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NFL Draft

HBCU Top 40 Players For 2022 NFL Draft

  • The Draft Network
  • August 27, 2021
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Over the past two years, only one player from an HBCU has been drafted (Lachavious Simmons). As a result, the league's effort to bring more notoriety to the institutions as a whole has increased. 

The HBCU Legacy Bowl, which will take place on Feb. 19, 2022, is a postseason all-star game that was established in order to showcase the top HBCU talent in the country. The Senior Bowl also has created an HBCU Combine (Jan. 28-29, 2022) that will give scouts and evaluators an extra opportunity to see players at all four major conferences (SWAC, MEAC, CIAA, SIAC) as well as schools in the Big South and OVC.

Something that I set out as a summer project, which I plan to turn into a yearly release, is highlighting the top senior players at HBCUs throughout the country. Over the past few years, we’ve seen players such as Darius Leonard, Javon Hargrave, Grover Stewart, and Tarik Cohen all sign lucrative extensions—all former HBCU players in their own right. This year's class contains plenty of intriguing prospects and there’s a strong chance that there could be multiple players drafted from the HBCU ranks.   

After multiple phone conversations with coaches around the nation, practice visits, and other experiences on campuses, here are the top 40 HBCU senior prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft cycle.

*Important Note: This list is limited to seniors, redshirt seniors, and a select few juniors that are believed to be on the NFL radar despite having multiple seasons remaining. Transfers were also omitted from this list. 

1. Markquese Bell, SAF, Florida A&M, (6021, 205, Sr.)

Originally starting his career at Maryland, Bell withdrew himself from the university after being suspended indefinitely for unspecified reasons. Electing to go the junior college route, he transferred to Coffeyville Community College where he would become one of the more notable players in the JUCO ranks. The former 4-star recruit was considered a headliner signing. During his first season in Tallahassee, he proved to be worth the billing as he finished tied with a conference-leading five interceptions.

Earning the nickname Markquese “Ring Your” Bell, he’s known as a hard hitter and a safety that offensive players are cautious of when he enters into their areas. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, scouts are excited to see a safety that has been labeled as a well-rounded option that’s able to play both on the roof and in the box.

If he has a season like many are anticipating, Bell’s name has a chance to quickly catch fire during the lead up to the draft next spring. Entering the season, a strong argument can be made that he’s the top draft-eligible player in the FCS ranks. If you’re looking for a small school safety alongside similar lines as Kyle Dugger and Jeremy Chinn, Bell’s next few months could follow a similar trajectory.

2. Jah-Maine Martin, RB, North Carolina A&T,  (5-10, 214, SR)

A product of Conway, SC, Martin elected to stay home and begin his career at nearby Coastal Carolina. After having an off-the-field issue, Martin only spent one season there. Transferring to North Carolina A&T, he has settled into his own after serving primarily in a backup role during his initial season in Greensboro.

Since taking over the starting role, Martin has continued the tradition of strong running back play for the Aggies. In 24 games played (14 starts), Martin has collected 2,102 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns while averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Scouts want to see the third-year starter become more involved in the passing game next season, as he’s only registered 14 receptions in his career. Playing in a new conference, the Big South presents an opportunity to rack up more yardage on unfamiliar opponents. 

3. Decobie Durant, CB, South Carolina State, (5104, 175, SR)

As is customary with head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough, the Bulldogs are once again loaded on the defensive side of the ball. The prospect receiving the most attention, though, is Durant. A former quarterback and defensive back at Lamar High School, he went on to spend a season at Palmetto Prep Academy. Durant, lauded for his smooth hips, comfort in and out of breaks, and ball skills, had a repeat performance of his breakout 2019 season during the spring. A career that previously included 12 pass break-ups and five interceptions coming into the spring, his pre-draft resume was quickly strengthened following a three-interception performance in the first half of the team’s season opener against Alabama A&M. Durant will need to continue to add bulk onto his frame, but his athleticism and ball production are noteworthy.

4. Aqeel Glass, QB, Alabama A&M, (6036, 216, SR)

After planning to attend Florida International out of Lutheran North High School (MO), a coaching change reset the recruiting deck for Glass. In what proved to be a blessing in disguise, he’s now the engineer of an explosive Alabama A&M attack.

