The 2021 NFL Draft is on Thursday April 29th in Cleveland, Ohio. HBCU football by and large took a fall season hiatus but the HBCU Combine went down in Birmingham a couple week before draft day and there are several HBCU prospects whose names are buzzing around NFL war rooms.
Every year NFL.com posts draft grades for nearly 500 prospects in their NFL Draft Tracker. I combed through the list to find out what grades the experts gave to this years crop of HBCU prospects.
Before we dive into the draft grades, let’s breakdown how the NFL Draft tracker evaluates talent.
The NFL Draft Tracker lists players, bios, strengths, weaknesses and a draft grade which ranges from 8.0 being “the perfect prospect” to 5.0-5.1 as a player having a “Chance to be in an NFL training camp.”
NFL DRAFT TRACKER GRADE KEY
- 8.0 – The perfect prospect
- 7.3-7.5 – Perennial All-Pro
- 7.0-7.1 – Pro Bowl talent
- 6.7-6.8 – Year 1 quality starter
- 6.5 – Boom or bust prospect
- 6.3-6.4 – Will be starter within first two seasons
- 6.1-6.2 – Good backup who could become starter
- 6.0 – Developmental traits-based prospect
- 5.8-5.9 – Backup/special-teamer
- 5.5-5.6 – Chance to make end of roster or practice squad
- 5.4 – Priority free agent
- 5.0-5.1 – Chance to be in an NFL training camp
- NO GRADE – Likely needs time in developmental league
David Moore – Grambling State
6.00 – DEVELOPMENTAL TRAITS-BASED PROSPECT
- HOMETOWN – Little Rock, AR
- CLASS – Senior
- HEIGHT – 6′ 2″
- WEIGHT – 330 lbs
- ARMS – 34 1/8″
- HANDS – 9 5/8″
Moore played just two years of football at McClellan High School in Little Rock but became an all-state pick as a senior. He played in nine games as a reserve his freshman season with the Tigers, then earned starts at right guard among 10 appearances in 2018. He started 10 games at left guard as a junior, garnering attention from NFL scouts for his play. He decided to move on to the next level after Grambling’s 2020 season was postponed until the spring and accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl. — by Chad Reuter
Draft Projection – Rounds 4-5
NFL Comparison – Nate Davis
Well-built guard prospect with outstanding upper-body power and a nasty streak as a block finisher. He’s still a little raw from a technical standpoint and needs to play with better patience and control, but Moore has an intriguing combination of strength and quickness that should be intriguing to teams. Becoming more consistent with his footwork, leverage and hand placement will be key for him to go from prospect to starter in the future. Playing a lower level of competition and the lack of a 2020 fall season could make for an extended runway of development, but the physical gifts and toughness are compelling.
- Dense frame is thickly muscled from head to toe.
- Broad through chest with well-built thighs and calves like small pumpkins.
- Wingspan is longer than height would dictate.
- Light on his feet and nimble out of stance and into pulls.
- Able to unlock and unload hips into run blocks.
- Able to dislodge the nose when he’s focused on his down blocks.
- Explosive upper-body power.
- Carries some thunder in his punch.
- Aggressive demeanor shows up on tape.
- Foot quickness for important recovery steps in pass pro.
- Has taken snaps at center during practices.
- Traits to make noticeable jump once he tightens up his technique.
- Needs to come off the ball with better pad level to maintain natural leverage.
- Inefficient movement into block fits.
- Will need to upgrade hand placement.
- Strikes land high/wide, diminishing ability to sustain blocks.
- Movements tend to be more segmented than fluid.
- Feet are more noisy than calm in his pass sets.
- Wide base in pass sets and tends to lean into his punch.
- Slow to reset hands and win back control in hand-to-hand battles.
- Some inconsistency recognizing pressure schemes.
- Played against lower level of competition.
