In the wake of the HBCU Draft Combine, and ahead of the Legacy Bowl coming up in a couple weeks, the hype around this senior class is building. We’ve taken a look at the offense and there’s a lot of exciting prospects there, but it’s time to dig into what wins championships: Defense.
Here we’ll look at the senior class from schools around the country from the SWAC, to MEAC, CIAA, SIAC and unaffiliated programs. While the HBCU Combine and Legacy Bowl are looking at all the draft eligible players, we’ll just be looking at the senior and graduate classes here. There’s a lot of talent around the board, and while some of these guys may well end up in the NFL, the XFL should keep a very close eye on these tried and true, yet still undervalued divisions.
Dany & The Rock would do well to follow in the footsteps of Hall of Fame scout Bill Nunn. Back in the early days of the NFL, Nunn was Assistant Personnel Director with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had started his career scouting HBCU football with the Courier, and took that knowledge to the NFL, building a dynasty with players from the same schools he tabbed for the “Black College All-America” team in his writing career.
Doing so, Nunn brought a generations worth of starters and Hall of Famers to the Pittsburgh Steelers. 11 players on the 1974 Super Bowl team came from HBCU’s. 3 of them were Hall of Famers. Bringing in all these players unquestionably built one of the most dominant dynasties of the yesterday, and the XFL should take a heavy draw from this talent pool today. Shockingly, only one HBCU player was taken in the 2020 Draft, and none were selected in 2021. The talent is there, someone just needs to come knocking.
The Edge Rushers
James Houston – Jackson State Tigers
Houston led the SWAC in sacks with a whopping total of 16.5, and was just one sack behind NCAA leader Will Richardson Jr. out of Alabama. A transfer from Florida, he had 100 tackles, 10.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks in 3 years among the SEC before exploding at Jackson State. Nicknamed “The Problem”, his senior campaign showcased a high ceiling as a disruptor along the front. He was named the SWAC’s Newcomer of the Year in 2021.
His 24.5 tackles for loss prove he’s a force against the run as well, and Houston has been fortunate enough to receive coaching from two high level NFL defenders. He was coached by none other than All Pro CB Pat Surtain in high school, and of course Hall of Famer Deion Sanders with the Tigers. After a good showing at the East-West Shrine Bowl last week, his draft stock is climbing, but if he’s available would be an incredible win for the XFL.
Chris Myers – Norfolk State
Chris Myers’ tools absolutely jump off the tape. He’s been 6’6″ since high school, and is maxing out his frame well. A 3rd Team All-MEAC selection in 2019, he made 1st Team All-MEAC this past season, and was a major factor in Norfolk’s dominating defense. In two years with the Spartans, he showcased great tools and production, finishing his time there with 14.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss and 2 passes defensed. A high school Varsity athlete in basketball, I could see him following after Shelby Harris as a baller-turned-d-lineman who excels at swatting down passes at the line.
De’Shaan Dixon – Norfolk State
Dixon and Chris Myers formed a high-powered pass rush duo at Norfolk. Dixon led the team in sacks in 2021, was a 1st Team All-MEAC selection, and a 3rd Team All-MEAC selection the year before in 2019. At 6’5″ 260 he’s got the length teams look for in an edge defender, paired with bulk to hold his ground in the perimeter. Dixon’s got it all, and we hope to see more at the HBCU Legacy Bowl game coming up.
Andrew Farmer – Lane
The towering edge rusher was a force in the SIAC, racking up 11 sacks in his the 2021 campaign, and he precluded this breakout year with 5 sacks in 2019. For his efforts, he was names Second-Team All-SIAC at Defensive End and would bring length, speed and pass rush skills to any defense in the XFL.
Adonte Braxton – Virginia State
Braxton had 10.5 sacks in his senior year in 2021, capping off a successful run with the Trojans with an All-CIAA selection. He finished his time there with 17.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss, and is built like a prototypical OLB at 6’2″ 245. A pass rusher with proven production and the tools to make it, he’s one of many DII guys to keep an eye on.
