Going into this off-season of HBCU football, most fans believed that several HBCU players could find success in the NFL. NFL scouts shared those beliefs and invited four draft-eligible HBCU players to this year's NFL Combine: Florida A&M Safety Markquese Bell, South Carolina State Cornerback Decobie Durant, Southern University Offensive Lineman Ja’Tyre Carter, and Fayetteville State Cornerback Joshua Williams. All four participated in post-season All-Star games with Durant playing in the East-West Shrine Bowl, Bell playing in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, and both Williams and Carter playing in the Reese's Senior Bowl. Each player had highlight moments in either the game or the week of practice and cemented the thought that they could compete at the highest level. The next step in their pre-draft journey was to perform well at the NFL Combine, and they did not disappoint.
South Carolina State’s Decobie Durant ran a blistering 4.38 official time in the 40-yard dash at the combine. His time tied him with Penn State’s Tariq Castro-Fields and Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt for the 5th fastest time amongst cornerbacks invited to the NFL Combine. Durant was also the fastest nickle cornerback in this year's draft class, according to Shrine Bowl Player Personnel staff Eric Galko. According to Next Gen Stats, Durant graded out with an Athleticism Score of 83 making him the 5th most athletic cornerback amongst this class.
Durant has previously earned high praise from Jackson State’s coach Deion Sanders as a guy that “could play on Sundays”.
Coach Sanders in the past was frequently the NFL Network on-field specialist for previous NFL Combine events and is a well-respected talent evaluator in the league. A sentiment like the one he shared after the Bulldogs defender won Defensive MVP in the Celebration Bowl, combined with a great showing at the NFL Combine, could truly help Durant’s Draft status.
Florida A&M’s Markquese Bell did a lot at the NFL Combine to improve his draft stock. Bell, a 6’3 and 205lbs, ran a blazing official 4.41, 40-yard dash at the combine, making him the 7th-fastest Safety in this year's draft class and significantly faster than the draft's top-rated Safety, Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton (Official 4.59, 40 yd Dash). Bell was also 6th in the vertical jump with a jump measurement of 36.50”. Bell had an overall impressive day. Bell may take his pro day to improve on his 20 yd shuttle, a category in which he ranked last in amongst safeties that decided to test this year. Neither Bell nor Durant have a recorded bench press, so we may see both use their pro days to erase any doubt about their strength. However, if you go to the tape on Bell you can see that he is a willing and capable tackler. Bell is a very intriguing prospect, who shined during the regular season. Bell was one of the only bright spots against Southeastern Louisiana in the post-season, was impressive at the NFLPA Bowl, and who had an incredible showing at the NFL combine. With Bell's height, weight, times, and tape, if his name is not called this April, most will consider it an injustice.
Southern University Ja’Tyre Carter used his Senior Bowl week to generate a lot of buzz heading into the NFL Combine. In Senior Bowl practices, he displayed quickness, strength, and the ability to “stone-wall” some of this year's top defensive linemen. At the NFL Combine, Carter finished 22nd amongst this year’s class of offensive linemen, with a 5.13 official time in the 40-yard dash. His time ranked 7th amongst Guards at the NFL Combine, ahead of Georgia’s Justin Shaffer and Lecitus Smith of Virginia Tech. Carter put his explosiveness on display with a 9’0 broad jump. This mark left him tied with one of the draft‘s top offensive lineman Ickey Ekwonu of N.C. State. For comparison, at the HBCU combine Running Back Kingston Davis recorded a broad jump of 9‘2, and Carter’s teammate for Southern University Quarterback Ladarius Skelton posted a board jump of 9’3. Carter finished 8th amongst guards in the category. Similar to Bell, The 20-yard shuttle may be an area for Carter to improve on at his pro day as he did not rank in the top 10 in his position in that event. Overall, Carter had a day that should help to improve his stock heading into the NFL Draft.
Fayetteville State Cornerback Joshua Williams had an impressive day in on-field cornerback drills, drawing raves from NFL Network's Draft Expert Daniel Jeremiah. Jeremiah said that amongst the draft's big cornerbacks Williams "moved as well as any of them", complimenting his uncommon fluidity for a larger cornerback. At nearly 6'3, Williams is one of the taller cornerbacks in this year's draft. Williams did have a few drops on the day and seemed to struggle with consistency in the catching portion of drills. However, Williams made an incredible effort to angle his body and bring in a deep ball in the backpedal and turn drill, displaying his range. The effort drew praise from Rich Eisen, who exclaimed " Oh, Nice Grab", as Williams stretched out his long frame to bring in the catch. The average 40-yard dash time for defensive backs 6'2 or taller at the 2022 NFL Combine was 4.46 (16 players). At an official time of 4.53 in the 40-yard dash and an official height listing of 6'3, Williams' time should not hurt his draft stock. Notably, Williams recorded a faster 40-yard dash time than the highly regarded 6'1 cornerback from Cincinnati, Coby Bryant. Williams finished 6th amongst cornerbacks in the broad jump, with a 10'4 measurement. Overall, as one of the tallest cornerbacks in this year's draft class and good showings at both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, Williams may be in line to hear his name called at this year's NFL draft.
This year was an incredibly impressive year for HBCU players at the NFL combine. Every HBCU player selected to compete finished amongst the top players at their positions in at least one drill. It is well-known that last year no HBCU players were drafted in the NFL Draft. Some believe this was mainly due to the impact of COVID-19 protocols, which significantly limited pre-draft activities. Based on the crop of HBCU athletes in this year's class, "No HBCU Players Drafted" should not be a headline HBCU fans see this April.