During the 2019 season, Glass led the conference in completions (273) and passing yards (3,600). A magical season that was capped off with a victory in the SWAC Championship game over Arkansas Pine Bluff during the spring, Glass was able to successfully unlock the next stage of his development while also becoming more of a vocal leader.

Earning SWAC Offensive Player of the Year honors, he went on to throw for 1,355 passing yards, 16 touchdown passes, and only four interceptions despite battling through 35 days without having a game due to COVID cancellations. A civil engineer major, he’s entering the final stages of earning his Master’s degree and is praised for his smarts off the field. The level of intelligence has carried over to the field as well, as he pieced together back-to-back standout seasons. Glass led the conference in many categories as he averaged 338.8 passing yards per game. Aiming for a final hoorah with the entire conference back in action, Glass is aiming to stamp his status as one of the top signal-callers in all of the FCS ranks.

5. J’Atyre Carter, OT, Southern, (6050, 300, SR)

Last year, David Moore was one of the small-school offensive linemen that went on to boost their stock significantly even during a lost season. A similar occurrence could happen with Carter. He’s listed at 275 on the latest roster, but coaches have mentioned that his weight has hovered around 305 pounds during summer workouts.

Playing left tackle only for the Jaguars since arriving on campus, he blossomed during the spring season. Carter is a name to keep on the radar. With a full slate of games scheduled in the fall, he’s a player that could continue to strengthen his resume and lead to an invitation to participation in multiple postseason all-star games. His athleticism as a pass protector is the trait that his game centers around. Still needing polish in other areas, some teams may view him as an intriguing project worthy of a late-round draft choice.

6. Joshua Williams, CB, Fayetteville State, (6025, 185, rJR)

Easily one of the most athletic players from this list that I watched on tape, Williams is a linearly built corner but plays with the intensity of a linebacker in run support. Despite having a wiry frame, he’s stout in run support, wastes little time with coming downhill, and takes pride in striking ball carriers. With the Broncos experimenting with a mixture of coverages, Williams had the most success in off-man. His fluidity and ability to turn and run with ease were noticeable. His 13 pass breakups in 2019 placed him in a tie for the fifth-best mark in the Division II ranks. 

This is a program that’s starting to churn out NFL-worthy talent, as the team produced offensive tackle Kion Smith, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons last season as one of the team’s higher-paid undrafted free agents. Williams possibly could be the next in line with another strong season. Already on the 2022 Senior Bowl watchlist, he’s a prospect that could see his stock boosted with another productive year.

7. Jadakis Bonds, WR, Hampton (6031, 179, JR)

A player that still flying under the radar, Bonds is the first and one of the few underclassmen to appear on the list. A multi-sport athlete during his time at Riverside High School (Williamston, NC), he went on to become a 1,000 point scorer in basketball. Originally committed to East Carolina, but a grades issue altered his college path to where he ended up signing with Hampton. Proving to be a steal for the Pirates. Over his final two high school seasons, Bonds collected 1,758 receiving yards on 102 catches to go along with 24 touchdowns.

After being sandwiched in the middle of the depth chart as a freshman, he quickly turned into being the teams primary target and one of the best receivers in the FCS. During a breakout second season, Bonds recorded 70 receptions for 943 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. A slinky built, but dynamic threat, he’s had success with catching the ball at all three levels of the field. In 2019, he recorded five multi-score games, including setting a Big South conference record of five consecutive games with a touchdown catch.

8. Keenan Forbes, OL, Florida A&M, (6040, 315, GR)

It's been a long road traveled for Forbes. Originally attending Iowa State out of Everglades High School (FL), he only spent one season there as a redshirt player. Following that, he decided to transfer and attend Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. From there, he went on to sign with Washington State. After only spending the spring of 2018 there, he transferred to Florida A&M. A Miami, Florida native, after a hectic beginning to the earlier portions of his career, he found a landing spot in his home state and has flourished ever since. 

