The 2023 NFL Draft is deep in terms of small-school sleepers, and several of them come from the HBCU ranks.
Especially over the last few years, I’ve really enjoyed watching HBCU tape to try and find some diamonds in the rough. Those schools have produced some quality talents at the NFL level, both historically and in recent seasons. Most recently, closely monitoring HBCU prospects introduced me to James Houston, who came from Jackson State and exploded for 8 sacks in 7 games in 2022.
This year has me looking for the next star player to rise from the HBCU level, whether it be from an FCS school or otherwise. Here are some of the prospects I’ve come to take note of in my preparations for the 2023 draft.
Isaiah Land, EDGE/LB, Florida A&M
Land is an athletic defender with fantastic bend as a pass rusher off the edge and tremendous collegiate production. He played some off-ball linebacker at the Senior Bowl and looked very comfortable there, but even with a smaller frame, he’s a dangerous rusher who can get into opposing backfields.
Mark Evans II, OL, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Evans didn’t test up to my expectations, because his tape showcases some really good game speed. His body control moving laterally is impressive, his footwork in pass protection is encouraging, and he blocks well on the move. He played tackle in college, but I like him more as a guard in the NFL.
Aubrey Miller Jr., LB, Jackson State
A tackling machine who started his collegiate career at Missouri before moving to Jackson State, Miller is a sound technician with solid instincts, good form as a tackler and the awareness needed to position himself properly in zone coverage. He’s someone I think could put up big-time tackling numbers as a late-round pick.
Joshua Pryor, EDGE, Bowie State
Versatility and pass-rushing production is the name of the game for Pryor, who tallied 32 sacks during his time at Bowie State. He quickly established himself as one of the top HBCU defenders in the nation early in his career, and his ability to handle blocks inside and outside gives him some fun alignment flexibility.
De’Jahn Warren, CB, Jackson State
Warren was the top JUCO cornerback in his class and decided to join then-head coach Deion Sanders at Jackson State. He’s a lanky cornerback with loose hips and good deep speed, and his length allows him to make plays on the ball with a larger catch radius.
Jadakis Bonds, WR, Hampton
As a 6-foot-3 wide receiver with arm length for days, it’s no surprise Bonds excels best on the jump ball. He has strong hands, a well-built frame and very good ball skills, and for a guy his size, he has some solid vertical speed. He’s raw as a route runner but offers the size and physicality to crack a roster.
Dallas Daniels, WR, Jackson State
Daniels is a bit smaller at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, but he’s a shifty athlete with very good deep speed and a solid understanding of how to attack leverage points through his stems. He won’t wow anyone with physicality but has the athletic tools to earn a shot at the NFL level.
Xavier Smith, WR, Florida A&M
A 5-foot-9, 174-pound ball of electricity, Smith is, from a tape perspective, the fastest HBCU receiver I’ve watched this year. His acceleration off the line of scrimmage and elusiveness after the catch allow him to make big plays that other receivers aren’t capable of making. He’s a slot-only weapon who struggles with physicality but should be firmly on NFL radars.
Shaq Davis, WR, South Carolina State
Davis is a mammoth of a receiver at 6-foot-5 and 217 pounds, and he plays every bit of his size. Whereas the prior two receivers win with speed and quickness — which are admittedly weaknesses of his game — Davis has the sheer size and strength needed to pluck passes out of the air. His red-zone value should see him battle for a roster spot.
Andrew Farmer, EDGE, Lane
Quickness and a stout frame intrigue me the most about Farmer, who got invited to the Hula Bowl and turned many heads at the HBCU Legacy Bowl. He has a nice first step off the line of scrimmage and has a powerful lower half that should aid him at the next level.
Kemari Averett, TE, Bethune-Cookman
The path to the NFL has been interesting for Averett, who started off his collegiate career at Louisville. However, given his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame, ball skills in contested situations and impressive speed for his size, it seems likely he’ll end up with a team in one form or another.
Dante Beard, WR/TE, Johnson C. Smith
A deep sleeper in the 2023 class, Beard is a wide receiver-tight end hybrid who has experience in both alignments. He has a muscular build with strong hands, and if he moves to tight end full-time in the pros, he’ll have solid athleticism for the position.
Lawrence Asiedu, CB, Grambling State
Asiedu is a quick-footed defensive back who started off playing soccer growing up in Ghana who quickly took to football. His athleticism should make him an enticing sleeper prospect for teams looking for a quality athlete to mold.
Ammari Sylla, S, Virginia-Lynchburg
Sylla has some intriguing tools to his skill set as a high-motored safety with good range in coverage and a willing edge in run support. He brings value in two-high shells but could play in the box or cover underneath well if need be.