catches for 958 yards and 13 touchdowns in a breakout junior season at Norfolk State.

WR E.J. Morton-Green, Morgan State (6-4, 215) – A big physical receiver, who is getting some attention around the NFL.  Morton-Green has recently had several “recruiting” visits with NFL teams and is viewed as player with a lot of upside.  This developmental type receiver caught 24 passes for 324 yards last season.

WR Oliver “Tre” Young, South Carolina State (6-1, 180, Sr., Charleston, S.C) – Whenever South Carolina State, the 2009 HBCU champs, needed a big play, Young was their guy.  This big-play receiver led the MEAC in catches (65) and receiving yards (995) in 2009 while setting school career records for receiving yards (2,064) and catches (128).

DEFENSE

DE Christian Anthony, Grambling State (6-4, 246, Sr., Birmingham, Ala.)  — An incredibly gifted defensive end that reminds some of former Alabama A&M and Indianapolis Colts star Robert Mathis.  Finished fourth in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award and was voted the 2009 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year.  The Birmingham, Alabama native led the SWAC in solo tackles (55) and finished with 76 tackles overall.  Anthony also contributed 8 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 5 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries and five interceptions (returning 2 for touchdowns). 

DE/OLB  Junior Galette, Stillman (6-2, 255, Sr., Spring Valley, N.Y) — A defensive end and NFL outside linebacker candidate, Galette transferred from Temple for his senior season at Stillman. A high-motor player, Galette led the SIAC with 9.5 sacks and also ranked 3rd in conference for tackles for losses (17.5 for minus 100 yards). In just 9 games, he recorded 56 tackles including 37 solo stops. Also had 12 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles plus blocked a field goal.  Galette is clearly on the pros radar as he was recently timed at 4.63 in the forty and was one of two HBCU players invited to the 2010 NFL Combine.

DE/OLB  Marcus Crump, St. Augustine’s, (6-6, 240, Sr., Pittsboro, N.C) – A lanky high energy pass rusher that reminds me of a young Jason Taylor.  Crump ended the 2009 season finishing 2nd in the CIAA in sacks (10) and 3rd in tackles for loss (15). The All-CIAA defensive end also ranked in the FCS in those respective categories – 7th in sacks and 25th in tackles for loss.

DE/OLB Jeremy Maddox, Alabama A&M, (6-0, 244, Sr., Grand Bay, Ala) – An explosive pass rusher with a good first step.  Reminds me of Kansas City Chiefs’ sack man Tamba Hali.  Maddox, a two-time All-SWAC selection and finalist for the Buchanan Award, finished second in the FCS with 12 sacks.

DT Callahan Bright, Shaw (6-2, 315, Sr.) – After a circuitous college career with stops at Florida State, prep school, and junior college, this former highly recruited high school prospect found a home at DII school Shaw.  Bright is a cat-quick defensive lineman who also plays with great strength.  Some scouts I have talked say that if Bright can overcome his past character issues that he could be a player similar to the Eagles Broderick Bunkley.  Posted 48 tackles including 7.5 for loss last season and reportedly run under 4.95 seconds for the 40-yard dash.

ILB George Howard, Morgan State (6-1, 245, Sr., Chesapeake, Va.) – A tough inside linebacker that has a nose for the ball.  Howard, an All MEAC first teamer, led the conference with 130 tackles (73 solo and 57 assisted) and also contributed 1 sack.

ILB Adrian Hardy, Alabama State (6-2, 197, Sr., Selma, Ala.)  — This outstanding senior linebacker finished with 104 tackles this season to lead the SWAC. Also led the league with 9.5 stops per game and ranked him 34th in the FCS. Posted five double-digit tackle performances this season including a career best 17 tackles against Tuskegee. The strong pro prospect also contributed 10.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and a team-best five interceptions in 2009.

LB Marcus Jamison, Jackson State (6-1, 235, Sr., Brooksville, MS) – This All-SWAC pick finished with 56 tackles, six tackles for loss and a forced fumble.  Participated in the inaugural HBCU Bowl all-star game.