Projecting best along the interior at either guard spot, Forbes is a thickly built offensive lineman who shows lots of power at the point of attack. As exhibited with his First-Team All-MEAC selection a season ago, he showed that he can remain consistent in the area scouts will be paying attention to next season. Earning his degree last spring, Forbes wanted to remain in Tallahassee and continue to prove his worth as the program will be competing in a new conference (SWAC) in the fall. Forbes is expected to move to tackle this season.

9. Jordan Lewis, ATH, Southern, (6021, 195, SR)

One of the most celebrated players in the country, there wasn’t an award that Lewis wasn’t a candidate for following the 2021 spring season. At a listed 195 pounds, he’s deployed as a defensive end and was a terror off of the edge. He finished with an FCS-leading 15 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks on his way to becoming the first player ever from the SWAC to win the Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the top defensive player in the FCS. It’s rare to see prospects slide back levels on the defense, but because of his size, Lewis will likely be asked to play outside linebacker or safety. Having added experience on the first level could be beneficial to his role as a blitzer. Coaches raved about his athleticism, which he’s had since high school as he set a school record in the 110-meter hurdles (14.16) and on the Florida Classic 2A state hurdles title (14.08). 

On tape, it doesn’t take long to find No. 32. His hustle and relentlessness to wreak havoc stood out during the first minute of the first game that I watched him play, which was against Alabama State where he had four sacks to go along with 11 tackles.

10. De’Jahn Warren, CB, Jackson State, (6000, 180, JR)

Another one of the few underclassmen to appear on the list, Warren has had a unique football journey. After being deemed ineligible for his final two seasons of high school, Warren resurfaced at Lackawanna Junior College where he went on to become the top-ranked JUCO cornerback in the country. Considered to be a heavy Georgia lean, he shocked many by verbally committing and eventually signing with Jackson State. Often referred to by the nickname “Nugget”, Warren didn’t disappoint during his first season. Considered to still be very raw as his first year in junior college was his first one ever playing corner. With another successful season under his belt, many believe that Warren could declare early following his junior season. Warren is one of the few non-senior prospects on this list as a result. 

11. Cam Durley, OT, Tennessee State, (6052, 315, rSR)

A well-traveled and diverse player, Durley spent most of his childhood in Saudi Arabia where he played basketball, but most notably baseball. A participant in the Little League World Series as a pitcher and first baseman, he eventually altered to fall in love with football. A 2-star recruit coming out of the 2015 recruiting cycle, Durley’s career started at Kansas where he didn’t join the program until the spring of 2016. As a true freshman, Durley only experienced playing time during the Jayhawks’ season opener. A torn ACL forced him to redshirt in 2017 and he missed the following season as well after tearing his Achilles. After that point, he opted to enter the transfer portal and landed at Tennessee State. Returning back to full health during the 2019 season, Durley went on to start in 10 games (played in 12 total). Continuing to build on his successful outings, he started in five games last season (missed two due to injury) and was named as a first-team All-OVC recipient.

12. Xavier Smith, WR, Florida A&M (5085, 175, rSR) 

A former walk-on, Smith has not only turned into one of the more important players on the Rattlers’ roster but arguably one of the most explosive players in the FCS ranks. Possessing unique quickness and electric routes, it didn't take him long for him to stand out in Tallahassee. Because of the pandemic, the last time that we saw Smith play a full season came in 2019. During that span, the then-redshirt sophomore led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in both catches (77) and receiving yards (1,159) and was the only receiver in the conference to pass the century mark while finishing second in touchdown catches (11).

13. Joshua Pryor, IDL, Bowie State (6032, 280, rSR)

A hidden gem that has been discovered throughout the summer, Pryor was a menace for the Bulldogs defense in 2019. He recorded 25 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, including three games where he recorded at least two sacks.

A strong finish to his redshirt sophomore campaign, the last three games where Pryor touched the playing surface, he recorded 27 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks. His strong conclusion has put him on the radar of many notable postseason all-star contests including being a name mentioned in the weekly Small School Saturday tweets from Jim Nagy, the Director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl.

