2017 HBCU Spirit of America Bowl observations: Defense dominated

Any NFL scouts who traveled to Virginia Beach for the HBCU Spirit of America Bowl on Jan. 15 looking for a darkhorse quarterback prospect were sadly disappointed.HBCU Spirit of America Bowl

The quarterback play was putrid during the inaugural game, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some participants who could be in an NFL training camp this summer.

There were several NFL prospects who stood out among the FCS, Division II, D-III and NAIA players. With 32 HBCU players on opening day NFL rosters in 2016, scouts may have found a few more last month.

The Brave team’s 14-10 win over the Pride was a sloppy game with several special teams miscues.

North Carolina Central quarterback Malcolm Bell accounted for both Brave touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP, despite running for just 15 yards and going 5 of 16 through the air for 54 yards.

The true standout players were Alabama State offensive tackle Jylan Ware, North Carolina A&T defensive lineman Marquis Ragland, Grambling running back Jestin Kelly, who was the game’s leading rusher with 84 yards on 14 carries, Kentucky State defensive back Raymond Malone, Morgan State DB Deadrick Jones and North Carolina A&T defensive end Angelo Keyes.

OFFENSE

Chris Andrews, QB, Morgan State – A graduate transfer from Wagner, Andrews will likely have to change positions if he wants a career in the NFL. At 6-foot-1, 235, he’s got pretty good size, but never completed more than 48 percent of his passes in any collegiate season. His final year at Morgan State was by far his best season, throwing for 1,366 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions and rushing for 238 yards with two scores.

Tarian Ayres, QB, Virginia State – Ayres threw for 1,343 yards with 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions while rushing for another five scores last season. He’s 6-1, 200 and has some off-field concerns with a 2014 arrest. Ayres has the ability to improvise and make plays with his legs. His arm leaves a lot to be desired with a lack of touch or accuracy, so it’s best if he finds another line of work for his future.

Brandon Barnes, TE, Alabama State – Barnes has great size at 6-5, 256 and good hands. He’s a solid route runner, but was not helped at the HBCU bowl because of poor quarterback play. He still made the most of it, showing flashes of NFL ability. Though he had just 29 career receptions and touchdowns for the Hornets, Barnes has some upside and could be a name to listen for on the third day of the draft.

Malcolm Bell, QB, North Carolina Central – Bell had career highs with 2,431 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, but he also threw 14 interceptions and was sacked 20 times in 12 games. He finished his career with 6,340 passing yards, good for second in school history. Though thin at 6-1, 190, Bell can make plays with his legs and ran in the first touchdown of the HBCU game. He ran for 575 yards and nine scores last season. But he struggled to complete even the simple throws in Virginia Beach and an NFL, or even CFL future, seems like a far-away dream.

Lamont Brown, RB, Morgan State – Brown is a physical north-south runner, but probably does not have an NFL future. Brown missed most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons because of torn ACLs in each knee. He had a promising freshman season with 708 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The 5-10, 200-pound Virginia native bounced back to rush for 455 yards and two scores last season. He has nimble feet, but lacks top speed.

Ronald Butler, QB, Tennessee State – Butler began last season at wide receiver but was moved back to quarterback and had an impressive season with 2,132 passing yards and a career-best 21 touchdowns to nine interceptions. His only reception of the season was a 44-yard touchdown against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Butler led the Ohio Valley Conference with 26 total touchdowns last season, but his professional future, if there is one, won’t be at quarterback.

Alabama A&M

Alabama A&M tight end Jonathan Dorsey

Jonathan Dorsey, TE, Alabama A&M – Dorsey has good hands and size at 6-6, 225 pounds. He’s never really had the benefit of a steady strength and conditioning staff, so with added weight, he had tremendous upside and could create matchup problems. A second-team All-SWAC selection, Dorsey was second among SWAC tight ends with 26 catches for 449 yards and four touchdowns. Before he can be a solid all-around tight end, he needs to add weight, but he has the receiving skills and athleticism to make an NFL roster.

