The 2016 season is days away from kicking off, and there are several lists and rankings floating about — making some fan bases happy while pissing off others.

I, a sucker for a good preseason list myself, wanted to do something different. Instead of making a preseason Top 25 of teams or listing some games, I opted to look at the playmakers instead.

Below is a somewhat objective/somewhat subjective ranking of the best players in Division I HBCU football —— the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Southwestern Athletic Conference and Tennessee State. It is a simple criteria, looking at individual stats and a player’s importance to a team.

So enough with the talking! Here’s how the list shakes out: 

  1. Tarik Cohen; senior; RB; 5-6, 173; North Carolina A&T

What did he do in 2015: Sixth in FCS in rushing (1,543 yards), also tops in MEAC and among D-I HBCU running backs; most rushing TDs in MEAC and among D-I HBCU running backs (15); two-time defending MEAC offensive player of the year; Aggies’ all-time career leading rusher (4,031); needs 629 to become MEAC’s all-time career rushing leader

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Consensus preseason FCS All-America is a shifty runner with home-run speed, making minced meat out of the MEAC in his three years in Greensboro. One of two D-I HBCU players on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Award Watch List.

cohen

  1. Lenard Tillery; r-senior; RB; 5-10; 210; Southern

What did he do in 2015: 16th in in FCS rushing (1,192 yards), leading the SWAC in rushing; only Cohen had more yards and rushing TDs; Jaguars’ all-time career rushing leader (3,172); needs 878 to become SWAC’s all-time career rushing leader

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Preseason FCS All-America is this season’s SWAC preseason offensive player of the year. Simply put, he is the engine that makes Southern’s offense go. The second of two D-I HBCU players on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Award Watch List.

Tillery-SU

  1. Derrick Griffin; r-sophomore; WR; 6-7, 230; Texas Southern

What did he do in 2015: Caught 36 passes for 709 yards and 11 touchdowns; SWAC men’s basketball player of the year and Associated Press men’s basketball honorable mention All-America

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: HBCU football’s biggest matchup problem on the outside just might be playing his final fall football for free. Big, athletic body the pros love, and the best athlete in HBCU athletics at the moment. Put up those numbers as TSU was very inconsistent at the QB position in 2015.

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  1. Kourtney Berry; r-senior; LB; 6-0; 215; Alabama State

What did he do in 2015: Fourth in FCS in total tackles (130), also tops in SWAC; led SWAC in tackles each of his previous three seasons; 2015 SWAC defensive player of the year

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Preseason FCS All-America is everywhere on the field, and arguably HBCU football’s best defender. One of four D-I HBCU players on the STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year Award Watch List.

berry

  1. Javancy Jones; senior; DL; 6-2, 230; Jackson State

What did he do in 2015: Led SWAC in tackles for loss (24.5); second in SWAC in sacks (nine); fifth in SWAC in total tackles (91).

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Preseason FCS All-America is SWAC’s elite pass rusher, but Berry gets top billing for SWAC’s top defender. One of four D-I HBCU players on the STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year Award Watch List.

  1. Darius Leonard; junior; LB; 6-3; 200; South Carolina State

What did he do in 2015: Made 70 total tackles, five sacks, 13.5 TFLs and two INTs (one returned for TD)

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: The preseason FCS All-America is 2016 preseason MEAC defensive player of the year. Flourished playing alongside now-departed Javon Hargrave and Reggie Owens. One of four D-I HBCU players on the STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year Award Watch List.

  1. Brandon Parker; r-junior; OL; 6-7, 279; North Carolina A&T

What did he do in 2015: Anchored an NCAT o-line that paved the way for the MEAC’s top rushing offense (193.8 yards/game) and second-highest scoring offense (30.9 points/game).

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: The preseason FCS All-America is the anchor of one of HBCU football’s top o-lines.