Keyshawn James – Fayetteville State
Jonathan Ross – Bowie State
Jordan Lewis – Southern
Jamal Holloway – Central State
The Defensive Line
Savion Williams – Florida A&M
The 6’4″ 290 pound tackle is built perfectly to be a 3 technique D-Lineman at the next level. Williams took the JUCO route from Lackawanna College, to Tennessee where he played with the Volunteers in 2019, to FAMU, where he blossomed as a player in his senior year. Williams logged 29 tackles, 11 for loss and 6.5 sacks en route to a 2nd Team All-SWAC selection, and is a force to be reckoned with on the interior.
Kolby Hunter – Virginia State
Aaron Donald has already proven what DT’s can do at 6’1″ ~280 pounds. Hunter could well fit that mold, and the Trojan’s star D-Lineman has a good track record of production as a disruptor inside with 8 sacks, and 10.5 tackles for loss this past year. Though he’s gotten less attention than Trojans’ junior phenom Javon Frazier, Hunter is a bonafide playmaker who has opened things up for his teammates while matching with production of his own.
Antwan Owens – Jackson State
Owens was a key member of Deion Sanders’ defensive unit this season, and he was a First Team All-SWAC selection alongside EDGE James Houston. As a pair they terrorized opponents inside and out, and Owens interior pass rush and run stuffing capabilities were huge for the Tigers this year. With an impressive 18.5 tackles for loss alongside 6 sacks and 65 combined tackles, Owens excels against both phases of the game in the trenches.
Joshua Pryor – Bowie State
Pryor has been game-wrecking with the Bulldogs since 2018, and he’s got a laundry list of accolades under his name. He was CIAA rookie of the year in 2018, as well as a First Team All-CIAA and All-Rookie team selection. He was Division II Defensive player of the year in 2019, earned another First Team All-CIAA nod, and capped his career at Bowie State off this year with a Second Team All-CIAA spot.
All said and done, Pryor had 28.5 sacks and no less than 66.5 tackles for loss in just 3 seasons of play. That’s incredible, especially coming from the Defensive Tackle position, and the 6’4″ 280 pound prospect would be an immediate impact player along any line.
Christian Clark – Alabama State
We’ve looked at some great interior pass-rushers here, but we gotta pay respects to the NT’s up front too. Christian Clark, (brother of Chiefs EDGE Frank Clark) is a fantastic prospect at the center of all the action. At six foot, 345 pounds he’s got the bulk and leverage to cause serious problems up front. The two time First Team All-SWAC D Lineman finished at Bama State with 182 tackles, 22.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks, and was a staple of this unit for years.
His ability to shut down the run was apparent at the collegiate level, and he’d be an upgrade to any front seven, especially in a 3-4 system that uses a nose tackle, and in any goal-line/short yardage package.
Loren Young – Langston
Jeremiah Caine – Mississippi Valley State
Chad Gilchrist – South Carolina State
A cornerstone of SC State’s championship defense, Gilchrist played 5 years with the Bulldogs, amassing 209 tackles, 25 for loss, 3 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. His senior campaign, he got to help lead his team to a Celebration Bowl win in his final year in garnet and blue, and put up a dominant 10-tackle showing in the MEAC Championship. He was also First-Team All-MEAC and is a part of both the HBCU Combine and Legacy Bowl team. Let’s not forget that this is the same program under Buddy Pough that produced All-Pro Colts LB Darius Leonard, and coach Pough’s focus on long term player development may pay off for Gilchrist as well.
Aubrey Miller Jr. – Jackson State
Miller put up insane numbers last year. 109 tackles, 11.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks and 3 passes defensed is an incredible tally, and he of course was named First Team All-SWAC. His ability to dominate in all phases of the game is apparent, and he’s a true 3-down linebacker. From stopping the run, to rushing the passer and dropping back into coverage, he’s proven his skills all over the field. The Mizzou transfer really came into his own in Jackson State’s defense, and on this stage has hopefully propelled himself into the pros.
Untareo Johnson – Bethune-Cookman
The 6’1″ 240 pound linebacker played two seasons at Last Chance U in EMCC, before transferring to Bethune-Cookman. There, he made a big impression. Wildcats head coach Terry Sims has praised his leadership and football IQ as assets at the next level, and he has the production to match. With 101 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3 passes defensed, he earned First Team All-SWAC honors this year, and strikes me as a classic mike. He’s got the build to hold down the middle, and with a sharp football mind could be a field general as an XFL defense’s playcaller.
