We are coming down the home stretch of the NFL playoffs, which for future pro prospects also means we are beginning preparation for the NFL Draft.
After no HBCU players were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, things changed the following year, with four players finding a home, including two in the fourth round.
This year is loaded with top prospects coming from HBCU programs, with several players making a case for being one of 262 players to hear their name called on draft night.
Let’s take a look at some of the players that have the best odds of being an NFL draft pick.
1. Mark Evans II, OL, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
If there were betting odds on the HBCU player most likely to be the first off the board in the NFL Draft, UAPB offensive lineman Mark Evans II would be the favorite.
Evans had a decorated career with the Golden Lions, being named to four All-SWAC teams and the FCS All-American team, in addition to winning the FCS Offensive Lineman of the Year award.
In 521 snaps during the 2022 season, Evans only surrendered two sacks giving him an overall grade of 93%. He played a huge role in the breakout season of former Golden Lions’ running back Kayvon Britten.
Evans will have a busy offseason as he is set to participate in the HBCU Legacy Bowl, the Reese’s Senior Bowl, the HBCU Combine, and the NFL Combine.
If all goes well for the UAPB big man, it is conceivable that he is taken as early as the third round in this year’s draft.
Not only is he a receiving threat, but he is also not afraid to throw a block or two to open up running lanes for his teammates.
At 6’6 250, there is no question Averett has the size to play in the NFL, and his highlights show he has the talent to be there. Don’t be surprised if he is the first player taken off the board.
4. Aubrey Miller, LB, Jackson State
Speaking of playmakers, Missouri transfer Aubrey Miller played that role to a great degree for a two-time championship Jackson State defense.
This past season, Miller was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year, anchoring a defense that allowed just 11.0 points per game in the regular season and 13.5 for the season.
He finished the season with 117 total tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, six pass breakups, five forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
The greatest aspect of Miller’s game is his motor, always looking to get a stop as long as the ball is in play. He also has great strength and speed that will make him a matchup nightmare for opposing offensive lines.
5. Shaquan Davis, WR, South Carolina State
South Carolina State wide receiver Shaquan Davis is a big game player that has the versatility to play in the slot or do damage outside the numbers.
Davis finished this past season with 29 receptions for 662 yards scoring seven touchdowns, and was named to the All-MEAC First Team.
However, it was one year prior in the Celebration Bowl that Davis put himself on the map. The Bulldogs’ big play receiver recorded five catches for 95 yards scoring three touchdowns leading his team to victory, and was named the game’s offensive MVP.
Davis’ 6’5 frame and elite hands make him a reliable wide receiver that teams should be aware of in the 2023 NFL Draft.
6. Jordan Lewis, DL, Southern
Even though the 2021 spring season was brief, Southern defensive lineman Jordan Lewis packed so much action in that limited time an argument could be made to call him one of the best in a decade.
In just five games, Lewis recorded 15.0 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks on his way to being named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year and winning the Buck Buchanan award.
The Jags defender finished his collegiate career with 38.5 sacks, just 5.5 away from tying for the most all-time.
Lewis has a nose for the ball, is always one step ahead of the defense, and is able to read the play before it happens and make the stop. This playmaking ability will serve him well at the next level.
7. Jadakis Bonds, WR, Hampton
No matter how much changed for Hampton wide receiver Jadakis Bonds in his time with the team, one thing that remained the same was that he was the very definition of a big play waiting to happen any time he stepped on the field.
In four seasons, Bonds recorded 180 receptions averaging 15.2 yards per reception and scoring 34 touchdowns.
He had his breakout season in 2019 when he put up 70 receptions for 943 yards and scored 15 touchdowns (led the conference) in the team’s first year in the Big South.
Bonds ended his college career with another great year compiling 49 receptions for 855 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns, being named to the All-CAA First Team.
Bonds put his 6’4 frame to great use beating opposing defensive backs off the line and hauling in 50/50 balls with great ease. Any team looking to solidify a big-play pass offense with a receiving threat should call the Pirates’ star.
8. Xavier Smith, WR, Florida A&M
Given the circumstances behind Xavier Smith’s in his time as the star wide receiver for Florida A&M, he deserves a lot of credit for the success he had in his college career.
In his four years with the Rattlers, Smith played with four different primary starting quarterbacks and still produced great numbers each season.
He recorded 280 receptions for 3,620 yards and scored 29 touchdowns. Smith was more than just a top receiver in his time at FAMU, as he was a jack of all trades.