DB  Anthony Beck, Prairie View A&M, (5-11, 175, Sr., Channelview, Tex.) — A four-year starter at safety, Beck capped off an impressive career at Prairie View by leading his team to their first ever league championship.  Produced 3 INTs and 48 tackles in 2009.  The Houston native holds the school record for interceptions returned for touchdowns (3) in addition to picking off 11 passes for his career.  Also was named All-SWAC for the 2nd straight season and participated in the inaugural HBCU Bowl all-star game.

DB Quintez Smith, Shaw, (6-1, 195, Sr., Dublin, Ga.) – Was named as a NCAA Division II All-American after producing 9 INTs which led the football division and tied the all-time DII record – returned 4 INTs for touchdowns. Finished the season with 49 tackles and scored two other touchdowns on fumble returns. Also had a very good performance in the East Coast bowl.

DB T.J. McCord, Grambling (6-1, 195, Sr., Mobile, AL) – A tough free safety who is good in coverage and will also come-up to lay the lumber.  McCord produced numbers of 52 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 INTs (returned one for a touchdown), 8 pass break-ups, and 1 fumble recovery.

DB Antwane Cox, Bethune-Cookman (6-0, 180, Sr., Miami, FL) – Transferred from South Florida a couple years ago and had an immediate impact.  An All-MEAC first teamer, Cox produced 50 tackles, 2 INTs, 11 pass break-ups, and 1 fumble recovery.   

DB Terrell Whitehead, Norfolk State (6-2, 200, Sr., Virginia Beach, Va.) — Whitehead was named First Team All-MEAC for the third straight year.  Also was named as a First Team FCS All-American by the AP and Walter Camp Football Foundation.  Finished the 2009 season with 70 tackles, 5 INTs (led MEAC), four pass break-ups, three tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Ended his collegiate career as the FCS active leader in career interceptions with 18.

Special Teams

P Jahmal Blanchard, Hampton (6-3, 182, Sr., Fort Lauderdale, Fl) — A three-time All-MEAC selection, Blanchard ranked third in the nation in punting with an amazing average of 43.9 yards per punt. Selected 3rd Team FCS All-American by the AP

KR LeRoy Vann, Florida A&M (5-9, 179, Sr., Tampa, Fl) — This former walk-on was arguably the most explosive player in all of college football (FCS or BCS).  Vann, who was featured in Sports Illustrated and ESPN’s SportsCenter, finishing his college career as the FCS record holder for career returns for scores (11  overall with 8 punts and 3 kickoffs).  This elusive returner, who many are comparing with Bears former Pro Bowl player Devin Hester, this season had 6 return touchdowns (3 punts and 3 kickoffs). While finishing with eye-popping numbers: 28 punts for 462 yards (16.5-yard average) and 3 TDs plus 38 kickoffs for 1,121 yards (29.5-yard average) and 3 TDs.  Vann – 1st team All-American selection in FCS — finished his stellar college career as the fifth player in FCS history to record over 1,000 yards on both kickoff and punt returns.  He also impressed scouts by being named the MVP of the inaugural HBCU Bowl all-star game after returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown.

Other to watch

QB K.J. Black, Prairie View A&M

QB AJ McKenna, Albany State

RB Ulysses Banks, Alabama A&M

RB  Quinn Porter, Stillman

OL Revay Smith, Grambling State

OL Nick Royal, Hampton

WR Oliver “Tre” Young, South Carolina State

WR Robert Holland, Chowan

TE  Jonathan Hannah, Texas Southern

TE Warren Matthews, Southern

DL Justin Lawrence, Morgan State

DL Sam Washington, Jackson State

LB Hurley Hemphill, Virginia Union

LB Kellen Woodard, Tennessee State

DB Rechard Johnson, Alabama State

DB  Michael Higgins, Mississippi Valley State

 DB Kevin Thornton, Arkansas—Pine Bluff

DB Malcolm Palmer, Jackson State

DB Markee Hamlin, South Carolina State

 DB Francis Adjei, Delaware State

DB Roderick Williams, Alcorn State

 DB Phillip Adams, South Carolina St

 DB Antwan Allen, Savannah State

DB Curtis Thomas  Texas Southern

PR/KR Wright, Alabama State

PR/KR An’Thon Harris, Fort Valley State

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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2009 HBCU All-American Team

