By Adam Aniba
Football fans will have some added excitement in preparation for the NFL Draft with the premiere of the HBCU Combine with scouts from all 32 teams attending. Over the last two decades, only 26 players from the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) level, particularly from the SWAC have been drafted in the NFL, with only four being selected in rounds 1-2. NFL Hall of Famer and HC of Jackson State University, Deion Sanders had the following to say at his first bowl game presser as a head coach, following the Cricket Celebration Bowl:
"What you gotta understand is, that’s why eyeballs are gone. They’re not here, because of the talent level and the lack thereof of scouting, recruiting and understanding. Now check this out. Between 1960-99, however, 196 players were drafted with 55 of them going into first or second rounds. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
The disappointing fact is, only 12 players from the HBCU level have been drafted over the last 5 years. Of those prospects, Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts was selected #36 overall in the '18 draft and saw immediate success. The S.Carolina State linebacker went on to earn NFL DROA of the year, led the NFL in tackles his first season and earned a Pro Bowl nod.
The HBCU Combine will now officially take place in Mobile, AL Jan 28th-29th in collaboration with the Senior Bowl and the NFL. The previous combine was canceled in 2020 due to COVID restrictions. The combine is an opportunity for HBCU prospects who could potentially be overlooked in the draft process, with more opportunities for face-to-face interviews with NFL teams.
Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Naggy had the following to say about the upcoming combine event:
“Over the years, the Senior Bowl has served as a showcase for some of the top Black college football players in America, including seven of our game’s 56 future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and this event will help many more HBCU players secure further attention and exposure from all 32 teams.”
The event will feature athletes from four HBCU conferences — the CIAA, MEAC, SIAC and SWAC — as well as other HBCU schools. NFL Executive vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent had the following to say about the upcoming HBCU Combine:
“Throughout NFL history, HBCU athletes have exemplified a standard of excellence both on and off the field. The HBCU Combine is part of honoring that legacy and making every effort to accelerate exposure of HBCU draft prospects to all NFL clubs. The game is better when all have the opportunity to compete.”
The event will be similar to the annual NFL Combine held in Indianapolis in many ways. It's an opportunity for teams and scouts to conduct interviews,review medical information and analyze how they adapt to a professional practice atmosphere with on-field drills etc. In this combine primer, we'll spotlight 3 prospects who could hear their name called in this April's NFL Draft.
6'5" 215 lbs | QB | Alabama A&M
Draft Proj. 5th-6th rd
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Career Stats (46 games) *Passing- 1,364/817 12,136 yds 109 tds & 41 ints
2021 (10 games) *Passing- 259/414 3,568 yds 36 tds & 7 ints
The SWAC Offensive Player of the Year is one of the biggest names to get the invite to the HBCU Combine. His TD to INT ratio definitely jumps out, registering single digit interceptions in 3 out of his 5 season at Alabama A&M. Although he has the ability to pick up yards with his legs, make no mistake, Glass is an imposing pocket passer.
After finishing with 12,136 career passing yards, Glass will leave Alabama A&M as the all-time passing leader in school history. He also finished 4th all time
in SWAC history behind Steve McNair, Bruce Eugene and Willie Totten for career passing yards. Glass has a cannon, but the majority of his passes came on screens and short/intermediate reads.
Glass is the big body signal caller that could be a worthwhile, Day 3 developmental QB and will have an ideal opportunity to raise his draft stock with an impressive combine.
6'1" 190 lbs | WR | Alabama A&M
Draft Proj. 6th-7th rd
Hometown: Miramar, FL
Career Stats (26 games) *Receiving- 149 rec 2,344 yards for 22 tds
2021 (10 games ) *Receiving- 77 rec for 1,008 yards for 8 tds 15.0 per rec avg
Glass' top receiving option is the next on the list of prospects to keep an eye on during combine. Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim was named to the First Team ALL SWAC roster, after leading the division in receiving yards (1,008). He was Aqeel Glass' favorite target and his 100.8 yd per game average was a testament to his ability to take over games.