14. De’Shaan Dixon, EDGE, Norfolk State, (6050, 260, rSR)

A bit of a late bloomer, Dixon was primarily used as a designated pass rusher during the first two seasons of his career. 2019, the last time the Spartans were on the field, was the first time in his collegiate career that he was a full-time starter. Starting in nine of the 12 games that he appeared in, Dixon proved to be a high-energy edge rusher that simply relies on that heavily. The best games on tape that I saw from Dixon came against North Carolina Central and South Carolina State.

15. Shemar Bridges, WR, Fort Valley State, (6036, 200, rSR)

A player that’s flying heavily under the radar, Bridges actually flirted with the draft process last spring and almost declared, but reversed course and opted to return for his final season. Originally starting his career at Tusculum (2016), he decided to transfer following his redshirt sophomore season (2019) after struggling to find a role in the offense. Playing in only six games through two seasons on the field, he found the larger role that he was seeking after transferring to Fort Valley State (GA).

Recording 51 catches, 765 receiving yards, and four touchdowns during his first season (2019), it was the spring season where the intrigue began to grow with Bridges. Only playing two games last spring (vs. Shorter University and Erskine), he recorded 13 receptions, 301 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. “A leader and kid who isn’t afraid to work hard,” was a quote shared to me from a coach inside the facility about Bridges. If there’s a deep sleeper that could heavily benefit from the pre-draft all-star game circuit and prove his worth as a potential draftable player, Bridges is a prime candidate to pay attention to.

16. Zabrian Moore, WR, Alabama A&M, (6021, 185, rSR)

The lanky target in head coach Connell Maynor's potent offense not only proved to be the team’s go-to target, but he also led the SWAC in receiving yards with 1,057 yards on 58 receptions while also finishing sixth in the conference in touchdowns with nine in 2019. Battling injuries during the spring season, he finished with 363 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Saving his best performance for last, in the SWAC title game against Arkansas Pine Bluff, he collected four receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. 

Playing primarily as the team’s X-receiver, Moore uses a wide catch radius to win vertically on multiple occasions. While not a burner, he's been able to take advantage of underneath opportunities and 50-50 chances along the sideline. Entering next season with a bulk of their offensive weapons returning, the Bulldogs are expected to once again be one of the most explosive groups in the conference. Moore will be a big part of that.

17. Chris Faddoul, Punter, Florida A&M (5112, 210, SR)

After the brief success of former high-level punter Marquette King and current Cleveland Brown Jamie "Scottish Hammer" Gillian, the floodgates have opened to finding punting talent in the HBCU ranks. Faddoul is potentially the next in line of successful specialists. Named as a first-team AP FCS All-American following the 2018 season, he became the first Rattler since Leroy Vann (return specialist) in 2009 to earn that type of national notoriety. In 2019, Faddoul averaged a booming 46.0 yards per punt, the second-best mark in the FCS. 

18. Ezra Gray, RB, Alabama State (5091, 180, rSR.)

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the 2021 spring season, Gray took advantage of the spotlight and went on to have a career year for the Hornets. Rushing for a career-high 195 yards on 23 carries against Jackson State, that performance squarely put Gray on the map. He’s a smaller runner, but Gray has plenty of speed and that is evident in the open field on his game tapes from the spring. An easy cutter and make-you-miss type of back in the open field, he’s a running back to keep an eye on during his finale at Alabama State. Also a scholar student, he graduated with his degree last fall.

19. Mark Evans II, OT, Arkansas Pine Bluff (6032, 295, SR)

After failing to receive any Division I offers prior to signing day, Evans II signed a letter of intent with Navarro Junior College (TX), but Arkansas Pine Bluff extended an offer to him prior to graduation. Suiting up for the Golden Lions proved to be a blessing in disguise as he went on to become one of the best offensive tackles in the conference. 

Evans II is considered the rock of the team's offensive front. His attitude and finishing ability show up often on tape. Likely transitioning inside to guard, he’s a prospect to keep an eye on this upcoming season. Playing plenty motivated, he’s been vocal about wanting to return and win the SWAC title after falling to Alabama A&M. 