Explosive Florida A&M kick returner Leroy Vann is one of several 2009 HBCU All-American team members that NFL scouts have their eyes on

This year the talent level at HBCU’s is exemplary and you can expect to hear some of the names listed on our 2009 HBCU All-American team called at the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft

OFFENSE

QB: Bryant Lee, Southern (6-3, 205, Sr., Boutte, LA) – A finalist for the Walter Payton Award, which is awarded to the top player in the FCS.  Lee was named the 2009 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year after posting passing numbers: 158-of-250 (63%), 2,039 yards passing, 19 passing touchdowns and  7 interceptions with 166 yards rushing and 5 TDs. Finished the 2009 season ranked 10th nationally in passing efficiency and 17th in total offense. Lee is the all-time passing leader at Southern with 7,654 yards.  Had probably his best game of the season in a 34-24 win over Alabama State, where he threw for a season-high 384 yards and four touchdowns. Threw at least two touchdown passes in seven-of-nine games this season.

RB: William Ford, South Carolina State (5-11, 185, Sr., Travelers Rest, S.C.)  — The MEAC’s and Bulldog’s 2009 leading rusher this season produced 1,010 rushing yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry with 8 TDs.  Ford also is the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher with 4,650 career rushing yards, surpassing the mark of Hampton’s Alonzo Coleman (4,648) set in 2006.  Ford finished 8th in voting for the Walter Payton Award.

RB: LaMarcus Coker, Hampton (5-10, 195, Sr., Nashville, TN) — Began his college football career at the University of Tennessee where he contributed including a 42-yard touchdown run in the 2006 Outback Bowl against Penn State. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s leading rusher totaled 1,027 rushing yards with six touchdowns. Participated in the East Coast Bowl, where he ran the 40 for scouts in 4.28. Also caught a 33-yard TD pass in the HBCU Bowl All-Star Game and finishing with a game-high 82 yards receiving on three catches.

OL: Robert Okeafor, Florida A&M, (6-4, 295, Sr., Jacksonville, Fl)

OL: Xavier Manuel, Alabama A&M (6-1, 307, Sr., Vineger Bend, Ala.)

OL: Steve Brazzle, Florida A&M (6-3, 332, Sr., Coatesville, PA)

OL: Michael Steven, Tuskegee (6-5, 380, Sr., Montgomery, Ala.)

OL: Ramon Harewood, Morehouse (6-6, 355, Sr., Barbados)

OL: Dennis Conley, Hampton (6-4, 303, Sr. Suffolk, Va.) 

TE:  Tony Cotton, Langston, (6-1, 210, Sr., Kellyville, Ok.)  — An emerging tight end, who has good field-stretching ability.  An All-CSFL for the second straight season, Cotton led all HBCU tight ends in receiving yards (601) via only 35 receptions for an incredible 17 yards per catch average.  The Langston versatile pass catcher also contributed 5 touchdowns.

WR: Juamorris Stewart, Southern (6-3, 195, Sr., Baton Rouge, La) Stewart led the SWAC with 81 catches for 1,028 yards and 11 touchdowns.  This big physical receiver, who was quarterback Bryant Lee’s favorite target, finished his distinguished career at Southern as the school’s all-time leader with 201 receptions for 2,668 career receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.  The FCS All-American has been chosen to play in the 4th annual Texas vs. the Nation all-star challenge football game. 

WR: Thomas Harris, Alabama A&M (5-11, 172, Sr., Alexander City, AL ) — A big-play receiver with solid speed (4.57), Harris along with Stewart look to be prime candidates to join a growing list of HBCU receivers making an impact in the NFL including Donald Driver (GB Packers/Alcorn State and Jacoby Jones (Houston Texans/Lane). Harris has great hands and is very good in open space after making the catch. Finished with 2009 receiving numbers: 56 catches for 808 yards, 14.4 ypc, and 7 touchdowns plus averaged over 26 yards per kickoff return.   Harris broke Arena Football legend Barry Wagner’s Alabama A&M school record for receptions.