The Rattlers’ star recorded an offensive stat in each category, including a rushing touchdown, returned 34 kickoffs and punt returns total for a combined 476 yards, and even had two tackles.
This helps Smith in his pursuit of the NFL as it shows that in any area, a team is willing and able to get the job done no matter where he is placed.
9. Sundiata Anderson, DL, Grambling State
Staying in the SWAC, Grambling State defensive lineman Sundiata Anderson had a statement 2022 season that will serve him very well in terms of his draft stock.
In 10 games, Anderson recorded 50 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, two pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.
He was one of two Grambling State defenders to be named to the All-SWAC Second Team, his second time being named to an all-conference team.
Anderson has great vision and is always able to spot where the ball is and make the stop. He is also great at pursuing the quarterback once he’s out of pocket and is not content with giving up yardage.
However, similar to Isaiah Land, he is on the slim side and could benefit from putting on some extra pounds.
10. Joshua Pryor, DL, Bowie State
Bowie State’s Joshua Pryor has been a huge component of a defense that was among the best in all of Division II football for a time.
In the 2019 season, Bowie State finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history. Pryor made his presence known with 70 total tackles, 25.0 tackles for loss, and 13.0 sacks, being named to the All-CIAA First Team.
He continued to produce at a high level in the 2021 season, recording 73 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, and two fumble recoveries.
For a man listed at 280 pounds, Pryor has a great mix of agility and strength that makes him an incredibly difficult player to stop.
With a great showing in the HBCU Combine or the HBCU Legacy Bowl, the Bulldogs’ top defender could easily see his draft stock rise.
This announcement came after a season in which he was named SIAC Offensive Player of the Year. He led the conference in rushing yards (1,371) and rushing touchdowns (17).
Before his time at Fort Valley State, Wilson was a freshman sensation at Johnson C. Smith. He recorded 1,040 rushing yards and scored 13 touchdowns on his way to being named CIAA Freshman of the Year.
At 6’1 220 pounds, Wilson has the size and speed to be an NFL running back. This is especially true when you compare him to former Virginia State running back Trenton Cannon, who measures 5’11 185 pounds.
12. Isaiah Bolden, CB/KR, Jackson State
Florida State transfer Isaiah Bolden is the only true dual-threat player on this list, as he is a credible threat on defense as a lockdown corner or on special teams as a kick returner.
Bolden started off making an impact on special teams during the 2021 season averaging 36.9 yards on 16 kick returns and scoring two touchdowns. Then, in 2022, he got more opportunities to make a difference on defense, and it paid dividends.
The Tigers star finished with 44 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, seven pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. In each of his two seasons with Jackson State, he was named to the All-SWAC team.
Bolden’s greatest asset is his balance able to run through small holes, remaining upright and staying in stride. Had he gotten more opportunities to get some reps on the defensive end, Bolden would be more of a sure thing regarding his draft stock.
13. Andrew Farmer, DL, Lane
Lane defensive lineman Andrew Farmer made a case for being the top defensive player in all of HBCU football with an incredible performance this past season.
Farmer led all of Division II with 3.1 tackles for loss per game (25.0), adding 6.0 sacks, a forced fumble, and three pass breakups. He was named to the All-SIAC First Team.
This is not a player opposing offensive players want running at them at full speed. He is a big imposing force who is difficult to keep from getting to the backfield.
Slated to play in the HBCU Legacy Bowl and the Hula Bowl; a good showing will do him very well.
14. Ronnie Thomas, LB, Mississippi Valley State
People may discredit Ronnie Thomas because he played for a team that does not exactly have a great history of winning. However, all you have to do is look at his numbers to realize why he is in line for the NFL Draft.
This past season, Thomas led the SWAC in tackles for loss (18.0) and sacks (10.5), in addition to a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and two pass breakups. He was named to the All-SWAC First Team.
When talking about players that are difficult to block, the Delta Devils defender deserves to be mentioned in that discussion.
Thomas has a combination of strength, speed, flexibility, and balance that make him dangerous no matter where he is lined up. It is these qualities that will make him a desirable NFL prospect.
15. KeShaun Moore, DL, Hampton
Hampton defensive lineman KeShaun Moore has been a staple of the Pirates’ defensive unit since joining the team in 2021.
Moore compiled 106 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 13.0 sacks, an interception, three pass deflections, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries in 22 career games.
He was named to the All-Big South Second Team in the 2021 season and the All-CAA Second Team in the 2022 season.
Moore’s greatest asset is his vision, he is always able to spot the ball and identify where he needs to be to make a play. It also helps that he is great with his hands and has good footwork that allows him to get to the backfield.