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Top XFL Prospects in HBCU Football Class of 22′ : The Offense

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In a historic move, Travis Hunter, the top prospect in the Class of 2022 de-committed from Florida State and signed on with Deion Sanders at Jackson State. For what seems like an eternity and probably is, the Power Five Conferences have ruled College Football, but this precedent-shattering signing feels like the crest of a new wave in the football world.

Travis Hunter is a CB/WR prospect with incredible speed and length out of the gate, and with years of learning under Prime Time ahead of him, he’s set himself up for success early in his career. Jackson State (11-1, 1st in SWAC) is in much better shape than Florida States (4-4, 5th in ACC) as it stands, and he’ll be able to soak up as much knowledge as possible under his new Hall of Fame coach.

HBCU football programs have long and proud traditions, with the roots of the Celebration Bowl going back over 100 years. They have seen 27 Hall of Famers come out of their ranks, and none could question the impact of the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference on the game. Jerry Rice. Michael Strahan. Shannon Sharpe. Deacon Jones. Walter Payton. Legendary names, legendary football.

But again, snatching the no. 1 recruit away from a huge FBS program seems like a tectonic shift, and Sanders has added a strong class already on signing day. The Rock himself, like many in the football world, took notice.

After South Carolina State’s 31-10 victory over Jackson State in the Celebration Bowl, and ahead of the HBCU Legacy Bowl on Febuary 19th, let’s take a look at some of the top players from the MEAC, SWAC and D2/NAIA with bright future in football. With the upcoming combines, more names are sure to emerge.

Scouting for the XFL’s 2023 season will begin soon, with camps and combines coming up in the next year. This is all going to start happening a lot faster than we might expect.

The Quarterbacks

QB Aqeel Glass – Alabama A&M

Universally regarded as the top QB prospect in this talent pool, Glass has built a fantastic resume in 5 campaigns with the Bulldogs. The 2021 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year would be a fantastic get for the rejuvenating XFL, but there is the possibility that he moves up the rankings in the NFL Draft process this spring. A prototypical pocket passer with excellent vision, decision making and pocket presence, he has the tools, size and football IQ to excel at the next level. The thing that stands out the most on film is his ball placement, touch and poise.

With the Bulldogs, he improved every year as a starter in terms of passing efficiency, and finished his career with 12,136 Pass Yards, 109 TD’s to 41 interceptions. He put up some seriously dominant performances, most notably a 7TD smackdown against Jackson State this past spring.

Though he’s not a running quarterback (-187 Career Rush Yards, 4 TD), he does have mobility in and around the pocket, and most importantly is willing to stand tall and let it rip with pressure in his face. Any XFL team would be incredibly fortunate to have Glass in their QB room, and the young field general has everything he needs to make it happen in this league.

QB Juwan Carter – Norfolk State

Carter is as complete a prospect as you’d hope to find. The 4 year starter protects the football, has a live arm and great mobility in the pocket, as well as downfield. He makes some eye-popping throws, and is as comfortable inside the pocket as he is extending plays, in the vein of modern quarterbacks who can run, much like XFL MVP PJ Walker.

While he certainly has the ability to make plays with his feet (977 Career Rush Yards, 16 TD), what’s truly impressive about his college career is his improvement in the passing game over the years. While he started off with a solid 2017 campaign as a freshman, there was a slight regression statistically in 2018, when he threw more picks (14) than touchdowns (13) for the first and only time in his career. In the following two years, he rallied back, tossing 23 TD’s and 8 picks in 2019, and 20 TD’s with just 5 picks in 2021.

This development as a young QB is crucial, and him improving decision making and ball placement on a dime shows high potential as a passer in the pros. I think he would do very well in the fast-paced brand of football we saw in 2020, and hope to see again in 2023.