20. Jalon Thigpen, SAF, Arkansas Pine Bluff, (6010, 185, GR)

A pleasant surprise when creating this list, when studying a player on another team, Thigpen constantly jumped off of the screen. His best games came against Southern, Prairie View A&M, and Grambling. During the spring season, Thigpen enjoyed a breakout year as he led the conference in pass breakups (seven) and tied for the SWAC lead in interceptions (five). A versatile player on the back end, he’s used all over the place. Experiencing reps on the roof of the defense but primarily as the low safety on the edge of the defense, he’s a no-nonsense safety that makes offenses aware of his location on the field. With little regard for his body, he isn’t shy about running it through the opposition at top speed. With plenty of attention-grabbing hits, he’s a hard-hitting safety that also has above-average ball skills and knowledge in coverage.

21. Demetri Morsell, CB, Bowie State, (5096, 170, SR)

The more accomplished of the Bowie State tandem, Morsell had a record-setting season in 2019. Collecting nine interceptions and 14 passes defensed, he also returned three for scores. Leading the conference in interceptions, he also added a scoop-and-score fumble recovery to his touchdown total. A ball-magnet in every sense, Morsell has been a turnover creator who’s cashed in on his opportunities when the ball has come in his direction. He’s played strictly on the outside—which he will continue to do for the Bulldogs—but his position at the next level could be as a nickel. 

22. Felix Harper, QB, Alcorn State (5112, 180, rSR)

Nicknamed "Triggerman,” Harper took over for the 2018 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year and the option ahead of him in Noah Johnson. Creating a historic season of his own, he kept the illustrious award within the program. Taking home the honor in 2019, the smooth lefty left a mark as he threw for 2,954 yards, 33 touchdowns, and nine interceptions while also adding 169 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Following an eventful 64-44 defeat to North Carolina A&T in the 2019 Celebration Bowl, Harper is once again attempting to land his team in the landmark game, but bringing home the title this time after two unsuccessful attempts. With Alcorn sitting out of the 2021 spring season due to COVID, many eyes will be on the Braves to see if they can reclaim their spot atop the SWAC. 

23. Tyrin Ralph, RS/WR, Arkansas Pine Bluff (5075, 170, rSR)

Arguably the most dangerous special teams weapon in all of the FCS, Ralph has a knack for generating explosive plays as both a kick and punt returner. Collecting 892 all-purpose yards during the spring season, he finished third in the FCS. An elusive and quick mover, he places a tremendous amount of stress on coverage units. Even though he’s known for the dynamic elements that he brings to special teams, he’s also an underrated receiver. An average router-runner, he displays proper knowledge of how to run his routes from all areas of the field. Possessing strong hands, he also has the ability to snag the balls outside of his body frame. 

24. Jermaine McDaniel, EDGE, North Carolina A&T, (6021, 235, SR) 

The great-nephew of former Baltimore Ravens standout fullback Vonta Leach, McDaniel’s journey started at Appalachian State. After redshirting in 2017, he saw an expanded role in 2018 that led to him seeing action in six games, where he recorded 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. Wanting an even bigger role, he transferred to North Carolina A&T where he became the focal point of one of the best units in the country. During his first season as a starter, McDaniel went on to set career highs in tackles (40), tackles for loss (12.5), and sacks (7.5) on his way to becoming a first-team All-MEAC recipient. He’s a loose-moving and agile defender, but McDaniel’s best quality is his effort. Already possessing an effective long-arm tactic, he still must continue to add more pass rush moves to his overall arsenal.

25. Keonte Hampton, LB, Jackson State, (6006, 220, SR)

At the center of the Jackson State defense since a breakout sophomore campaign, Hampton is once again expected to be the anchor of a unit that continues to add new pieces. A completely new defensive front mixed in with added depth on the back end, the second level remains as the lone unit that mostly remains the same from the spring. Hampton is an intense and active MIKE linebacker that possesses infectious energy. His consistency in run support with stepping down and attacking the first level is one element that he’s constantly hung his hat on during his standout career. Scouts want to see him elevate his feel and instincts in pass coverage in order to unlock the next stage of his development.

26. Juwan Carter, QB, Norfolk State, (5116, 175, rSR)

A Virginia lifer his entire career, Carter is used to being in the spotlight. At Highland Springs High School, he played on the same team as New York Jets offensive tackle and 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton. The preseason MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, Carter enters a crucial final season and the first under new head coach Dawson Odums.

