Jordan ReedNFL Draft Analyst10 minutes reading
the The 2023 college football season is finally here, and with it, HBCU play begins with the kick-off of the annual MEAC/SWAC Cricket Challenge. Saturday’s game features a rematch of the 2021 Cricket Celebration Bowl, with Jackson State taking on South Carolina State in Atlanta at 7:30 PM ET (ABC/ESPN app).
Over the past decade, the NFL has made a lot of efforts to provide more exposure to HBCU teams and showcase their players around the country. The combination of the HBCU Legacy Bowl and Reese’s Senior Bowl HBCU has become a milestone in the pre-draft calendar for all NFL teams. Only one HBCU player – Patriots linebacker Isaiah Bolden – was drafted in April this year, but we could see more in the 2024 NFL Draft.
After speaking with many coaches, scouts, and residents across the country, I’ve ranked the top 10 HBCU senior prospects who could be selected next year after another good season. I’ve included players at both FCS and Division II ranks but excluded underclassmen and recent transfers who didn’t play for HBCU last season. Here are 10 players to watch in action, including our outstanding midfielder.
HT: 6 ft – 4 | By weight: 250 pounds
Anderson had a solid start to the 2022 season with 50 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles in 10 games, and was voted the SWAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year through 2023. Four of those seven sacks came in the four Recent games, so expectations are high this year.
He is a versatile rusher who generates a lot of pressure on the midfielder and can win in a number of ways, with the flexibility of the body to drop back and turn the corner to get past the barriers. Anderson also has the skill to go low in coverage. And while his playing weight hovered around 240 pounds last season, he is said to be reaching 250 this year.
“His ability to go after the quarterback definitely stood out when I saw him on tape,” said one AFC region scout. “As a fast passer he’s actually a bit like (James) Houston…but he’s bigger, better and more reliable against the run.”
I’ve mostly heard Anderson’s late grades from scouts, and the Residents will have a September 9 game against LSU circled on their calendars as a key game for his draft pick. Grambling hasn’t been selected as a defensive player since defensive end Jason Hatcher (Cowboys, #92 in 2006), but Anderson could be next. Several scouts have mentioned that he needs to improve his running handling, and this can help improve his recruiting status.
HT: 6 ft – 8 | By weight: 365 pounds
Danqua was originally a footballer growing up in Ghana before moving to Canada, which may have helped him with his speed and suddenness. He’s huge at 6-foot-8 and 365 pounds, but Dankwah is also a good mover for his size and is able to match the advanced moves of FCS linebackers.
He primarily played left tackle during his career with the Bison, and seems to be getting better each season. Dankwah only started playing soccer his freshman year of high school, so he’s still working on the pass protection detail, even though his wide frame makes it difficult for defenders to run around. His running block sits above the positive pole in his scouting report, showing physical fitness and the ability to connect and run his feet on contact to get movement in both single and double blocks.
“With those bigger offensive linemen, you always ask, ‘How good are their movements?'” said an AFC scout. “He’s showing good motor skills, but I want to see him in the All-Star Game. That will be a great test for him because nobody in FCS sticks around him that big.”
Dankwah was a key part in helping Howard win a share of the MEAC for the first time since 1993 last season, and another good year could put him in the Conversational Draft. Offensive tackle Marquess Ogden was the last offensive player drafted by the Bisons, when the Jaguars took him in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. Dankwah is getting a mix of late round grades and undrafted at the moment, but the chance to show off his skill set against top-tier racers. Different from competing in the All-Star event could really make him into the Day 3 debate.
3. Willie Drew, CB, Virginia
HT: 6 ft | By weight: 185 pounds
Drew chose to stay in the state after graduating high school and attending James Madison, where he was used as a rotation player and contributor on special teams. But he chose to transfer to Virginia after the 2019 season and quickly established himself as the leader of the Trojans defense. Drew lacked ball production in his senior season, but led the team with five interceptions and 12 passes defensed in the redshirt junior year. Tall and aggressive, he is competitive at the point catch and has a knack for finding the ball in the air.
His motor skills are shown on tape. He has a quick carry vertical and can change directions suddenly with receivers at the second division level. He reportedly ran in 4.4 seconds for an NFL scout in the 40-yard dash last spring. Drew has the height, speed and ball production coveted by small school scouts, but the residents want to see him truly dominate during his final season with the Trojans. With only one Division I opponent (Norfolk State on Sept. 2) on the schedule, the postseason All-Star games will also be a huge determinant of his draft status, which is in the marginal Day 3 or undrafted range right now.