Lance Felder, TE, Lincoln, Pa. – Felder caught only three passes for 38 yards against Division II competition. The 6-foot, 236-pound Brooklyn native doesn’t exactly have the size or productivity that is going to have NFL scouts standing up for him. He had one catch for 19 yards in the HBCU game.

Tevin Garrett, TE, Jackson State – Garrett has great size at 6-4, 250 and stood out as a blocker in the HBCU game, but productivity at the FCS level is an issue. He had just seven catches for 69 yards and a touchdown last season and had just one 4-yard reception over his career prior to his senior year.

Greg Hankerson, QB, Norfolk State – Hankerson threw for 3,770 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions over the last two seasons after transferring from Florida Atlantic. Another undersized QB at 6-0, 190, Hankerson will use his legs to make plays – rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. He didn’t throw it well in Virginia Beach, but did show his athletic ability when scrambling until a fractured ankle ended his night.

Ahmaad Harris, WR, South Carolina State – A grad transfer from UCLA, Harris is small – listed at 5-10, but is probably more like 5-6, and 180 pounds – but quick. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a touchdown reception from Bell raised a red flag for a lack of discipline. He also had just nine career receptions, including only five last season for the Bulldogs. It’s unlikely he has a future as a professional football player.

Averion Hurts, QB, Texas Southern – If Hurts somehow gets a shot with an NFL team, it won’t be at quarterback. He’s undersized, generously listed at 6-feet, 195 pounds (more like 5-10) and completed just 51 percent of his passes last season for 1,857 yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He does have six career rushing touchdowns, but even that won’t be enough to get him in an NFL camp. He was not very good in Virginia Beach, constantly missing receivers and completing just one pass for 6 yards in four attempts.

Kievon Jackson, RB, Langston – Jackson has a quick burst and nice acceleration through the hole. He averaged 7 yards per carry while running for 856 yards and 12 touchdowns with 23 receptions for 302 yards and a score at the NAIA level. He’s compact at 5-10, 190 and runs with patience while doing a nice job of following his blockers.

Terrence Johnson, OL, Lincoln, Pa. – Johnson understands zone-blocking schemes and assignments. But the big 6-3, 344-pound lineman doesn’t move well in space and lacks the athleticism needed for the NFL.

Jestin Kelly, RB, Grambling State – Kelly is a load at 5-11, 240 pounds and runs with power, but he’s also deceptively quick on the edge. He ran for 873 yards and eight touchdowns while leading the Tigers to an 11-1 record and win over N.C. Central in the Celebration Bowl. Kelly does a great job of following his blockers and running behind his pads. At 240 pounds, he rarely gets knocked backward and almost always falls forward.

Kevin Kenton, OL, Tennessee State – Kenton had a rough go of it in Virginia Beach, consistently getting beaten by more athletic defensive linemen. He’s 334 pounds, but also just 6-1 with short arms. He’s a decent run blocker, but would be a liability at the next level in pass protection.

NC A&T

North Carolina A&T receiver Denzel Keyes

Denzel Keyes, WR, North Carolina A&T – Keyes was probably the best receiver in Virginia Beach, but was not able to showcase his abilities because of the poor quarterback play. He was targeted a few times and able to consistently get open, but did not register a catch. At 6-4, 210 pounds, he has ideal size and should have at least one NFL team willing to give him a shot.

Landen Malbrough, WR, Morgan State – Malbrough showed why he had low productivity in college, with just 43 receptions for 615 yards and six touchdowns over the last three seasons. He doesn’t have very good hands. His best game in college came in a 27-14 loss to Norfolk State, when he caught six passes for 75 yards and both Bears touchdowns. But he was plagued by drops in Virginia Beach, catching just one pass for 6 yards.

A.J. McMinn, FB, North Carolina A&T – McMinn is a really good blocker who is tough, physical and extremely strong. He used his big 6-1, 263-pound body to maul defenders. The problem is he’s playing a dying position, so it might be hard for him to find a spot on an NFL roster. While he never had a carry in college, he did catch 11 passes during his career for 104 yards and a touchdown, which does add value to his stock.

