Welcome to Week 1 of the 2022 college football season. It has been a long summer, but the opening week of college football is upon us — and HBCU play gets going on Saturday when Howard faces Alabama State in the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff at 7 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN App).
We’ve seen events like the HBCU Legacy Bowl and the Reese’s Senior Bowl’s HBCU scouting combine help provide a more consistent pipeline of talent to the NFL. HBCU alums linebacker Shaquille Leonard and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave are among the best NFL players at their respective positions. And four players from the HBCU ranks were drafted in the 2022 draft:
It was the most HBCU players selected since 2019 and could be a sign of even more players getting drafted or signing as undrafted free agents. So who could get 2023 NFL draft attention this season?
During the summer months, I spoke to countless coaches and scouts around the country and spent hours with film to put together my first HBCU watch list. Here are my top 50 draft-eligible HBCU prospects, including players in both the FCS and Division II ranks (though it excludes recent transfers who did not play at an HBCU school last season).
HT: 6-foot-4 | WT: 225 pounds | Class: Senior
Land, arguably the top player in the small-school ranks entering this season, finished 2021 leading the FCS in sacks (19) to go along with 25.5 tackles for loss. He entered the transfer portal and entertained multiple Power 5 offers but elected to return to the Rattlers. He’s expected to continue to be one of the top disruptive forces off the edge in the country this year.
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 295 | Class: Senior
Evans enters his fourth year as a starter, and with another successful season, he could be the Golden Lions’ first draft pick since fellow tackle Terron Armstead was selected in 2013. Coaches praise Evans’ physicality and football instincts, and he could follow in the footsteps of Southern offensive lineman Ja’Tyre Carter, whose stock rose steadily throughout his final season and the pre-draft process.
HT: 6-foot-4 | WT: 212 | Class: Junior
Over the past 10 years, South Carolina State has been one of the most consistent FCS pipelines to the NFL, including Shaquille Leonard, Javon Hargrave and most recently Cobie Durant. Davis is expected to extend that impressive streak. He has averaged 20.4 yards per catch over his career and has a versatile skill set. Whether he mans the slot or lines up outside, he’s a mismatch for defenders. He still has two years of eligibility.
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 204 | Class: Senior
With 21 touchdown catches in his past two seasons, including five over a four-game stretch to start last year, Bonds is a skinny but explosive pass-catcher. He didn’t match his production from the 2019 season (70 catches, 943 receiving yards), but his yards-per-catch average increased from 13.5 to 14.3 yards. He has worked his way up the Pirates’ depth chart and enters his final season as one of the country’s most talented wideouts.
HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 272 | Class: Senior
Averett broke out last season with 51 catches for 876 yards and 10 touchdown catches. He spent his first college season catching passes from Lamar Jackson at Louisville in 2017, but after being out of football and in the transfer portal for nearly two years, he became the Wildcats’ go-to target. Averett averaged 17.2 yards per catch and recorded at least one touchdown in all but three games last season.
HT: 6-foot | WT: 188 | Class: Junior
Ibrahim walked onto the team before the 2019 season and has taken full advantage of the opportunity. “The same hunger that he had early on has remained the same up to this point, and it’s not surprising what he’s turned into as a player,” one coach said. Ibrahim led the SWAC with 1,008 receiving yards last year — his second straight 1,000-yard season — ranked third in catches (67) and finished sixth in receiving touchdowns (eight).
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 280 | Class: Senior
Pryor was the centerpiece of one of the most complete defensive units in the Division II ranks a season ago. He broke out in 2019 with 25 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, and after the 2020 season was canceled, he tallied 21.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2021. With powerful hands and a quick first step, he’s a tall task for single blocks and has the lower-body strength to remain firm against double-teams.
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 250 | Class: Senior
One opposing head coach said Farmer has a strong case as one of the top under-the-radar small-school prospects in the country. Coming off a 19 tackle-for-loss, 11.5-sack season, Farmer was voted the SIAC preseason Defensive Player of the Year. He understands how to get to the quarterback and has a knack for creating disruption in the backfield.