Noah Rainbow-Douglas – North Carolina Central
The Eagles linebacker made headlines this season after a huge performace vs Norfolk State in which le logged 15 tackles, 2.5 for loss, a sack and a pass defense. After absolutely wrecking havoc that game, he was the MEAC Defensive Player of the week, and was First Team All-MEAC this year. After leading the team in tackles, he is flying a bit under the radar in terms of the HBCU combine and Legacy Bowl, but would be a good addition to any linebacking corps in the XFL.
N’Ktavious Floyd – Miles
The Golden Bears standout is build like a dimebacker, and has production against the run, pass and as a rusher. With 55 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 3 sacks and 2 breakups this season, he earned a Second Team All-SIAC nod, and he has produced in all 3 phases throughout his career as a 4 year starter at Miles. In the modern age of football requiring more nimble linebacker/safety hybrids who can push it up in the box as well as drop back and keep up with tight ends and wideouts, Floyd could find himself a great role as a 3 down player.
Wesley Bowers – Bowie State
Jerry Garner – Mississippi Valley State
Devon Hunt – Shaw
The Defensive Backs
Markquese Bell – Florida A&M
With the advent of game breaking tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Donald Parham, I’ve long held the belief that pro defenses need to scout a new prototype of defender who stands taller than the typical defensive backs who hover around 6 feet, but is faster and lighter on their feet than a linebacker. Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Steve Atwater types with the length to hang in there with 6’6″ tight ends are going to become increasingly valuable in football, and Bell could be next in line.
At 6’3″ 205 he has all the length and speed he needs to fill a role like this, as tight ends and even wideouts keep getting bigger. Just this season, he had an astounding 95 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, an interception, and 5 forced fumbles. As a defensive back. Clearly he can hang down in the box, but can make plays in coverage as well. I’d love for my Broncos to end up with him because I’m tired of the AFC West TE’s terrorizing us over the middle, but if the XFL can get him, they should jump at the chance.
Decobie Durant – South Carolina State
Durant led the Bulldogs’ championship secondary with 12 pass breakups, and also had 3 picks and a sack on the year. His lockdown abilities were on full display in the 2021 season, and it’s little surprise he was a First Team All-MEAC pick. The 4 year starter had 12 interceptions in his time in SC State, and good young defensive backs are always in need. As the top corner in such a high-profile defense that held Jackson State to just 10 points in the Celebration Bowl, Durant is a highly attractive prospect.
Zafir Kelly – South Carolina State
Kelly was also a longtime starter at corner with SC State, and he was a rocksteady option on the boundary for 5 years there. With 8 career interceptions, his ballhawking abilities are proven, and at 6’1″ has the length pro defenses love to put outside. He could fill out his 170 pound frame, but that’s a natural growth for any young defensive back, and Kelly is as good a CB prospect as you’ll find. An All-MEAC First Teamer last year, we’ll get to see more in the HBCU Legacy Bowl on the 22nd.
Drake Cheatum – Prairie View A&M
Drake Cheatum is an old school corners who isn’t afraid to stick his nose in there and make stops, while providing playmaking abilities in coverage. He’s got 217 tackles, and even led the team in that category last year, and made 9 picks and 14 breakups vs the pass in his career. The combination of coverage skills and grit versus the run makes him shine as a pro-ready prospect who could come in and contribute right away.
Will Adams – Virginia State
Adams has all the tools you look for in a defensive back. The 4 year starter was called “explosive” by NFL alumni Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at the HBCU Combine last month, and with his athleticism and 6’3″ frame, he’s another example of the long DB that teams need around to lock down tight ends. With 122 tackles, 5.5 for loss and 5 picks on his resume in 4 years with the Trojans, Will Adams is another quality option to come into a defense and play that big nickel, or strong safety role to bring some size and athleticism to a secondary, and he’ll be in the Legacy Bowl coming up.
Zach Anderson – Fort Valley State
Antwan Collier – Florida A&M
Elvin De La Rosa – Fayetteville State
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