With the 2018 NFL Draft just two weeks away, the number of black college players on draft boards appears to be in single digits.
Just four HBCU products are rated within the top 25-30 players at their respective positions based on projections by a number of pro scouting services.
None is expected to be picked on Day 1 of the Draft – Thursday, April 26 – when only first round selections are made.
There is a slight possibility that the first could go off the boards on Day 2 – Friday, April 27 – when selections are made in rounds two and three.
At least three of the four are expected to be selected by the end of Day 3 – Saturday, April 28 – when the draft concludes with selections in rounds four through seven.
The likely list of selectees includes South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, North Carolina A&T offensive tackle Brandon Parker, Southern defensive back Danny Johnson and Grambling State running back Martez Carter.
Listed at 6-2, 234 pounds, Leonard, is the back-to-back MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, and the third straight S. C. State product to win the award. Both of the Bulldogs’ previous two winners (Pittsburgh defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and former Green Bay and now Dallas linebacker Joe Thomas) are currently in the NFL.
Leonard has been most impressive in postseason workouts and will likely be the first off the boards in the draft.
He had a head-turning performance at the Senior Bowl and showed well at the NFL Combine. At the Senior Bowl he stood out in weeklong drills, had a game-high 13 tackles in the game and showed pass-coverage ability.
His 40-yard dash time was 4.70 seconds, 17th among linebackers at the Combine. He had 17 reps in the bench press.
Leonard, who had 113 tackles, 8 sacks and two interceptions this past season for the Bulldogs, shows up on draft lists at both outside and inside linebacker and is rated from fourth to eighth at the positions. He was just one of three FCS players nominated for the Butkus Award given to the best linebacker in college football.
Because of his size, speed and coverage ability, he would most likely have been projected to play safety. But he now fits into what is referred to as a ‘hybrid’ linebacker created by the necessity of defending college football’s high-octane spread-option offenses. His quickness and athleticism are thought to be his best assets. He is often compared to 6-3, 215-pound Jacksonville linebacker Tevin Smith.
Leonard is projected to go off as early as round two and certainly on day two.
Parker had one more MEAC accolade than did Leonard being named the league’s top offensive lineman three times while anchoring the left side of the Aggies’ line. It was reported that he gave up no sacks in his final three years as a starter.
The 6-7, 300-pounder has the height, length and size ideal for the same position in the NFL. Initially, he was considered a project but also showed well at the Senior Bowl workouts and at the Combine where he posted a 5.37 time in the 40 but did not lift.
At his Pro Day at A&T, 17 NFL scouts were on hand including Oakland Raiders General Manager and former offensive lineman Reggie McKenzie. Parker did 21 reps on the bench. He had private visits to at least eight NFL teams.
He could go as early as the third round but is likely a third-day selection.
Johnson (5-9, 182), a three-time all-Southwestern Athletic Conference defensive back, had 55 tackles, 12 passes defended and three interceptions last year for the Jaguars, two that he returned for touchdowns. He led the FCS with seven interceptions as a junior. He was the first Southern player in the Combine in 23 years.
He flashed his speed at Indianapolis putting up a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash, tenth amongst defensive backs. It was a trait he showed often during his time in Baton Rouge.
Scouts have favorably compared Johnson to other small-school cornerbacks like the Falcons’ Robert Alford and the Jets’ Buster Skrine. Sources also say that Johnson is further along at this stage than both Alford and Skrine were. They think that Johnson is a tough defender and built to be a nickelback in the NFL.
He is projected to go off between the fourth and seventh rounds.
After the success of former North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen, a 5-6, 170-pound fourth round selection of the Chicago Bears a year ago, it’s not surprising that Carter is on some draft boards.
At 5-6, 170 pounds, Cohen went on to score as a runner, receiver and kick returner for the Bears and was a Pro Bowl alternate as a kick returner. Carter is slightly bigger at 5-9, 205 but has similar skills.
He used his running, receiving and kick return skills to rack up 1,512 all-purpose yards and 12 TDs last year while fighting injuries for the G-Men after posting 1,892 and 12 TDs as a junior.
Like Cohen, Carter is compared to Darren Sproles because of his abilities to contribute to offenses in multiple ways.
Carter is projected as a late round selection.
Among players who may have their names called but are likely certain to get free agent contracts are former Howard running back Anthony Philyaw , former Tennessee State wide receiver Patrick Smith , former Alcorn State running back De’Lance Turner and former Tennessee State placekicker Lane Clark .
Four HBCU players were taken in last year’s draft.