Michael Moaga, OG, Kentucky State – Though he was a cog for the Thorobreds up front last season, Moaga struggled big-time in the HBCU game. He did have flashes, including a pancake block of AJ Mundle, but was too inconsistent to believe he could play at the next level. Moaga was embarrassed by Cheyney defensive end Shadeed Cheeseboro when he was moved to left tackle in the fourth quarter.

Collins Moore, WR, Alcorn State – Moore looked out of his depths with a couple of dropped passes and poor routes. He failed to create any separation with his routes and showed a lack of speed. He’s smaller than his listed height of 6-2 at Alcorn, where he played tight end. The former Ole Miss player looked like an unathletic tight end trying to play receiver in Virginia Beach.

Anthony Mosley, OL, Southern – Though undersized at 6-1, 279, Mosley is an impressive inline blocker. He moves his feet and was able to drive defenders off the ball in the HBCU game. It’s tough to project that success at the next level, however. An All-SWAC selection, Mosley probably doesn’t have an NFL future, but might be able to play professionally in Canada or the Arena League.

Montgomery Advertiser

Alabama State tackle Jylan Ware

Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama State – Ware is big at 6-7, 295 pounds, and powerful, and should be in an NFL camp next summer. He’s athletic and technically sound, but could stand to add a few pounds of muscle. While he was able to dominate FCS competition and showed well in the HBCU game, the NFL is a huge step up. Some team could use a late draft pick on him, place him on the practice squad for a year or two and then Ware could develop into a longtime NFL starter.

Kerry Williams, C, Alabama State – Williams has good size at 6-2, 295 for a center and is an excellent run blocker. He seals well and can get to the second level. But with spread offenses and shotgun formations becoming more prevalent, Williams’ inconsistent long snaps are an issue.

Dominique Woods, OL, Morgan State – Woods is only 6 feet tall, but his 334-pound body is impressive as an interior lineman. He primarily played center for the Bears, but has been used at guard. That versatility could bode well for his professional future. A three-year starter, the construction management major has the tools to build an NFL career. It’s just a matter of one team giving him a shot.

Avery Wright, OG, Elizabeth City State – Wright is a solid run blocker, but was inconsistent in pass protection and looked lost at times. At 6-2, 343 pounds, he has good size, but his lack of athleticism is a glaring negative when evaluating Wright as a prospect.

DEFENSE

Bryce Bradley, DB, Virginia State – The 5-10, 195-pound safety had a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown in the HBCU game, thanks to his ability to read the quarterback and a nice break on the ball. You’d like for him to be a little bigger, but he does have a good all-around skillset. It’s just tough to see him suiting up with an NFL team.

Shadeed Cheeseboro, DE, Cheyney – In addition to having the best name in the HBCU game, Cheeseboro was solid throughout and provided constant pressure late. Another converted tight end, Cheeseboro is an outstanding athlete with a nice burst off the snap. He’s only about 6-2 and 230 pounds, so he may fall into that tweener spot where it’ll be tough for NFL teams to define a role for him.

Bryant Frazier, DL, Virginia State – Another player on the small side for his position at 6-1, 276, Frazier had a couple of tackles and a fumble recovery in the HBCU game. Playing defensive tackle for the Trojans, Frazier racked up 14 1/2 sacks last season and had an amazing 24 tackles for loss. He should get drafted in the later rounds, despite his size, after wreaking havoc on Division II opponents.

Justin Hill, DB, Lane College – Hill is a solid tackler with good eye discipline and recognition. He had three interceptions to go with 49 tackles, four for loss, and half a sack last season while even getting some carries in at running back. At 5-10, 193, you’d like for Hill to have a little more length at corner, but smaller guys have made it in the NFL. A lack of top speed, however, with a 40-yard dash time in the low 4.7-second range, will likely prevent his NFL dreams from becoming a reality.

Morgan State

Morgan State defensive back Deadrick Jones

Deadrick Jones, DB, Morgan State – Jones was a defensive and special teams standout in the HBCU bowl. He forced a forced fumble, recovered a muffed punt and blocked a field goal. He has good instincts and athleticism, but also made some dumb mistakes. He drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and doesn’t quite know all of the game’s rules, celebrating a touchdown following his muff recovery – not knowing you can’t advance a muffed punt. He’s also just 5-10 and a very gaunt 173 pounds with short arms. The athleticism is there, and with the right coaching staff that is willing to be patient in developing him, he may have a shot, but it’s unlikely.

