Best Of The Best (Part One)

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: April 11, 2009

NFL Draft PHILADELPHIA— HBCU’s have notoriously been fertile grounds for the National Football League, in fact there is not enough paper in the world to list the numerous players that have made the jump from historically black colleges and universities to excellence in the NFL.

Super Scouts/Architects Bill Nunn (’70s Pittsburgh Steelers) and Lloyd Wells (’60s Kansas Chiefs) were masters of mining “Diamonds in the Rough” at HBCU’s in helping to build Super Bowl winning teams and the pipeline continues today with players like Jacksonville Jaguars LB Justin Durant (Hampton).

This year the talent level at HBCU’s is exemplary and you can expect to hear many HBCU players’ names called at the upcoming 2009 NFL Draft. Today, we look at the offensive side of the ball.

QB: Jacary Atkinson, Tuskegee (6-3, 205, Sr)

A spectacular athletic quarterback who has the size and arm to play in the NFL. The 2008 SIAC MVP and Offensive Player of the year led the conference and was tenth in Division II Football in passing efficiency (163.2). Led the conference in passing average per game (244.4), passing yards (2,444), passing touchdowns (23) and total offense averaging 316.6 yards per game. Atkinson was named Offensive Player of the week six times in 2008 and became the first player to win consecutive Offensive Player of the Year and MVP honors in the modern era of the SIAC. Led the Golden Tigers to their second straight SIAC championship and the Division II playoffs finishing the year 10-1. Finished his college career with a 22-1 record as a starting quarterback. Recently at his Pro Day, Atkinson ran a 4.6 forty and looked smooth throwing the football in drills.

QB: Bobby Reid, Texas Southern (6-4, 225, Sr)

A tall, smart, athletic, and leadership type quarterback, who had an excellent experience in his one year of HBCU football. After putting some tough times behind him at Oklahoma State behind him — I won’t even go there repeating head coach Mike Gundy’s misleading quote – Reid excelled at Texas Southern in 2008 playing as a 5th year senior. The former Houston high school legend (compared to Vince Young) had decent passing numbers — 148-261, 1791 yards, 12 TDs, and 6 INT’s — with an additional 227 yards and 9 TDs rushing as he led TSU back from a winless season in ’07. I firmly believe if Reid was never sidetracked from the nonsense that went on at Oklahoma State that he would have been mentioned with quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman at the top of the 2009 draft class. Will need to show that his knee is totally healthy after postseason surgery.

RB: Javarris Williams, Tennessee State (5-11, 215, Sr)

A solidly built tough runner with good speed and lower body strength. Williams was the OVC Offensive player of the year for 2008 and he is known for his initiating contact with defenders. He finished with a league best 103.7 yards per game with 1,037 yards in 10 games and 15 touchdowns. Finished his TSU career as the All-time rushing TD leader (42) and is now second on the All-time rushing list with 4,329 yards. Williams had six 100+ yard rushing games this season and twenty such games in his career. Rushed for 1,000 yards three consecutive years at TSU. Selected Most Valuable Player at the East-West Shrine Game and participated in the 2009 NFL Combine.

OL: Cornelius Lewis, Tennessee State (6-5, 310, Sr)

This former transfer from Florida State was selected second team for the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC). Has a great size, a strong initial punch, arm extension, and footwork, which will allow him to succeed as a guard or tackle in the NFL. Lewis is an exceptional run blocker and is a true road grader. Though a mauler in the trenches, Lewis is fast enough to do well on pulling plays (5.19 in the forty). Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game and he also participated in the 2009 NFL Combine. Could be a rookie starter in the mold of small-school prospect turned solid pro New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans.

OL: Cecil Newton, Tennessee State (6’1, 300, Sr.)

This All Ohio Valley Conference first teamer partnered with Cornelius Lewis to lead the way for running back Javarris Williams. Newton is a strong center who plays with a solid anchor, explosion, and balance. A very smart player that will be able to pick-up any offensive system and might fit well in a zone blocking scheme in the NFL. Was not invited to the combine, but Newton is right up there with bigger school pivots and should get a look on the second day of the NFL Draft.

WR: Justin Brown, Hampton (6-2, 200, Sr.)<

A junior college transfer with good size, long arms, and quickness. Brown is a tall move-the-chains receiver with solid hands. Though the former Hampton star does not have top-level speed (timed at 4.56 in the forty), Brown led the MEAC in receiving yards (887), averaging 80.6 per game. The first team All MEAC player finished second in the conference in catches per game with a 5.1 average.

WR: Raytron Mayfield, Langston (6-1, 205, Sr.)

A Division II jack-of-all-trades, who reminds me of Hines Ward coming out of college. This former high school running back had 799 yards receiving on 59 catches with nine touchdowns and 165 yards rushing with three touchdowns plus he threw for 77 yards and one touchdown. Mayfield running hard after the catch and has reliable hands. Led his team in scoring with 76 points and was selected First-Team All-CSFL (Central States Football League Conference). Guided the Lions to the NAIA National Playoffs second round and an 11-2 record.

WR/PR: Jeremy Gilchrist, Hampton (5-10, 174, Sr.)

A smart receiver/return man that combines solid speed with good vision. A 2008 ALL-MEAC second team receiver, who will probably make his mark in the NFL as a specials teams players and returner. Gilchrist came to Hampton after transferring from Virginia Tech and earned All-Conference honors as a receiver and kick returner in ’07. In his breakout junior season, Gilchrist amassed over 1,000 yards receiving and led Division 1-AA with an amazing 19 yards per punt return. Though his senior might have not been everything he wanted due to double teams, Gilchrist catch 40 balls for 544 yards and two touchdowns plus he returned 28 punts for 437 yards and three scores. Gilchrist is not a blazer like former Hampton Pro Bowl returner Jerome Mathis, but he has more than adequate speed to take a return to the house. Averaged 15.6 yards per return and had 3 TD’s in ’08.

Others to watch:

QB Carlton Hill, Miles College (6-3, 212, Sr)

QB Lamar Little, Virginia Union (5-10, 190, Sr)

OT Adrian Brown, Delaware State (6-6, 327, Sr)

OL Dennis Conley, Hampton (6-4, 303, Sr.)

WR Raytron Mayfield, Langston (6-1,205, Sr)

TE Octavius Darby, South Carolina State (6-4, 240, Sr).

NEXT: A look at defensive players.