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 260 | Class: Redshirt junior
Green’s hustle, playmaking ability and ball pursuit creates infectious energy throughout South Carolina State’s defense. He also has the power to overwhelm blockers at the point of attack with strong hands. A compact but well-built player, Green occupies the strong-side defensive end role but can also play as a standup outside linebacker. He totaled 19.5 tackles for loss last season and was named the MEAC preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 215 | Class: Senior
Lewis is an integral part of the Jaguars’ pass rush. After a breakout spring 2021 season in which he recorded 15 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in five games, he won the Buck Buchanan Award as the top FCS defensive player in the country and was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year. He showed flashes of that dominance last fall, too, recording 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 240 | Class: Junior
Anderson and new head coach Hue Jackson have brought excitement back to Grambling’s program. Anderson broke out as a sophomore, recording a team-high five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. But he is only scratching the surface of his potential, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Anderson finds himself at the top of this list next spring.
HT: 6-foot | WT: 235 | Class: Junior
Roberts has been the driving force behind the Aggies’ defense since stepping foot on campus in 2019. He has a physical presence at middle linebacker, plays with aggression against the run and is savvy in coverage. He is instinctive at the second level with standout speed, and he led the team with 12 tackles for loss and five sacks. But Roberts is also a mainstay on special teams, as his four blocked punts were tied for the most in the nation last year.
HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 210 | Class: Junior
Huggins started his career at Florida, transitioned to Garden City Junior College and then found a home with Jackson State — where he finished his first season with 43 tackles, six pass breakups and three tackles for loss at strong safety. The physical downhill striker is expected to be the leader of one of the more talented secondaries in the FCS this season.
HT: 5-foot-10 | WT: 170 | Class: Graduate student
Smith is one of the most experienced players in the country. The former walk-on has become one of the main fixtures of the Rattlers’ offense and is searching to regain his 2019 form, when he recorded career-highs in catches (77), receiving yards (1,159) and receiving touchdowns (11).
HT: 5-foot-11 | WT: 223 | Class: Redshirt junior
Wilson, a stocky but well-built runner, is one of the best rushers in the Division II ranks. After being named CIAA Rookie of the Year in 2019 while at Johnson C. Smith, he transferred to join the Wildcats and averaged 119.3 yards per game and 5.7 yards per carry last season. He’s a solid tackle-breaker who can generate explosive runs in bunches.
HT: 5-foot-7 | WT: 175 | Class: Redshirt senior
Sheread transferred in from Texas State and led the nation in yards per punt return (19.9) while also handling slot receiver duties on offense. He led the team with nine receiving touchdowns in 2021. Sheread displays lots of shiftiness and play strength, making it difficult for defenders to bring him down.
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 225 | Class: Senior
A former four-star recruit and Missouri transfer, Miller led Jackson State with 109 tackles last year. He rotates between linebacker and defensive end in sub-packages — though he is expected to primarily play middle linebacker this season — has an innate feel for ball locations and is a physical tackler.
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 185 | Class: Senior
Isaac has the physical traits that intrigue NFL scouts. Though he hasn’t had a highly productive season stat-wise since 2019, Isaac displays efficient hips in his technique and plenty of willingness as a tackler in run support. He just needs to put it all together to make a jump up these rankings.
HT: 5-foot-11 | WT: 285 | Class: Senior
Dumas, who followed coach Eric Dooley from Prairie View A&M over to Southern, may be undersized as an interior player, but his explosiveness jumps out on film. He complements his great leverage at the position with strong hands and finishing ability.
HT: 5-foot-11 | WT: 175 | Class: Junior
Hill-Robinson was a bright spot for Bethune-Cookman in its first SWAC season last year, tying for the conference lead with four interceptions. He is a slim but talented corner with quick feet and timed patience in his press-man technique at the line. Hill-Robinson will have a difficult Week 1 matchup against Miami, which will serve as an opportunity to showcase his skill set against a quality Power 5 opponent.
HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 190 | Class: Redshirt sophomore
After transferring from Tennessee, Wideman burst onto the scene with Jackson State with 12 touchdown receptions. He proved to be a threat inside the red zone and in the open field as quarterback Shedeur Sanders‘ No. 1 wideout.