  1. Willie Quinn; senior; WR/KR; 5-5, 150; Southern

What did he do in 2015: Caught 49 passes for 587 yards and three touchdowns; Sixth in FCS and led D-I HBCUs in kickoff return average (28.8 yards/return); led FCS in kickoff return TDs (4); scored five total return TDs; tied with Hampton’s Jerome Mathis for FCS career-high mark with six kickoff return TDs; nine career TD returns are two off from tying FAMU’s LeRoy Vann for most career return TDs

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Outside of Cohen, Quinn is the most exciting player in D-I HBCU football and probably all of FCS. The preseason All-America waiting to happen forces opposing teams to kick differently to avoid giving him the chance to take it to the house.

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  1. Javarius Leamon; r-senior; OL; 6-7, 310; South Carolina State

What did he do in 2015: Anchored a Bulldogs o-line that gave up 10 sacks in 2015, best in MEAC and tied for eighth in FCS

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Preseason All-America, along with NCAT’s Brandon Parker, is in the running for best D-I HBCU offensive lineman.

  1. Ebenezer Ogundeko; junior; DL; 6-3, 255; Tennessee State

What did he do in 2015: Clemson transfer made 52 tackles; 10 TFLs and five sacks, anchoring a Big Blue defense that finished fourth in total defense in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Media covering OVC named Ogundeko, a preseason All-America, the 2016 preseason defensive player of the year. One of four D-I HBCU players on the STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year Award Watch List.

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  1. Martez Carter; junior; RB; 5-8, 175; Grambling State

What did he do in 2015: Finished 19th in FCS in all-purpose yards (138.58 yards/game); fifth in SWAC in rushing (876 yards; 9 TDs); two KO TD returns; tied with Lenard Tillery for most touchdowns scored last season (15)

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: The preseason FCS All-America is the next Jonthà Hebert. Could become a breakout star this season as Grambling breaks in a new QB. Most versatile back in SWAC.

Martez_Carter_Grambling

  1. Austin Howard; junior; QB; 6-0, 190; Southern

What did he do in 2015: Threw for 2,292 yards and 16 touchdowns on 172-of-263 passing (65.4 percent); led SWAC and eighth in FCS in passing efficiency (155.6)

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Another SWAC offensive player poised for a breakout season, arguably SWAC’s best quarterback. Coin toss between Howard and Prairie View’s Trey Green for the title of SWAC’s best QB.

  1. Trey Green; r-senior; QB; 6-3, 220; Prairie View A&M

What did he do in 2015: Threw for 2,614 yards and 21 TDs on 181-of-308 passing (58.8 percent); second in SWAC and 14th in FCS in passing yards per game (261.4); 2nd in SWAC and 11th in FCS in passing efficiency (150.6)

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: You can flip a coin between Green and Austin Howard for the SWAC’s top signal-caller. With All-American Swiss Army Knife Jonthà Hebert gone, more of the high-flying Panthers offense falls on Green.

PVvsGram

  1. Twarn Mixon; r-senior; WR; 5-10, 166; Hampton

What did he do in 2015: Led MEAC and Finished 13th in FCS in receiving yards (59 catches; 1,027 yards; 9 TDs) and receiving yards per game (93.4); led MEAC in catches; second Hampton player to have 1,000-yard receiving season

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: The MEAC’s premier receiver is a key cog in a possible Pirates dark-horse run in conference.

Twarn Mixon - Hampton

  1. Lenorris Footman; junior; QB; 6-0, 181; Alcorn State

What did he do in 2015: Fourth in SWAC and 30th in FCS in rushing yards (1,023 yards, 11 TDs); threw for 1,106 yards and 14 TDs on 74-of-170 passing (43.5 percent).

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Alcorn’s chances of a SWAC three-peat rest squarely on the feet and arm of Footman. Dynamic runner, but not the passer like Prairie View’s Trey Green and Southern’s Austin Howard.

  1. Patrick Smith; r-junior; WR; 6-0, 190; Tennessee State

What did he do in 2015: Caught 54 passes for 996 and 10 TDs; racked up 1,121 all-purpose yards; led Ohio Valley Conference and seventh in FCS in receiving yards per game (99.6).

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: The preseason All-OVC pick put up those numbers with two different quarterbacks throwing the ball. Could have huge season if Tigers QB O’Shay Ackerman-Carter stays healthy.