DEFENSE

DL: Christian Anthony, Grambling State (6-4, 246, Sr., Birmingham, Ala.)  — An incredibly gifted defensive end that reminds some of former Alabama A&M and Indianapolis Colts star Robert Mathis.  Finished fourth in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award and was voted the 2009 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year.  The Birmingham, Alabama native led the SWAC in solo tackles (55) and finished with 76 tackles overall.  Anthony also contributed 8 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 5 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries and five interceptions (returning 2 for touchdowns). 

DL: Junior Galette, Stillman (6-2, 255, Sr., Spring Valley, N.Y)    — A defensive end and NFL outside linebacker candidate, Galette transferred from Temple for his senior season at Stillman. A high-motor player, Galette led the SIAC with 9.5 sacks and also ranked 3rd in conference for tackles for losses (17.5 for minus 100 yards). In just 9 games, he recorded 56 tackles including 37 solo stops. Also had 12 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles plus blocked a field goal.  Galette is clearly on the pros radar as he was recently timed at 4.63 in the forty and has been invited to the 2010 NFL Combine.

DL: Marcus Crump, St. Augustine’s, (6-6, 240, Sr., Pittsboro, N.C) – A lanky high energy pass rusher that reminds me of a young Jason Taylor.  Crump ended the 2009 season finishing 2nd in the CIAA in sacks (10) and 3rd in tackles for loss (15). The All-CIAA defensive end also ranked in the FCS in those respective categories – 7th in sacks and 25th in tackles for loss.

DL:  Jeremy Maddox, Alabama A&M, (6-0, 244, Sr., Grand Bay, Ala) – An explosive pass rusher with a good first step.  Reminds me of Kansas City Chiefs sack man Tamba Hali.  Maddox, a two-time All-SWAC selection and finalist for the Buchanan Award, finished second in the FCS with 12 sacks.

LB: George Howard, Morgan State (6-1, 245, Sr., Chesapeake, Va.) – A tough inside linebacker that has a nose for the ball.  Howard, an All MEAC first teamer, led the conference with 130 tackles (73 solo and 57 assisted) and also contributed 1 sack.

LB: Adrian Hardy, Alabama State (6-2, 197, Sr., Selma, Ala.)  — This outstanding senior linebacker finished with 104 tackles this season to lead the SWAC. Also led the league with 9.5 stops per game and ranked him 34th in the FCS. Posted five double-digit tackle performances this season including a career best 17 tackles against Tuskegee. The strong pro prospect also contributed 10.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and a team-best five interceptions in 2009.

LB: Marcus Jamison, Jackson State (6-1, 235, Sr., Brooksville, MS) – This All-SWAC pick finished with 56 tackles, six tackles for loss and a forced fumble.  Participated in the inaugural HBCU Bowl all-star game.

LB: Brandon Peguese, Hampton (6-1, 235, Jr., Greensboro, NC) – This high-energy junior outside linebacker and transfer from South Florida led the MEAC in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (16).

DB:  Anthony Beck, Prairie View A&M, (5-11, 175, Sr., Channelview, Tex.) — A four-year starter at safety, Beck capped off an impressive career at Prairie View by leading his team to their first ever league championship.  Produced 3 INTs and 48 tackles in 2009.  The Houston native holds the school record for interceptions returned for touchdowns (3) in addition to picking off 11 passes for his career.  Also was named All-SWAC for the 2nd straight season and participated in the inaugural HBCU Bowl all-star game.

DB: Quintez Smith, Shaw, (6-1, 195, Sr., Dublin, Ga.) – Was named as a NCAA Division II All-American after producing 9 INTs which led the football division and tied the all-time DII record – returned 4 INTs for touchdowns. Finished the season with 49 tackles and scored two other touchdowns on fumble returns. Also had a very good performance in the East Coast bowl.

DB: Jason House, Southern, (6-0, 190, R-Jr., Laurel, Miss) – Named as a 3rd team All-American and All-SWAC, this sticky fingered safety led the SWAC and NCAA (FCS) with 10 interceptions and 230 yards in returns in 2009.  This gifted track athlete and wide receiver turned defensive back also return one of his picks for a touchdown.