HT: 6-foot | WT: 185 | Class: Senior
Scouts are still waiting for Warren to break out. Formerly the top-ranked junior college player in the country, he showed flashes of his next-level talent during the 2021 spring but was inconsistent last fall with the Tigers. Warren is expected to add in some return duties this fall.
HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 310 | Class: Redshirt junior
Jones has been a consistent anchor in the middle from his 1-technique spot. He lines up primarily on the center’s outside shoulder, is stout against the run and provides some pass-rush impact at times. He stood out to me last year in the Tigers’ season-opener against Grambling and again during a midseason matchup with Eastern Illinois.
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 175 | Class: Redshirt sophomore
Long and rangy, Guthrie was one of the biggest surprises in the MEAC last year, tying for the conference lead with four interceptions and eight passes defensed. With a still-developing frame and three years of remaining eligibility, he has potential to move up higher on this list.
HT: 5-foot-9 | WT: 170 | Class: Redshirt sophomore
After transferring from Cincinnati following the 2019 season, Davis was electric for the Spartans in 2021 with a MEAC-high 887 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. His 7.2 yards per carry also led the FCS. He has heightened expectations heading into this season, having been voted MEAC preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 295 | Class: Redshirt senior
Williams has continued to grow and improve within the Hornets’ defense each season. He only totaled 2.5 sacks last year, but that isn’t a true representation of how much pressure he puts on opposing blockers. He ranked third in the MEAC with 11.5 tackles for loss and looks to build upon that as a senior.
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 195 | Class: Junior
Richard is the only quarterback on this list and enters a critical junior season that could catapult him into the top tier of FCS signal callers. The poised pocket-passer can win with both his arm (15 passing touchdowns) and his legs (eight rushing touchdowns). From his freshman to sophomore season, his completion percentage jumped from 52% to 58%, and his TD-INT ratio improved from 12-to-9 to 15-to-6.
HT: 5-foot-11 | WT: 195 | Class: Redshirt sophomore
Sanders transferred from South Carolina after the 2020 season, and his hard-hitting physicality stands out on tape. He proved to be a playmaker in coverage, too, tying for the conference-lead in interceptions (four) last year.
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 265 | Class: Senior
Brokenburr is a well-built strong-side defensive end with powerful hands to overwhelm blockers. He is a dependable and promising run defender but needs to add more moves to his pass-rush repertoire.
HT: 5-foot-8 | WT: 170 | Class: Junior
Codrington is a reliable outside corner with intriguing physical traits and plenty of speed to burn. And he broke out last year as a return specialist, averaging 22.5 yards per kickoff return and 15 yards per punt — third in the FCS.
HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 220 | Class: Senior
Green has quickly asserted himself as one of the better players on coach Eddie George’s defense. Although he plays primarily on the weak side at the Will linebacker spot, he is often deployed as a blitzer and recorded seven tackles for loss last season. His fluidity stands out in coverage, as he’s a loose mover who can cover ground.
HT: 5-foot-8 | WT: 182 | Class: Senior
The younger brother of Tampa Bay Buccaneers corner Carlton Davis III, Irshaad Davis has played all over the Hornets’ defense. He’s a terrific blitzer who displays a lot of physicality and maximizes his impact from the slot, and he will be a leader on Alabama State’s defense.
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 340 | Class: Senior
After spending time at Hutchinson Community College (Kansas), Lacey has anchored Tennessee State’s offensive front — specifically at left guard — since joining the program in 2019. He’s at his best when he plows open run lanes on the interior. But scouts would like to see him become more consistent in pass protection.
HT: 5-foot-9 | WT: 180 | Class: Redshirt senior
Despite his size, Bohler has been a ball magnet on the outside for the Rattlers’ defense. He finished tied for sixth in passes defensed (16) and eighth in interceptions (four) last season. Bohler could carve out a role as a valuable nickel corner moving forward, and he is also a core special-teams player.
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 190 | Class: Junior
Davis is a long, speedy player who shows a lot of range and continues a long lineage of productive defenders within the program. He’s coming off a standout Celebration Bowl victory over Jackson State (including a fumble recovery).