Patrick_Smith-Tenn. State

  1. Dan Williams; senior; WR; 6-3, 200; Jackson State

What did he do in 2015: Caught 54 passes for 802 yards and seven TDs

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: The addition of offensive coordinator Chad Germany could pay dividends for the Tigers, with Williams possibly being one of the biggest beneficiaries.

  1. Dorrel McClain; r-sophomore; RB; 5-10, 190; North Carolina Central

What did he do in 2015: second in MEAC and 34th in FCS in rushing yards (989 yards; 8 TDs)

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Does not have the resume as other backs listed … yet.

  1. Khris Gardin; junior; WR/KR; 5-7, 158; North Carolina A&T

What did he do in 2015: Led FCS in punt return average (23.1 yards/return) and punt returns for touchdowns (three); set FCS record for average PR yards per game (61.7 yards/game); 28 catches, 341 yards and 3 TDs.

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Preseason All-America is excellent chess piece to compliment a dominant defense. Second-scariest returner in HBCU football, but has not been as involved offensively for NCAT as Willie Quinn is as involved with Southern offensively.

  1. Chad Williams, junior; WR; 6-2, 193; Grambling State

What did he do in 2015: Had 64 catches for 1,012 yards and 11 TDs; led SWAC in receptions, receptions per game (5.3); led SWAC and 14th in FCS in receiving yards

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Chad Williams would be higher if 2015 SWAC offensive player of the year Johnathan Williams was returning at QB. Production could be hurt in 2016 as Grambling works a new signal-caller into its offense.

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  1. Greg Hankerson; senior; QB; 6-0, 190; Norfolk State

What did he do in 2015: Florida Atlantic transfer led Spartans in passing (2,052 yards and 13 TDs on 177-of-347 passing) and rushing (423 yards; 3 TDs); fourth in MEAC in passing yards per game (186.5 ypg) and third in total offense (225 ypg).

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: An offensive player gets headlines for Norfolk State the first time in recent years. Could run and throw the Spartans into contention.

  1. Malcolm Bell; r-senior; QB; 6-1, 190; North Carolina Central

What did he do in 2015: Threw for 1,581 yards and eight TDs on 126-of-243 passing; rushed for 509 yards and five TDs; sixth in MEAC in total offense (190 ypg).

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Preseason All-MEAC first-teamer forms a potent one-two punch with RB Dorrel McClain. The Eagles will need both of them if they want to break through in the MEAC.

malcolm_bell_nccu

  1. Herb Walker Jr.; senior; RB; 5-8, 180; Morgan State

What did he do in 2015: Nothing because he was ineligible; but finished 2014 14th in FCS and first MEAC in rushing (1,408 yards; 15 TDs); set single-school rushing yard record

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: How good is Walker? Morgan State went 7-5, won a share of the MEAC title and made it to the FCS playoffs with him in 2014. The Bears went 4-6 without him in 2015. Walker would have been higher on the list if he had played in 2015.

  1. Anthony Mosely; grad school; OL; 6-2, 282; Southern

What did he do in 2015: Anchored a Southern o-line that helped the Jaguars average 420.6 yards/game in total offense (30th in FCS); offense led SWAC and tied with N.C. Central for 11th nationally in sacks allowed (11)

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: Veteran enters his final season at Southern; will have some tweaks now that Chennis Berry is sole offensive coordinator.

  1. Willie Duncan III; sophomore; LB; Arkansas-Pine Bluff

What did he do in 2015: second in SWAC and 17th in FCS in total tackles (118); second-straight 100-plus tackle season

Why he’s ranked where he’s ranked: SWAC’s second-best linebacker, behind Kourtney Berry, and third-best overall defensive player. Play overshadowed by UAPB’s woes.

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Others receiving consideration: Marquis Ragland, DL, North Carolina A&T; Angelo Keyes, DE, North Carolina A&T; Aaron Tiller, DE, Southern; Guy Stallworth, DB, Grambling State; Malik Harris, LB; Delaware State



2 COMMENTS

  1. Not giving guys in trenches enough credit:
    Jessamen Dunker, OL, TSU
    Ebenezer Ogundeko, DL, TSU
    Malik Harris, LB, DSU
    Guy Stallworth, GSU
    Jonah McCutcheon, TU

    too name a few…

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