Only 1,999 passing yards away from breaking the school record for most in a career (Aaron Sparrow – 8,758), Carter is likely to pass that as he’s averaged 2,400 passing yards over the past two seasons. The senior quarterback tossed 23 touchdown passes during the 2019 season, which is the most by a thrower in the program since transitioning to the Division I level.

27. Charles Hall IV, WR, Virginia Union (5116, 190, SR)

The nephew of Troy Vincent, the current Executive Vice President of Football Operations of the NFL, Hall IV proved to be a big-play threat for the Panthers offense in 2019. Getting off to a red-hot start during the first five games of the 2019 season, he recorded 14 catches for 398 yards and five touchdowns. Averaging 28.4 yards per catch during that span, Hall has thrived off of a combination of deep passes down the field and taking quick slants the distance. A breakout sophomore campaign, Hall IV tallied 33 catches, 855 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns. Also a standout long jumper on the Panthers track and field team, he is a natural athlete whose athleticism shows up on tape frequently. A converted defensive back who didn’t play wide receiver until stepping foot on campus, he must continue to add branches to his route tree moving forward.

28. LeCharles Pringle, WR, Alcorn State (6000, 185, rSR)

Recording one of the best single-season performances in program history in 2019, Pringle tied a school record with 14 receiving touchdowns. Good for fourth-best in the FCS ranks, he also collected 48 receptions for 828 receiving yards. Pringle’s two best performances came against in-conference foes Mississippi Valley State and Alabama A&M, where he tallied a pair of three-touchdown games. Opting out of the 2021 spring season, many have high expectations for the Braves offense as they return to action this season. Pringle is once again expected to be the team’s go-to option. 

29. Tevin Singleton, CB, Bowie State, (5095, 180, rSR)

Playing alongside Demetri Morsell, who collected nine interceptions a season ago, many believe that he was the beneficiary of Singleton's previous success on the opposite side. Forming arguably the best cornerback tandem in all of Division II, many teams were reluctant to throw to Singleton's side. As a result, the team’s defense benefited as a whole. Talking to members of the coaching staff and others within the conference, Singleton received rave reviews about being a complete corner who isn't afraid to show up as a run defender either. His ball skills and play-making ability in coverage are the biggest assets to his game. Continuing to add weight to his frame and consistency when balls are thrown into his coverage are areas that need continued improvement during his final season with the Bulldogs.

30. Jamal Savage, Guard, Bethune-Cookman, (6052, 320, rSR)

A stoutly built and well-filled-out body type, Savage has been the anchor for the Wildcats offensive front since his redshirt sophomore season (2018). Playing the left guard spot, he's shown to be effective as a run blocker, but also shows plenty of positive traits as a pass protector. Playing up to the standards of his last name, he's had some attention-grabbing blocks on pulls and when allowed to play straight ahead. The Wildcat offense incorporates a mixture of man and zone blocking schemes, but it's clear that they believe that Savage is their best player up front as they experiment with him in a multitude of ways on various protections and run game concepts. A first-team All-MEAC selection a year ago, he returns to show that his breakout third season wasn't only a one-time occurrence.

31. Keyshawn James, IDL Fayetteville State (6021, 270, rSR)

Possessing a top-heavy build, James has been as consistent as they come. Playing primarily off of the edge, he's collected 28.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Because of how much of a terror he is as a pass rusher, the Broncos have opted to utilize him as an edge rusher, but considering his frame and strength at the point of attack, he's a prime candidate to be a tweener at the next level. While James won't wow you with his initial steps out of the starting blocks nor up-the-field quickness, it's his brute strength that has enabled him to have as much success as he's experienced. Teams who operate a 3-4 front will have interest in James as a two-gapping defensive end. After flirting with the transfer portal, James is back to anchor what’s expected to be one of the better defenses in the CIAA.  

32. Juwan Taylor, SAF, Alcorn State (5101, 200, rSR)

Taylor spent the first two seasons of his collegiate career at Northeast Mississippi Community College. Signing with the Braves prior to the 2019 season, he went on to become an instant hit for the team’s defense. Leading the team in tackles (89), his best performance came during the last in-conference matchup that he played in as he was named MVP of the SWAC Championship Game against Southern. With Qwynterrio Cole exiting to Louisville, Taylor returns as the main attraction of the team’s defense. Right out of the gate, we will get to see Taylor in a nationally televised game against North Carolina Central in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge (Aug. 28, 7 p.m., ESPN).