HT: 5-foot-9 | WT: 205 | Class: Junior
Johnson was a pleasant surprise for the Delta Devils last season, becoming the program’s first running back since 1999 to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards (1,004). A smooth and fluid rusher, he could climb the record books if he builds on that 2021 season in which he averaged 91.3 yards per game.
HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 305 | Class: Senior
After originally starting his career at rival North Carolina Central, Lee has been a consistent pass protector for the Aggies. He gained experience at right tackle during his first two years before transitioning to the left side. Lee has room to fill out his frame and could serve as an intriguing developmental prospect if he gains strength and improves his consistency as a run blocker.
HT: 5-foot-9 | WT: 180 | Class: Senior
Savage defended 10 passes and intercepted three more last season, with both numbers ranking second in the MEAC. Though confident on the outside, he likely projects as a nickel corner at the next level.
HT: 5-foot-10 | WT: 190 | Class: Graduate student
Cornerback Joshua Williams was Fayetteville State’s first draftee since 1976. Opposite him was Barnes-Brown, who made his presence known with eight pass breakups and a conference-leading five interceptions.
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 235 | Class: Junior
Godbolt improved as the 2021 season went on, recording 11.5 of his 12.5 tackles for loss during the Bulldogs’ final six games. While the lanky and explosive edge rusher is still figuring out how to utilize all his tools, he could build off that momentum with more reps.
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 205 | Class: Senior
Considered a breakout candidate within Deion Sanders’ program, the Florida State transfer is already among the most potent special-teams playmakers in the country. He had two return touchdowns last season, and his 36.9 yards per kickoff return topped both the FBS and FCS. With De’Jahn Warren and Travis Hunter expected to start at outside corner, Bolden will be the teams’ starting nickel this season.
HT: 6-foot-8 | WT: 335 | Class: Senior
Dunkwah has improved his physicality and demeanor as a run blocker, but his pass-protecting abilities are still raw. Still, he has improved his game each season, and his size and traits are evident.
HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 210 | Class: Junior
Beard broke out during his first season as a full-time starting middle linebacker, leading the team in tackles (78) and sacks (five) to go along with his 8.5 tackles for loss. Beard is also a mainstay on special-teams, as he was instrumental in helping the unit finish second in the country in blocked punts.
HT: 5-foot-10 | WT: 175 | Class: Senior
Morsell spent his first three seasons at Bowie State before transferring to Southern. He was CIAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 with nine interceptions but has battled injuries since. Morsell had five pass breakups in 11 games last year.
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 240 | Class: Senior
McDaniel broke out in 2019, but the 2020 season was canceled and injuries limited him to only five games last year. He recorded 4.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in those five games, and he hopes to stay healthy enough to impact the Aggies’ defensive front as he returns for a fifth season.
HT: 5-foot-11 | WT: 188 | Class: Senior
Murray is looking to build off a productive junior season in which he recorded 629 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He showed off his big-play potential and demonstrated his strong hands and body control at the catch point. And he scored five times in his final four games.
HT: 5-foot-9 | WT: 190 | Class: Senior
After dabbling in the transfer portal for a few weeks, Gibbs opted to return to Raleigh. He’s a tough runner who stresses defenses, and he ran for 948 yards and six touchdowns in 2021. Scouts are looking for Gibbs to generate more explosive plays and show he can avoid incoming safeties at the third level.
HT: 5-foot-9 | WT: 165 | Class: Senior
Evelyn is electrifying in multiple areas for the Dragons, as the return specialist and receiver’s 1,624 all-purpose yards led the SIAC last season. His speed and ability to create explosive plays have remained consistent throughout his career.
HT: 6-foot | WT: 250 | Class: Senior
Thomas recorded a team-leading 6.5 sacks last season and is expected to step up as the leader of the defense this year. He is a compactly built pass-rusher with strong hands, and he has some versatility.
HT: 5-foot-11 | WT: 205 | Class: Senior
Hagans started slow in 2021 but caught steam down the stretch, including a 199-yard performance against reigning conference champion Bowie State last October. Stout and speedy, he was reportedly clocked in the low 4.4s in the 40-yard dash in front of scouts last spring. Despite his limited production, many around the conference believe he could break out further this year.