The second annual HBCU Legacy Bowl on Saturday capped off a fantastic week of events leading up to the game in New Orleans, which featured all-star 2023 NFL Draft prospects from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I had the opportunity to experience the proceedings in person leading up to our broadcast of the game on NFL Network, and for the second year in a row, the event’s organizers did a fantastic job of giving the participating players a chance to impress the NFL scouts in attendance.
Before we turn the page, I’m highlighting six prospects who helped themselves — either during the week of practice, in the game or both — along with some players who are deserving of an honorable mention. There were plenty of talented prospects who played well, but in this piece, I’m focusing on guys who consistently performed at a level that should have the attention of NFL scouts.
Joshua Pryor, Edge, Bowie State
NFL scouts went into the week trying to figure out which position will best suit Pryor at the next level. They’ve seen him line up at 3 technique, 5 technique and off the edge during his college career. To me, he probably fits best as an edge rusher who could potentially move inside on passing downs. He did a nice job not only of rushing the passer, but playing the run, as well. His run defense really showed up in the game on Saturday. The name of the game is affecting the quarterback, though, and we know he offers that ability, having posted 32 sacks during his Bowie State career. He entered the week with major buzz, and he played to those high expectations in New Orleans.
Andrew Farmer, Edge, Lane College
Farmer has a thicker build than Pryor, but he also has demonstrated the ability to get upfield and rush the quarterback. He showed a good first step off the snap and heavy hands to control the line of scrimmage. It was a really good week for him, especially during practice. I didn’t see him get blocked very often.
Brandon Barnes-Brown, CB, Fayetteville State
Barnes-Brown used to play opposite Kansas City Chiefs 2022 fourth-round pick Joshua Williams, who started four games for the Super Bowl champions in his rookie year out of Fayetteville State. Clearly, they’re doing something right at the school when it comes to developing cornerbacks. Barnes-Brown has a good build for the position. He has a knack for taking the ball away, with 12 career interceptions. When I see that kind of production, my eyes light up. Guys who are big-time producers in college usually have a chance to do so at the next level, even if they’re not coming from one of the traditional powers in college football. Titans safety Kevin Byard is one such example. He picked off 19 passes during his career at Middle Tennessee State, and now he’s a two-time All-Pro with 27 career picks in the NFL.
Xavier Smith, WR, Florida A&M
Of all the participants, I think Smith left New Orleans having done the most to raise his draft stock. I heard buzz about him timing in the 4.3s in the 40-yard dash at the HBCU Combine on Feb. 20. However, I also talked to a couple people who didn’t have quite as good a time for him. Everyone has their own stopwatch, but he certainly looked like a 4.3 guy during the game. He did it all, showing elite route-running ability, hands and awareness. He made catches whether he was wide open or facing tight coverage. He was an easy pick for the Offensive MVP in the game, scoring the contest’s lone touchdown. Smith provides punt return ability, too. I could not have been more impressed. He has everything you’re looking for in a classic NFL slot receiver.
Keenan Isaac, CB, Alabama State
Isaac was steady every day, competing on each snap and using his length to his advantage. He’s a tough player, and he has that big build a lot of NFL teams are looking for at the cornerback position. We know every NFL team will take as many good defensive backs as they can get their hands on. Just look at the Chiefs in last year’s draft. They selected a CB in the first round (Trent McDuffie), a safety in Round 2 (Bryan Cook), another CB in Round 4 (the aforementioned Williams) and yet another CB in the seventh round (Jaylen Watson). Every single one of them contributed in a big way for the Super Bowl champs. Isaac’s college coach, Eddie Robinson Jr., is a defensive-minded guy and he turns his DBs loose to go make plays. There’s a lot to like about Isaac’s experience and potential.
Jason Dumas, DT, Southern
Dumas earned Defensive MVP honors for his play on Saturday, and he challenged the offense every day last week with his leverage and power. His knockback power is pretty sensational, but he’ll show off his agility along the way, too. He’s a lot lighter on his feet than you might expect. In fact, he first caught my eye at the HBCU Combine last Monday. I thought he moved really well. I don’t think he’s a pro defensive tackle because of his stature. He’ll play hard and do all the right things, but you can’t go four quarters against NFL offensive linemen at his dimensions (he checked in below 5-foot-10 and 280 pounds). But let’s say he drops down to about 260 pounds. That would give him fullback size. Can he catch the ball and do those types of things? We’ll find out, but I’d be willing to give him that opportunity to see if he can do it. We’ve certainly seen players make the transition before. Former Patriots fullback James Develin was a defensive lineman at Brown before making the position change in New England. Patrick Ricard played on the defensive line for Maine and now he’s a Pro Bowl fullback for the Ravens. Dumas plays so hard. With his toughness and strength, it’s not difficult for me to envision him as a lead blocker for running backs. I don’t know if he’ll make that transition, but I like his chances based on what I saw from him during the week.
Honorable mention: Alfonzo Graham, RB, Morgan State; Nelson Jordan II, DL, Alabama State; Jordan Lewis, LB, Southern; Camron Peterson, DL, Southern; Isaiah Williams, DL, Delaware State; Emanuel Wilson, RB, Fort Valley State.