4. Richard Davies, QB, North Carolina Central
HT: 6-ft-2 | By weight: 220 pounds
Richard got his first start during the second game of his freshman season, and hasn’t looked back since that moment. He is a dual threat quarterback who broke program records in 2022 for total offense (3,449 yards) and completions (198) on his way to winning North Carolina Central’s Cricket Celebration Bowl. Richard won the MEAC Region Offensive Player of the Year award, and also recorded career-highs in rushing yards (788), passing touchdowns (25) and rushing scores (15). He has enough arm strength to get the ball to all three levels of the court, and his accuracy is improving; His completion percentage jumped from 58.0% as a sophomore to 63.9% as a junior, setting a new school record for a single season.
“I went there last spring, and the coaches praised his leadership and love of the game,” said an NFC scout. “I still want to see him become more consistent as a passer when driving the ball in the middle areas and over the middle. This year’s UCLA game will tell us a lot about his outlook on taking it to the next level.”
How will Richard respond to a UCLA defense with plenty of pro talent? He’s currently an undrafted free agent at the agent level, but a big day against the Bruins might get scouts paying attention. Tarvaris Jackson was the last HBCU quarterback to be drafted, and the Vikings took him in the second round of the 2006 draft.
HT: 5 ft – 10 | By weight: 200 pounds
A UDFA prospect, Howard began his career at Syracuse, and his skill set translated to Alcorn State’s offense immediately when he transferred in 2022, rushing for 1,270 yards and 12 touchdowns. He scored more than 20 carries in 10 of his 11 games last season, but didn’t get a double-pointer in any of his campaigns.
A bruised runner and natural striker, Howard shows the ability to cut through contact and create extra chances. He has a compact body frame and enough speed in the open field to take out explosive game, but he’s a downhill runner who works primarily with a pistol. The Braves incorporate a mixture of run schemes, but Howard is best done with his gap/strength scheme pulling blockers.
HT: 6 ft | By weight: 185 pounds
Arguably the biggest FCS hack last season, Baker led the Eagles in tackles (61) and interceptions (four). A versatile, hard-hitting safety player who plays from multiple alignments, he has proven he can be counted on to support runs, run down the lane and take good angles on the ball.
His instincts are the best part of his game, as Baker – another UDFA prospect – can analyze plays before they happen. He is a third level defender with vision and attack and creates plenty of spin chances due to his ability to diagnose concepts.
HT: 6 ft | By weight: 210 pounds
Howard, an under-recruited prospect, was Gallup’s only scholarship offer while he was out of high school — but he ended up finishing second in the conference in tackles last season (93).
Gallop is a safer catcher and batsman, primarily playing low and as a slouching defender, so he often finds himself around the ball. He has a lot of pop and had 7.5 tackles for loss in 2022. Gallup is often used as a rushing tackle and can create disruption in the backfield. It doesn’t take long to watch his tape to notice his physical strength, as he can stack, drop, and finish on the perimeter. But it also corners well when descending into a running backing.
The biggest area Scouts would like to see improvement in? ball production. Gallup has no interceptions over three seasons.
HT: 5 ft – 10 | By weight: 180 pounds
Morgan quickly turned into a star during his first year as a starter in 2022, finishing with 42 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. He trusts his eyes and is quick to respond. Morgan diagnoses well in the area but can also step down in the slot to play man against wide receivers and tight ends. Once again expected to play multiple roles in the Rattlers’ back line defense, he should take a bigger step into coverage and become a more consistent forward as an open field tackler. Many scouts believed Morgan could move to the nickel corner in the future.
Two pivotal ties await the season opener: Jackson State (September 3) and South Florida (September 9). Residents will rely heavily on this game bar when showcasing Morgan’s next-level potential.
HT: 6 ft – 5 | By weight: 300 pounds
After attending ASA College straight out of high school, Stewart chose to transfer to West Virginia after playing two seasons for JUCO. He then moved to North Carolina A&T. He only played right tackle for the Aggies and started the first year as a full-time starter.
Stewart’s fast feet and height are his greatest assets, as he makes it difficult for runners to beat him cleanly around the edge. But he’s also a physical blocker, and supports one of the best speed attacks in FCS. He could still improve his reactions to counter movements and hand placement, as Stewart tends to go overboard and let defenders win with moves to his inner shoulder. More balance in passing combinations will be key to his development.
HT: 6 ft – 5 | By weight: 315 pounds
One of the best players in the Division II ranks, Foster was named the CIAA Offensive Lineman of the Year for 2022. The right tackle has ample frame with more room to grow, and as a pass protector, he’s light on his feet for the mirror. Edge dashes match. He also has the length to block out and block rushing pass attempts down the field.
As a run blocker, Foster displays awareness and determination as a finisher while running with his feet on contact. He just needs to get stronger, as he’s having challenges creating consistent movement. Similar to teammate Willie Drew, the evaluators want to see him in the postseason All-Star competition and see how he stands up to different levels of competition.