33. De'Jour Simpson, IOL, North Carolina A&T (6021, 290, rSR)

The dominant Aggie offensive line returns four of its five starters from a season ago. A part of that group was Simpson. The Eastern Kentucky transfer provided a big boost to the unit after satisfying NCAA transfer requirements, sitting out the 2018 season. Simpson possesses a mature build and although he lost some weight during his transition to Greensboro, he seemed to be back into form last season. Offensive coordinator Chris Barnette incorporates lots of creative schemes that enable his talented guard to show off his power at the point of attack. Simpson shows spurts where he can be a mauler, but is nimble for his size. Coaches there rave about his knowledge of the game and ability to communicate the happenings on the field and adjusting soon thereafter.

34. Jerry Garner, LB/EDGE, Mississippi Valley State (6010, 240, rSR)

The Alabama native that was mostly recruited by Division II and Division III programs coming out of high school has turned into a staple of the team’s defense. A bit undersized at the position, Garner’s best asset is his motor. Containing high levels of energy has enabled him to experience a lot of success through the first three seasons of his career. Playing in three games last spring, Garner recorded nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. With teams likely viewing him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, his dependability with dropping in coverage will be an area that scouts want to see during his final season.

35. Zachary Leslie, WR, North Carolina A&T, (6016, 203, rSR)

Since coming over from Palmetto Prep Academy (South Carolina), Leslie has been as steady as they come. After assuming a full-time starting role during his second season in the program, he has put together back-to-back 650 receiving yard seasons. During the team’s 64-44 victory in the Celebration Bowl, Leslie went on to record four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Possessing a slender build, he has found a home in the slot. Now, with the graduation of multiple-record-breaking wide receiver Elijah Bell, Leslie is expected to move into the No. 1 receiving role. Leslie could be in for a career year on an offense that's expected to be near the top in all major categories in the Big South.

36. Isaiah Totten, RB, North Carolina Central (5086, 185, rSR)

Slowly incorporated into the starting lineup during his redshirt freshman season (2016), Totten took the reins and ran with it after a breakout performance against Duke. The team’s leading rusher for three consecutive seasons, he's only the eighth rusher in program history to surpass 2,000 career rushing yards. Only 886 rushing yards away from taking the top spot atop the school’s record book, Totten is a quick, urgent, and right-now runner that can make second and third-level defenders miss in space with ease. Totten’s biggest question mark entering a crucial final season is third-down value. Inconsistencies in pass protection and only recording 11 receptions a season ago, he must prove his worth in late passing-down situations.

37. Ladarius Skelton, QB, Southern (6021, 210, rSR)

Taking over midway through his sophomore season (2018), Skelton has been a top-tier option for the Jaguars. His second season as a full-time starter, he orchestrated one of the better offenses in the SWAC. Possessing a smooth throwing base, release, and demeanor, Skelton totaled career highs in passing yards (1,642) and passing touchdowns (12) last season. Many are expecting a big third-year jump during his final season in Baton Rouge. Already with two SWAC western division titles to his resume, he's still searching and looking to conquer the mountain top of helping the program win its first conference title since 2013. Reports out of camp have been that scouts have already visited practices and are evaluating Skelton as a running back on the next level.

38. Joshua Flowers, CB, Winston-Salem State (6010, 185, SR)

It’s been a long road traveled and a bit of an ironic career arc for Flowers. His career began at Long Island University-Post (NY) where he played against his eventual school, Winston Salem State, during the first round of the 2016 Division II playoffs. That year would be his lone one with the program. In 12 games, he recorded 62 tackles and 12 interceptions. Flowers was also a track athlete while at LIU-Post. Spending the entire 2017 enrolled at an unspecified community college back in his home state of New Jersey, he then transferred to Winston-Salem. Sitting out the 2018 season to fulfill NCAA transfer rules, he returned in 2019 showing shades of his freshman form. Starting all 10 games, he tallied 32 tackles and four interceptions to go along with six pass breakups. Flowers already has his undergraduate degree in hand, but wanted to return to WSSU to utilize his final season.  

