There are an unusual number of significant and intriguing black college prospects for this week’s NFL Draft that begins Thursday (April 27) and will be held outdoors for the first time ever at the famous “Rocky Steps” in Philadelphia.
While none of this year’s prospects has the status or cachet of 2016 top black college pick Javon Hargrave out of South Carolina State – who was projected to go early in last year’s draft and went in the third round to the Pittsburgh Steelers – the sheer number of HBCU products getting major looks by league teams makes this year’s possible selections quite interesting.
No HBCU player is projected to go off the draft boards in Thursday’s first round which begins at 8 p.m. and none are expected to be taken in rounds two and three during Friday’s selections which begin at 7 p.m.
But on Saturday, as many as ten prospects could be taken when the league’s 32 teams make selections in rounds four through seven. Those selections will begin at noon Saturday.
It’s even hard to choose which HBCU player will go off the boards first. That’s what makes this year’s draft for HBCU products so unpredictable.
The first pick could be diminutive (5-9, 175) dynamic game breaker Tarik Cohen, who finished his career at North Carolina A&T as the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference’s all-time leading rusher (5,619 yards). Or it could be massive (6-7, 325) offensive tackle Javarius Leamon out of South Carolina State.
Many are projecting 6-4, 335-pound former Albany State defensive tackle Grover Stewart as the one of the top sleepers in the draft and one who could be taken early. Others that could slip into the top spot are 6-2, 245-pound tackling machine, linebacker Javancy Jones out of Jackson State, or 6-8, 295-pound offensive tackle Jylan Ware from Alabama State.
It would not even be a surprise if 6-4, 318-pound guard Jessamen Dunker of Tennessee State is the first off the board. Four TSU offensive linemen have been selected in the past three drafts.
Tennessee State defensive back Ezra Robinson (5-11, 189) is considered the top HBCU defensive back in this year’s draft and has been given a draftable grade at his position.
Grambling State wide receiver Chad Williams (6-1, 204) and Alabama State tight end Brandon Barnes (6-5, 255) are the top two pass-catching prospects. Each has generated some buzz with their performances leading up to the draft.
Perhaps the biggest HBCU talent and certainly the biggest enigma is former Texas Southern basketball and football standout Derrick Griffin (6-7, 230). Griffin was considered one of the top receiving prospects in the nation when he came out of a high school in the Dallas area but could not qualify academically at either Texas A&M or Miami. Instead, he enrolled at TSU.
In the 2015-16 season as a freshman, Griffin was a second team all-SWAC receiver in football and first team all-SWAC forward in basketball, sweeping the player and defensive player of the year awards. This year as a sophomore, he was dismissed from the football team after just two games and quit the basketball team after 13 games to prepare for the draft.
Scouts say his skill set and athleticism are “off-the-charts” but how and where he projects in the draft is anybody’s guess.
If all ten players mentioned make it into the draft it would be the highest number since eight were selected in 2003 and the first double digit haul since 2000.