Venson Jones, DL, Shaw – Jones is a massive human being at 6-2, 350 and looks like Vince Wilfork in his prime against Division II competition. He was one of the defensive standouts in the HBCU game, despite missing the second half with a pulled hamstring, and should have done enough to get an invite to a camp next summer. You can’t coach size and that’s one thing Jones has plenty of, to go along with strength a good burst off the ball. He does need to use his hands better to avoid stalemates at the line, but if he’s in the middle of a 3-4 defense, he’d be asked to occupy blockers so the linebackers can make plays, and that is something Jones does well.

Jameel Jackson, S, Grambling – Jackson is 6-1, 200 pounds and had four interceptions last season. Small-school guys have to be able to play special teams at the next level and Jackson struggled mightily in that area during the HBCU game.

Keelan Jones, LB, Shaw – The 6-1, 221-pound Kansas City native really had a nice week in Virginia Beach. He was consistently in the backfield during the second half the game and gave a relentless effort with a tenacious pursuit. It was that kind of work ethic that helped him average over 10 tackles per game in college. He’s exactly the type of player coaches love to have and, though he played at a D-II school, could get a camp invite later this year.

Javonte Kelly, LB, Lane College – Kelly is a hard-nosed player with good vision who can find spots in the middle to provide pressure. He’s an excellent blitzer, picking his spots, and makes up for limited athleticism by being a technically sound tackler. While he plays with excellent instincts, he’s 5-10, 276, which is usually too short and too heavy to play middle linebacker in the NFL. He may have to go north to fulfill his professional dreams.

North Carolina A&T

North Carolina A&T defensive end  Angelo Keyes

Angelo Keyes, DE, North Carolina A&T – Keyes was a dominant force in college and showed that again in Virginia Beach. He consistently got excellent penetration – with a TFL, batted pass and sack on consecutive plays in one series – and dominated the HBCU competition. Keyes is a gifted athlete who has speed and excellent hand-eye coordination. Keyes had eight tackles for loss to go with six sacks last season and should find his way into an NFL camp.

Damond King, DE, Texas Southern – King’s athleticism at 6-3, 256 pounds was easy to see. He’s got natural pass-rush ability with tenacious pursuit. He even showed the ability to be a special teams contributor, picking up 6 yards to convert a fake punt. King likely isn’t the next Michael Strahan, but he may be able to get into an NFL camp if he shows well at his pro day.

Raymond Malone, S, Kentucky State – Malone was a defensive standout for the Thorobreds with 61 tackles, 5 1/2 for loss, seven passes defensed and an interception last season. He helped Kentucky State reach the SIAC championship game and a top-five Division II ranking for the first time in school history. The Detroit native is long at 6-3, but needs

Kentucky State

Kentucky State defensive back Raymond Malone

to add more weight to his 190-pound frame. An Eastern Michigan transfer, Malone is an excellent athlete who plays with confidence and has superb ball skills.

Paulin Miano, DE, Virginia Union – At 6-5, 268, Miano has prototypical size for a pass-rushing end. But he can do more than just get to the quarterback; he’s solid against the run. He plays through the whistle and is a good tackler. Limited to nine games last season, Miano had 27 tackles, 4 1/2 for loss with a sack and interception. But his junior year was something special with a school-record 25 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and five forced fumbles.

AJ Mundle, DE, Elizabeth City State – A former tight end, Mundle is only 6-1, which is extremely short to be a defensive end in the NFL. He is 260 pounds and has a very good burst, but lacks the strength to shed blocks. He played both ways in the HBCU game, making a tough grab over the middle while at tight end. With a 40-time that nears 5 seconds, Mundle doesn’t stand out like he needs to for NFL teams to give him a shot.

Demetrius Newberry, S, Chowan – Newberry is a stout 5-11, 225 pounds and hits like a truck. He was extremely active in the HBCU bowl, seemingly always around the ball. A linebacker at Chowan, Newberry could transition to safety in the pros, though his ball skills need work. He is an excellent blitzer, however, living in the backfield as a senior with 21 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks.