39. D’Angelo Durham, RB, Savannah State (6010, 200, SR)

The catalyst of the Tigers offense in 2019, much of the offense rested on the shoulders of the talented rusher. Helping rewrite the record books, he helped the offense set a new program record for most team rushing yards in a single season (2,603) all while finishing with 1,029 rushing yards of his own to go along with a conference-leading 12 touchdowns—helping engineer the program to its first winning record (7-3) since 1998. Gaining the respect of his peers, many coaches around the conference that I talked to mentioned him as easily being the best offensive player in the SIAC. Proven to be true, he was voted as the preseason Offensive Player of the Year in the conference. Hovering around six feet tall, Durham is a bit of an upright runner, but he does well with running through contact and gaining yards both in between the tackles and out on the perimeter. Following a strong sophomore season, all eyes will be on Durham to see if he can replicate his success. 

40. Anthony Evelyn, WR, Lane College (5090, 165, SR)

A late find during the tail end of making this list, one position coach mentioned to me to just take a glance at Evelyn and that it wouldn’t take long for him to stand out on film. Playing at Division II Lane College, Evelyn’s lone Division I opponent during the 2019 season came against Arkansas Pine Bluff—he finished that game with eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns that included a crucial 70-yard punt return. Providing a scare all afternoon, Evelyn has the speed and explosive-play ability that makes him a tall task for Division II defenses. Considering that he provides value as a receiver and a returner, satisfying those hats will automatically get him on scouts’ radars.

Extra Players To Keep An Eye On:

Christian Clark, IDL, Alabama State (6002, 363, rSR)

The younger brother of Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark, Christian quickly became the anchor in the middle of a stout Hornets defense. Playing in 38 career games, Clark has been a consistent presence that teams have been reluctant with running towards. A true 3-4 0-technique, he has the anchor to sit down and eat up gaps, but is agile for his size. With a low to the ground build, teams that like for their first level defenders to two gap, they could take a liking to Clark. Set to get another year under his belt and already having NFL pedigree, teams that utilize a 3-down front, could check in on Clark this season.

Kailen Abrams, LB, Central State (6010, 235, GR)

Few linebackers in the HBCU ranks have experienced a better two year run than Abrams. Over the past two seasons, the second level defender has collected 202 tackles in the 18 games that he's appeared in. The engine of the Marauders defense, Abrams once again enters next season as one of the best overall players in the SIAC. The first player since 2010 to earn back-to-back Don Hansen All-America honors, Abrams is searching to take his game to another level during his final season in Ohio.

Chris Myers, EDGE, Norfolk State (6051, 245, rSR)

Myers possesses NFL bloodlines as his older brother, Robert Myers, was drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 draft by the Ravens. Throughout his high school career, he served strictly as a tight end. Making the transition to the other side of the ball as a defensive end, Myers’ career began at Middle Tennessee State (2016-2018), where he played in 20 games. Mostly a special teams contributor, it wasn’t until he transferred to Norfolk State that he saw a heavy dose of snaps at defensive end. Serving as a full-time starter for the first time in his career during the 2019 season, he went on to experience a breakout campaign. Leading the team in tackles for loss (10.0) and the conference in sacks (9.0), Myers is a moldable player that’s just scratching the surface of what he could transform into.

Taron Mallard, TE, Bethune-Cookman (6045, 250, rSR)

A tight end prospect that's built like an NBA small forward, Mallard has a slinky build, but he's able to show comfort with catching the ball. Used periodically as an in-line blocker and on the hip of offensive tackles as a wrap blocker on various runs, he's still improving his strength levels in order to sustain. His true value comes as a pass catcher though. A second-team All-MEAC selection in 2019, he had one of his better games during the MEAC/SWAC season opener against Jackson State where he caught four passes for 60 yards. Still working his way to becoming a more consistent piece in the offense, Mallard is set to improve from his performance of 16 catches, 204 receiving yards, and two touchdowns the last time the Wildcats were in action.

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