At 6'1" the Alabama A&M receiver offers intriguing size that has the ability to contribute as an outside receiver, but also slide inside when needed. He would finish 2nd in the conference in receptions with 59, 5.4 receptions per game and a 91.3 yds per game average. He was a Jerry Rice Award Finalist (overall stats recognition).
Although Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim will need work on the next level with route tree concepts, his ability to beat press coverage and find weak spots in secondaries make him an intriguing late round prospect. His forty time, shuttle and other agility drills will be an important factor in determining his draft stock.
5'7" 174 lbs | RB/WR/KR | Alabama St Univ
Draft Proj. 6th Rd
Hometown: Lynn Haven, FL
Career Stats (26 games) *Rushing- 149 rec 1,875 yards for 22 tds
*Receiving- 5 rec for 76 yds for 2 tds 15.2 yds avg per rec *KR - 1,403 yds
2021 (10 games ) *Rushing- 100 att 401 yards for 2 tds
*Receiving- 5 rec for 76 yds for 2 tds 15.2 yds avg per rec
As we stay in the state of Alabama, Ezra Gray from Alabama St. University is the type of late round project that could pay big dividends. Although underutilized as an overall offensive weapon, Gray can be dynamic with the ball in his hands.
Gray earned 1st Team All-SWAC at running back, making his mark vs Jackson St. last season, recording 300+ all-purpose yds for 3 tds leading to a 5.2 ypc average for the year. The versatile Gray is at his best, when he sees daylight, rarely getting caught from behind. Costly team holding penalties took back at least 4 long KR/rushing touchdowns for Gray in '21.
Gray enters the NFL Draft as Alabama State's single season leader as a KR, along with having the highest kick return average per season. Gray can be so much more than just a returner though and his ability as a weapon out of the backfield, in the run and receiving game, make him an intriguing late round project.
The HBCU Combine will spotlight prospects that will make an impact on the next level. After the success that Sanders saw with Jackson State this season and landing the top recruit in the nation, more former NFL stars could make the move to the HBCU coaching ranks.
The big money FBS programs and huge television contracts have dramatically affected the college football landscape. Adding the combine will be an opportunity for more scouts to see a large group of draft prospects in one place and that's always a good thing for the NFL.
We'll take a deeper dive into Glass' film, after the HBCU Combine and his potential rise after working with NFL teams.
Fit in Washington
There's little question that Washington will select a quarterback in the upcoming draft. But, after observing the play at QB this season, multiple signal callers could be added. Aqeel Glass fits the mold of a QB Ron Rivera could develop on the active roster or the practice squad. His imposing presence, arm talent and ability to use his legs when needed, will be attractive to teams. As previously mentioned, the majority of his passes were in the short/intermediate passing game. Glass will need to show scouts more touch/accuracy on his long balls during combine drills.
Next Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim will have to show scouts how far he's come with his route tree concepts, along with how fast he can be in agility drills. There is no doubt that Fatai Ibrahim is a playmaker, but he'll have to show that he's fast enough to gain separation on the next level and if he's developed an effective double move which is imperative.
Lastly, Ezra Gray is the prospect that will benefit the most from the combine drills, the forty time, short-shuttle and receiving drills, in particular. A prospect viewed as a tweener can be a good or bad thing. Washington's 2021 returner, Deandre Carter, is a free agent and if he becomes too costly, Gray is a late round prospect that could be considered. Add in the fact that 2021 backup running back J.D. McKissic is also a free agent, and Gray becomes even more appealing.
Washington has shown, over the last few years, that late round selections and even undrafted players can have significant contributions to the team. Former undrafted Southern University (HBCU school) CB Danny Johnson has become a valuable member to JDR's defense and a testament to the investment of the HBCU pipeline that is underutilized.
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