DB: T.J. McCord, Grambling (6-1, 195, Sr., Mobile, AL) – A tough free safety who is good in coverage and will also come-up to lay the lumber.  McCord produced numbers of 52 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 INTs (returned one for a touchdown), 8 pass break-ups, and 1 fumble recovery.

DB: Antwane Cox, Bethune-Cookman (6-0, 180, Sr., Miami, FL) – Transferred from South Florida a couple years ago and had an immediate impact.  An All-MEAC first teamer, Cox produced 50 tackles, 2 INTs, 11 pass break-ups, and 1 fumble recovery.   

DB: Terrell Whitehead, Norfolk State (6-2, 200, Sr., Virginia Beach, Va.) — Whitehead was named First Team All-MEAC for the third straight year.  Also was named as a First Team FCS All-American by the AP and Walter Camp Football Foundation.  Finished the 2009 season with 70 tackles, 5 INTs (led MEAC), four pass break-ups, three tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Ended his collegiate career as the FCS active leader in career interceptions with 18.

Special Teams

PK: Ari Johnson, Grambling State, (5-11, 180, Fr., Corona, Calif.) – Only a freshman, Johnson led the SWAC and all of HBCU football by scoring an amazing 90 points.  The GSU strong-legged kicker made 18 for 23 field goals attempted and converted 36 extra points plus had 46.0 yards per punt average.

P: Jahmal Blanchard, Hampton (6-3, 182, Sr., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) — A three-time All-MEAC selection, Blanchard ranked third in the nation in punting with an amazing average of 43.9 yards per punt. Selected 3rd Team FCS All-American by the AP

KR: LeRoy Vann, Florida A&M (5-9, 179, Sr., Tampa, Fl) — This hard-to-believe former walk-on was arguably the most explosive player in all of college football (FCS or BCS).  Vann, who was featured in Sports Illustrated and ESPN’s SportsCenter, finished his college career as the FCS record holder for career returns for scores (11 overall with 8 punts and 3 kickoffs).  The speedster, who many are comparing with Bears former Pro Bowl player Devin Hester, had 6 return touchdowns (3 punts and 3 kickoffs) this season.  And finished with eye-popping numbers: 28 punts for 462 yards (16.5-yard average) and 3 TDs plus 38 kickoffs for 1,121 yards (29.5-yard average) and 3 TDs.  Vann – 1st team All-American selection in FCS — finished his stellar college career as the fifth player in FCS history to record over 1,000 yards on both kickoff and punt returns.  He also impressed scouts by being named the MVP of the inaugural HBCU Bowl all-star game after returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown. Vann recently said of his stellar play for a smaller player, “I wasn’t the average size they were looking for. But I think it’s more than size. You’ve got to have no fear. You’ve got to play with heart.”

HONORABLE MENTION

OFFENSE

QB – Curtis Pulley, Florida A&M (Transferred from Kentucky); Dennis Brown, Norfolk State; K.J. Black. Prairie View A&M; AJ McKenna, Albany State; Tim Buckley, Alcorn State

RB – Ulysses Banks, Alabama A&M; Quinn Porter, Stillman; Ramon McElrathbey, Howard; Donald Babers, Prairie View A&M; Demetric Johnson, Albany State; Devan James, Morgan State; Frank Warren, Grambling State

OL – Revay Smith, Grambling State; Joseph Ephrem, Albany State; Johnny Culbreath, South Carolina State; Ryan Cave, Hampton; Nick Royal, Hampton; Colin Cordell, Fort Valley State; Gabriel Manns, N.C. Central; Edawn Coughman, Shaw; Dylan Stivers, Elizabeth City State

WR – Oliver “Tre” Young, South Carolina State; Damon McDaniel, Hampton; Chris Bell, Norfolk State; Antoin Mitchell, Tuskegee; Robert Holland, Chowan; Thomas Harris, Alabama A&M

TE – Jonathan Hannah, Texas Southern; Warren Matthews, Southern; Lamont Bryant, Morgan State