Miles Pace, DE, Virginia Union – An All-CIAA first-team selection last season, Pace gets excellent penetration thanks to a nice burst off the ball. Following a 10-sack season as a junior, he fell back to just four last season, but did record 10 1/2 tackles for loss in 10 games. He’s 6-1, 237, which is undersized for an NFL defensive end, but he lacks the speed and athleticism to be an NFL outside linebacker.

Nicholas Patterson, OLB, Winston-Salem State – A defensive end for the Rams, the 6-3, 232-pound Patterson would have to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the pros. He crashes the line and does a good job of seeing the field and tracking the ball. The question is whether he has the athleticism to play well in coverage, something he didn’t have to do much for D-II WSSU.

NC A&T

North Carolina A&T defensive lineman Marquis Ragland

Marquis Ragland, DL, North Carolina A&T – A multiple All-MEAC selection, Ragland capped an impressive week in Virginia Beach with a dominant performance in the HBCU game. The 6-3, 277-pound Fayetteville, N.C., native was constantly in the backfield and especially had his way with Moaga. He had 50 tackles, 11 for loss, and 3 1/2 sacks last season and then was nearly unblockable in the Spirit of America Bowl. Ragland should find his way into an NFL camp next summer.

Travon Spencer, LB, Kentucky State – Spencer was the first player in Kentucky State history to record over 100 tackles in a season. The 6-1, 224-pound Louisville native had 7 1/2 tackles for loss with a sack, two forced fumbles and an interception. Productivity, even at the D-II level, isn’t an issue for Spencer.

Guy Stallworth, S, Grambling State – Stallworth 71 tackles, 6 1/2 for loss, with an interception and eight passes defensed as a senior. He has very good size at 6-1, 200 pounds, but as bad as the quarterbacks were, he wasn’t able to showcase any real ball skills in the HBCU game, though he did have five tackles. Grambling will have a number of players at its pro day, which is where Stallworth will have to impress. The next couple of months will also allow Stallworth to fully heal from an injured ankle.

Bradley Street, DB, Alabama State – Street struggled in special teams in Virginia Beach, which hurts any slim chance he would have had to be in an NFL camp. Following a solid junior year that saw him in on 68 tackles with six pass breakups and two forced fumbles, the 5-11, 187-pound Street was limited to just three games as a senior.

Cameron Sullivan, DB, Winston-Salem State – Sullivan is a big hitter who flies to the ball and plays well on special teams. The problem is, while he can pack a big punch, he’s a little guy at only 5-8, 167 pounds. He puts everything he has into the game, but it probably won’t be enough to get into an NFL camp. He was an All-CIAA honorable mention selection after leading the Rams with 40 tackles and three interceptions.

Bryan Thames, DE, Lane College – Thames was another player who impressed in Virginia Beach. He was constantly in the backfield, harassing the quarterbacks in the HBCU game. He had 22 tackles with 7 TFLs and 3 sacks last season. At 6-1, 222, he will project as an outside linebacker, but he’ll have to show NFL teams he can drop back in coverage as a 3-4 backer to get a shot.

Phillip Williamson, OLB, Winston-Salem State – Williamson held his own against Ware, who was the best lineman in the HBCU game. The Durham, N.C. native began his career at North Carolina before transferring to WSSU. He’s 6-3, 235 pounds with good pass-rushing skills and finishes with authority. Williamson did show well in coverage, which is something NFL scouts want to see for a guy who projects as a 3-4 outside backer.

Kristian Wilson, DB, Bowie State – Wilson reads the quarterback well and has a good break on the ball. He had a couple of pass breakups in the HBCU game, nearly taking one to the house in the third quarter on a poorly thrown ball from Bell. Though he’s a smart athlete who uses his football IQ to play with confidence, Wilson likely won’t be able to overcome his lack of size at 5-8, 167 pounds to play in the NFL.

About Ron Clements

Wisconsin native, former Marine, Summa Cum Laude graduate of East Carolina University and a working sports journalist since 1999.