QB Felix Harper – Alcorn State

Felix “Triggerman” Harper is dynamic playmaker in every sense of both words. The 2019 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year is another QB prospect who can seemingly do it all. He throws a beautiful deep ball, is good at misdirecting defenses with his eyes and hips, and is nimble on his feet. Watching him play is just fun, but he puts up serious production. Especially in that 2019 campaign when he put up 2954 Pass Yards, 33 TD’s, just 9 INT’s, as well as 169 Yards and another 6 scores on the ground. Harper led the Braves to a celebration bowl appearance that year, and had a solid outing in two years as a starter.

Watching his tape, what really stands out is his control of the offense, and the fact that he honed in his end zone fade game by his Junior season, in his first year starting is impressive. Ball placement is excellent on touch passes, short-intermediate throws and deep bombs, and while he could use more game experience after Covid gave him only two seasons as a starter, Harper is a quality QB prospect with a high ceiling.

QB Jawon Pass – Prairie View

Pass was named to the 2022 HBCU Legacy Bowl roster after transferring from Louisville. Originally tabbed as the heir apparent to Lamar Jackson, his progression in his second year as a starter was halted by a foot injury, and the Cardinals moved forward with Malik Cunningham under center.

Pass transferred to Prairie View, where he led the Panthers to a 7-5 record, and posted his best full season as a starter as a Graduate. When watching his game, one thing leaps off the screen.

Jawon Pass can sling it. Not only does he have the best name for a quarterback since Willie Thrower, his arm talent is absolutely off the charts. He can uncork eye-popping throws with ease, and could have the best raw arm in the class. A classic dropback passer, he does need more time to develop after just 2 full seasons as a starter at the college level. There are times on tape where you can tell he’s easing up too much on short passes, and ball placement could use some work. He has struggled with turnovers as well, but did progress throughout his time in college. When he was being recruited by Alabama, Nick Saban himself lauded his work ethic and football mind, so with some time to learn under the right coach, he could develop as a pro and put it all together as the XFL’s next big gunslinger.

QB Ja’rome Johnson – Bowie State

Someone call the feds, I’m high on Ja’rome Johnson. The two-year starter out of Bowie State had an incredible run after transferring from UVA-Wise, and was absolutely dominant in the CIAA as he took the Bulldogs to back to back conference titles. He took them to the first round of the DII National Championships his first year, and the Semi-Finals this season, all while showing promising development as a QB.

At UVA-Wise it was clear even as QB2 that Johnson was talented. In two seasons of limited action he posted 888 passing yards, 8 TD’s, 7 picks and 575 rush yards with 5 more TD’s on the ground. His high ceiling as a passer is apparent, and production as a runner is another asset in his toolkit. After transferring to Bowie State, he immediately cemented himself as a starter, and picked up where he left off. His first campaign in black and gold saw him win CIAA Offensive Player of the Year, after he carved up defenses for 1860/22/9 (Yards/TD/INT), with a whopping 996 Yards and 12 TD’s on the ground.

Just this past year he put up another great campaign, going 10-0 while throwing for 2223/24/8 (Yards/TD/INT) and 454 Yards and 8 TD’s rushing. His passing efficiency and production improved, and he still showed that he is a dangerous threat on the ground. Mobility-wise he is quick when ducking outside the pocket and making plays on the run, while his rushing skills are deadly. He makes people miss with deceptively fluid speed, and is easily my favorite runner in this group.

As a passer, Johnson has a natural release, steps up well in the pocket, has the patience to let the play develop, and the ball comes out beautifully on deep throws. This play at 3:07 in his 5TD beatdown of Virginia Union reminds me so much of what PJ Walker did for Houston in 2020, and I’d love to see this guy in the XFL.

Honorable Mentions

QB K’Hari Layne – Fayetteville State

QB Geremy Hickbottom – Tennessee State

QB Michael Huntley – Lane

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Matt Nagashima has been covering the XFL since before the 2019 Draft, and has witnessed history being made as a Credentialed Reporter for the Dallas Renegades. While he is engrossed with the X's and O's, the roster building and more, it has always been his goal to keep the players first in mind in coverage, showing the human aspect of this sport behind all the action on the field. With Dany Garcia and Dwayne The Rock Johnson now at the helm, he's excited to see all the opportunities that this league will create for players to showcase their talent and make their dreams come true.

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