Defense

DL – Justin Lawrence, Morgan State; Sam Washington, Jackson State; Rashad Hunt, Texas Southern; Brandon Fortune, Virginia State; Malcolm Jenkins, Elizabeth City State; Dexter Jackson, Bethune-Cookman; Tyrell Henderson, Kentucky State

LB – Brandon Jackson, North Carolina A&T; Julius Wilkerson, South Carolina State; David Erby, South Carolina State; Marcos Esquivel, Fayetteville State; Julio Sanchez, Hampton; Cliff Exama, Grambling State; Andrew Eggleton, West Virginia State

DB – Rechard Johnson, Alabama State; Michael Higgins, Mississippi Valley State; Kevin Thornton, Arkansas—Pine Bluff; Malcolm Palmer, Jackson State; Markee Hamlin, South Carolina State; Francis Adjei, Delaware State; Roderick Williams, Alcorn State; Phillip Adams, South Carolina St; Antwan Allen, Savannah State; Kerry Hoskins  Jackson State; Ryan Rich  Jackson State; Curtis Thomas  Texas Southern

PK –  Jeremy Licea, Alabama A&M; Justin Castellat , Norfolk State; Austin Turner, Fayetteville State; Blake Erickson, South Carolina State; Trevor Scott, Florida A&M;

P – Carlos Reyes, Arkansas-Pine Bluff; Chance Wilson, Alabama A&M

PR/KR – An’Thon Harris, Fort Valley State; Justin Wright, Alabama State; De’Markus Washington, Texas Southern; Charles Hawkins, Southern University 

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)

Little Known 2008 NFL Draft Hopefuls: But Don’t Call Them Sleepers

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Every year around draft time I am asked whether it is by friends or on the radio to identify a “sleeper”.  Well everyone I am here to tell you that there are no longer true “sleepers” in the NFL Draft process.  Trust me, if you have talent the NFL will find you with their gaggle of scouts, assistant coaches, GM’s, and others scanning the country for players.  With the emergence of small school guys like Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (Villanova), Ravens DB David Pittman (Northwestern State), Colts DB Antoine Bethea (Howard), and many others the NFL finds players everywhere.  The entire NFL you can say is now taking a page from the old Pittsburgh Steelers scouting department from the ’70s where super scout Bill Nunn found several diamonds in the rough (John Stallworth, Mel Blount, and others) throughout the country that turned into major contributors to their dynasty.Some “if you build it, they will come” prospects to watch include:

  • San Diego QB Josh Johnson – The Oakland, California native is from the University of San Diego and not the bigger San Diego State. But Johnson (6’3, 215) is extremely well known going into the draft after a senior season where he tossed a school record 43 touchdowns (only 1 INT) while ranking first in the nation in total offense (4,040 yards) and broke the NCAA record for passing efficiency (176.7).  His post season has been even more noteworthy as he was the MVP at the East-West Shrine game and ran an eye-popping 4.55 seconds in the forty at the Combine.  At the Combine after his blazing time he was hurt by back spasms that affected his throwing, but at his March Pro Day workout he got redemption.  In front of about 20 NFL team evaluators including head coaches Norv Turner of San Diego and Carolina’s John Fox, Johnson threw the ball much better than he did at the combine hitting almost all of his throws in stride.
  • Delaware RB/KR Omar Cuff  – After a stellar senior season including rushing for an amazing 7 touchdowns versus William & Mary watch for this stick of dynamite in the NFL.  Cuff  (5-9 7/8, 195) amassed 4,363 rushing yards and a school-record 73 total touchdowns as Blue Hen and at his recent Pro Day he ran the forty in 4.55 seconds, had a 34-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.12 short shuttle, 6.86 cone drill, and 16 reps at 225.
  • HBCU’s have notoriously been fertile grounds for the NFL and this year is no different.  Everyone knows about Tennessee State’s Domique Rodgers-Cromartie after the Senior Bowl.  But a new HBCU prospect announced his presence this week at Alabama’s Pro Day.  Little known Stillman College CB/KR Brian Witherspoon (5-10 3/8, 178) stole the show from his SEC counterparts. Witherspoon, who is also an All-American sprinter posted numbers of a 4.33 seconds forty, 40 inch vertical,  4.36 seconds in the short shuttle, and a cone drill of 6.86 seconds. Witherspoon is a fluid athlete with good change of direction and looked very good in corner and return drills.  His times in the forty and cone drill would have placed him with the Troy State potential top 15 pick Leodis McKelvin’s combine numbers. 

