Former HBCU Stars Decobie Durant and James Houston are paving the way for this year’s HBCU Prospects
At the end of the Celebration Bowl, Deion Sanders said what most people that followed South Carolina State Football in 2021 already knew... "there's a cornerback over there that should be recommended for the NFL, and I believe he should get his shine on". The player he was talking about was South Carolina State cornerback Decobie Durant. Durant left the Celebration Bowl and went on to light up the East-West Shrine Game and the NFL Combine. Durant ran a 4.38 official time at the NFL Combine, which was the fastest time for any nickel cornerback in last year's class. According to Next Gen Stats, Durant graded out with an athleticism score of 83, making him the 5th most athletic cornerback in last year's class. His performance at the NFL combine, his productivity in college against top-level competition, and his performance at the East-West Shrine game led to Durant being selected with the 142 pick in the NFL draft (4th round).
Decobie Durant proved not only to be athletic but a true playmaker. This off-season, Durant made multiple plays in training camp, leading to high praise from his coaches and teammates. One of the most respected and feared cornerbacks in the league Jalen Ramsey, now his teammate with the Los Angeles Rams, said in an interview, "He's a competitor. He's sneaky sneaky super athletic. He's very smart. He wants to soak up a lot of knowledge." It has been reported that Jalen Ramsey is taking Durant under his wing. Coupled with Durant's natural ability and playmaking skills, the mentorship has been paying off this season. Durant has been productive this year.
Over the last five games, Durant has had two interceptions and four pass deflections. Those two interceptions came on Christmas Day as the Rams played the Denver Broncos. Durant has two remarkable interceptions against Russell Wilson. One interception was an acrobatic catch, showing off that previously mentioned elite athleticism, and the other was a "nail in the coffin" play. Durant intercepted the ball on Denver's 15-yard line and raced nearly 85 yards untouched to put the Rams up 50-14.
Decobie Durant is a playmaker and is quickly becoming one of the best examples of why the NFL should draft more players from HBCUs. Last year four players from HBCUs were drafted, a major improvement from 2020, when zero players were drafted into the league. Durant was one of the most feared corners at South Carolina State and in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Quarterbacks in the MEAC knew it was in their best interest to stay away from #14's side of the field. NFL quarterbacks are starting to learn the same thing.
James Houston of Jackson State is another example of a great HBCU player drafted last season. Houston was the second-leading sack artist in all of FCS football last season. Houston's game on Christmas Eve marked the first time in five games that Houston did not have a sack. In his first game action, he had two sacks. In four games, "The Problem", as he was known at Jackson State, has had five sacks. His five sacks are only two sacks behind the number two player selected in the NFL, his teammate Adam Hutchinson. Houston is proving to be an excellent find for the Detroit Lions.
This year there will be a few HBCU players in the draft for NFL teams to consider, including Isaiah Land from Florida A&M, Aubrey Miller of Jackson State, and Southern University's Jordan Lewis. While last season Houston was the second leading sack artist in all of FCS, the leading sack artist from last season was Isaiah Land. Land is a bit undersized and he had a less productive season this year (7 solo sacks this season vs. 18 solo sacks last season), but he is a dynamic player that NFL teams should give a long look at this off-season. Aubrey Miller led the most feared defense in all of HBCU football this season. Miller has an intimidating physique, speed to defend sideline to sideline, remarkable leadership skills, and elite playmaking ability. Former Mississippi Valley State, now Prarie View A&M running back Caleb Johnson was asked who was the best defensive player he played against last season, and the first person he mentioned was Aubrey Miller. Miller and Land have both accepted invitations to the Reese's Senior Bowl. Southern University defensive star Jordan Lewis started the year on the Senior Bowl watchlist but will be headed to the Black College Football Hall of Fame HBCU Legacy Bowl.