Bryan Mills – North Carolina Central
5.89 – BACKUP/SPECIAL-TEAMER
- HOMETOWN – Palmdale, CA
- CLASS – Senior
- HEIGHT – 6′ 1″
- WEIGHT – 174 lbs
- ARMS – 32″
- HANDS – 8 7/8″
Mills is a California native who played at two junior colleges in that state before trekking across the country to play at NCCU. He played in nine games for Antelope Valley College in 2017 before playing in eight contests for the College of the Canyons the following year. Mills started the final 10 contests for NCCU in 2019, leading the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with five interceptions (tied the school record with three INTs vs. Morgan State). He garnered first-team all-conference accolades (22 tackles, 0.5 sacks, eight pass breakups in 12 appearances). NCCU did not play a fall football game in 2020. Mills accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl. — by Chad Reuter
Draft Projection – Rounds 4-5
NFL Comparison – Daryl Worley
Mills’ size, length and toughness make him an intriguing draft prospect but he’s much more of a “potential” prospect than a projectable one. He possesses very good ball skills and disruption potential but his fundamentals and technique will need to be overhauled if he wants to make it as a press corner, which is his best chance. He lacks true long speed and finds himself scrambling into catch-up mode too often due to a lack of patience and footwork, but he’s not without talent to mold. Mills succeeds on a lower level with natural ability and NFL traits. He has Cover 2 and Cover 3 characteristics and could become a quality backup if he can get his technique squared away.
- Tall and long.
- Exudes physicality from press.
- Strong two-hand punch and shoulder jabs with either hand.
- Able to gain some ground quickly from pedal to shuffle transition.
- Finds receiver’s frame before searching for football on deep balls.
- Long strides eat up ground when driving on the throw.
- Weaponizes length in challenging catch point.
- Five interceptions and eight pass breakups in 2019.
- Leaps are well-timed, creating disruption at high-point.
- Forcibly attacks any perceived blocks from wideouts.
- Not afraid to lock up and get into it.
- Hasn’t played against a high level of competition.
- Raw with his technique and fundamentals.
- Play can be herky-jerky and slightly frenetic.
- Lacks patience and discipline in press release.
- Gets feet crossed up and gets spun around too often.
- Loses route phase when he cranks it to top speed prematurely.
- Doesn’t appear to have long speed to match vertical threats.
- Below-average route recognition.
- Needs to do better job of finding ball-carrier more quickly.
Mac McCain III – North Carolina A&T
5.65 – Chance to make end of roster or practice squad
- HOMETOWN – Greensboro, NC
- CLASS – Senior
- HEIGHT – 6′ 0″
- WEIGHT – 175 lbs
Franklin “Mac” McCain III earned All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference honors in all three seasons he played for the Aggies. He was a first-team pick and a third-team Associated Press FCS All-American as a true freshman in 2017, tying for fifth nationally with six interceptions, returning three of them for touchdowns (also posting 50 tackles and eight pass breakups). An ACL tear ended his sophomore campaign prematurely, but he still repeated first-team All-MEAC honors with 37 tackles, two interceptions (one returned for a score) and eight pass breakups in eight starts. That injury cost him the first three games of the 2019 season, as well, but he garnered second-team all-league notice for his play in nine starts (21 tackles, six pass breakups). McCain is the grandson of one of the “Greensboro Four,” a group of four A&T students who staged a lunch counter sit-in in 1960 that was an important part of the of the Civil Rights movement. — by Chad Reuter
Draft Projection – Rounds 5-6
Productive outside cornerback with a penchant for making plays on the football. McCain is smart and plays with solid instincts. He lacks the smooth hips and chase speed to hang with NFL vertical targets, which is a major concern. While he’s instinctive, his losses to double moves might cause some hesitancy at times. He will struggle to maintain top position against size, but his length does help him out somewhat. His best shot could be on a practice squad of a zone-heavy cover unit.
- Highly driven personality on and off the field.
- Posted 8 career interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns.
- Coverage experience in just about every technique.
- Plus drive quickness on the throws from the top of his drop.
- Makes good decisions on challenging ball or receiver.
- Closes to play-side shoulder so long arms can find passing lane.
- Not big, but willing to tackle in run support.
- Missed the end of the 2018 season and the beginning of the 2019 season with ACL tear.
- Slender frame struggles to hang in against size.
- Can be hesitant to trust his eyes from off coverage.
- Stagnant hips in matching with transitions.