Other HBCU players to watch for include: Clark Atlanta University DE/LB Curtis Johnson  (6-3, 255), Bethune Cookman DB Bobbie Williams (6-0, 214), Jackson State WR Jaymar Johnson (5-11, 180, 4.41), Delaware State WR Shaheer McBride (6-1, 199, 4.50), Hampton University DE Kendall Langford (6-5, 294, 5.03), South Carolina State OL James Lee (6-4, 303, 5.30), Bethune Cookman LB Ronnie McCollough (5-11, 225, 4.65), Tennessee State DE Shawn Richardson (6-4, 299, 5.12), and Tuskegee University DB Johnathan Harris (5-10, 185, 4.44)

  • Every year there are former quarterbacks making their mark in the NFL at other positions — Think Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl return man Joshua Cribbs. This year UTEP QB/WR Lorne Sam (6’3, 215) is my number one conversion candidate. The jack-of-all-trades player transferred from Florida State looking to get noticed and he did producing numbers in 2007 of 12-19 for 144 yards w/ 2 TDs passing, 60 rushes for 339 yards w/ 3 TDs, and 42 catches for 589 yards (14.0 ypc) and 1 TD receiving. He followed his season up by shining at the combine catching the ball well in drills, posting 23 reps at 225 pounds (great for a receiver), and running a 4.55 in the forty. Another conversion candidate is the 2007 Walter Payton award winner from Georgia Southern QB/WR/KR Jayson Foster (6′, 170). Despite his smallish size this mighty mite is explosive, elusive, speedy, and went for over 1,000 yards passing and rushing in 2007.
  • TE Antonio Smith, Michigan State: The big tight end prospect (6-7, 260) is one of the most interesting stories this draft season. With the emergence of former basketball player Antonio Gates in the NFL, Smith is the latest former hardwood player trying to make the jump to the NFL at the surprising age of 32. The brother of current Cleveland Browns defensive end Robaire Smith certainly looked the part of an NFL tight end posting good numbers at Michigan State’s Pro Day with times 5.19 and 5.14 in the 40, a 32½-inch vertical jump, 9-foot, 7-inch long jump, and 18 reps in the bench press.

Sleeper Quick Hitters

— Virginia Tech OT Duane Brown – Everyone knows about Jake Long and Boise State’s Clady, but Brown (6’5, 310) should get noticed by the scouts.  He is a big tough and some say mean O-lineman that will fight you to the whistle.   He has a good punch coming off the ball, good footwork, and large wingspan.

— Eastern Kentucky OT Sean Dumford (6’5, 302) was impressive at Kentucky’s Pro Day outshining his SEC brethren by running a respectable 5.15 in the forty and posting 27 reps pressing 225 pounds.

— Washburn tall corner Cary Williams (6-1, 187) made the radar at the University of Kansas Pro Day producing a 4.43 forty, 32½-inch vertical jump, 4.34 short shuttle, 6.94 cone drill, 8 reps in the bench press, and looking smooth in drills.

— Weber State O-lineman David Hale (6-5 5/8, 310) followed up a solid combing by producing a 29-inch vertical jump, 4.63 short shuttle, 7.51 cone drill, and 25 reps at his Pro Day.

— Grand Valley State CB Brandon Carr (6-0, 207) ran the forty in 4.43, had a 35-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 4-inch long jump, 4.19 short shuttle, 6.80 cone drill, and ran well in drills at his workout.

— Chadron State RB Danny Woodhead (5-7 ½. 197) showed the big boys that he is ready by ripping it up at the Nebraska Pro Day. The record-setting small-school player  ran the forty in 4.38 seconds, had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.20 short shuttle, 7.03 cone drill, and 20 reps of 225.