- Lacks long speed and stays behind once he gets behind.
- Takes a big bite out of double moves.
- Allowed 9 grabs for 176 yards and 2 touchdowns in his final game.
Calvin Ashley – Florida A&M
5.50 – CHANCE TO MAKE END OF ROSTER OR PRACTICE SQUAD
- HOMETOWN – Orlando, FL
- CLASS – R-Junior
- HEIGHT – 6′ 7″
- WEIGHT – 330 lbs
Ashley was a five-star recruit for Gus Malzahn’s 2017 Auburn recruiting class out of St. John’s College High School in the Washington D.C. area, where he played as a senior after moving up from Orlando. He decided after two seasons on the Plains (redshirting in 2017, and then starting one of five appearances at right tackle in 2018) that he wanted to be closer to home. He transferred to Florida Atlantic at first, then determining that Boca Raton was not close enough to his wife and young son in Tallahassee. Ashley, therefore, signed with Florida A&M and suited up for seven starts at right tackle for the Rattlers in 2019. The school did not play in the fall of 2020 due to COVID-19. — by Chad Reuter
Draft Projection – N/A
Developmental prospect projects as wide-body guard with some power but a lack of average play quickness. The former five-star recruit got his start at Auburn before transferring to Florida Atlantic and then to Florida A&M, with the drop down to FCS allowing him to play immediately in 2019. His drop in level of competition in 2019, combined with a lack of football in 2020, creates a dire need for more technique and fundamental work before he has any chance of blocking against pros. He has a shot at landing on a practice squad, thanks to his plus size and NFL play strength.
- Five-star recruit when signed by Auburn.
- Girthy with good length.
- Tackle experience should benefit him inside as a guard.
- Power is evident into initial contact.
- Shows ability to grind on down blocks and generate some push.
- Heavy hands slow initial pass rush move.
- Leaner who needs to chop and carry his feet with his hands.
- Initial hands can be a little tardy.
- Hasn’t played enough football and is still raw.
- Below-average hip bend limits leverage.
- Will have issues redirecting against active rushers.
- Body control is very average.
- Has a neck injury in his background that will need to be vetted.
Qwynnterrio Cole – Alcorn State
5.48 – PRIORITY FREE AGENT
- HOMETOWN – Memphis, TN
- CLASS – Senior
- HEIGHT – 6′ 3″
- WEIGHT – 190 lbs
Cole was one of the top defenders at the FCS level in both 2018 and ’19, and likely would have been in 2020, as well, if COVID-19 had not halted play for most schools in that division. As a junior, he was named first-team All-SWAC and led the Braves to the Celebration Bowl for the second straight year (both losses to champs North Carolina A&T). He started 12 of 13 games in 2019 (86 tackles, team-high five interceptions, one pass breakup) and seven of 13 contests in ’18 (team-high 76 tackles, 4.5 for loss, three interceptions, five pass breakups). Cole played in 12 games as a reserve during his true freshman season, making eight stops. The former football, basketball (playing for former NBA star and current University of Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway) and track star at East Memphis High School did not receive any FBS offers. — by Chad Reuter
Draft Projection – N/A
Celebrated HBCU safety with good size and quality production over his last two seasons. Cole plays to his size with good physicality as a hitter and at the catch point. He has the hands to take the ball away, but his lack of speed and short-area burst will be very troubling against NFL targets if matched man-to-man. While he can body and finish running backs as a tackler, he’s below average as an open-field tackler, which is a major concern.
- Possesses pro size and physicality.
- Peripheral vision sees route development from post.
- Ready to pounce on dig routes from quarters coverage.
- Displays decent play recognition and football intelligence.
- Stands strong at the catch point.
- Had eight interceptions from 2018 to ’19.
- Willing to dive in, face up and stack the block.
- Effective striker near the line of scrimmage in run support.
- Speed run in the alley is below par.
- Below-average short-area agility and twitch as tackler.
- Struggles with finding proper leverage as open-field tackler.
- Upright in space with sticky hips in coverage transitions.
- Receivers get separation at the route breaks.
- Missing speed to make up for mistakes.
- Too responsive to head fakes in coverage.