HBCU Rookies Gearing Up For NFL Training Camps

As NFL teams near training camp, several HBCU products are preparing to battle for roster spots.

There is essentially no off-season in the NFL. Teams have completed rookie mini-camps, voluntary OTAs and are starting up minicamp. After minicamp wrap up in a couple of weeks, teams will break until mid-July, when teams are allowed to open training camps.

With training camp comes the time for rookies to establish themselves as viable members of the final 53 players on a roster. Among the countless rookies vying for roster spots this summer are nearly 20 rookies hailing from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Before the 2017 NFL draft, Defy Life profiled the top HBCU prospects. Now, let’s catch up with those and more as they continue the rookie journey in the NFL.

Chad Williams, WR, Arizona Cardinals

School: Grambling  |  Drafted: Round 3

Cardinals Rookie Camp FootballWilliams, the first HBCU player drafted in 2017, enters a Cardinals wide receiver room in need of a big-bodied receiver with speed. Williams, at 6-2, 205 with 4.5 speed, definitely fits the bill. With future hall-of-famer Larry Fitzgerald nearing the end of his career, Williams absolutely has the opportunity to play a big role in Arizona’s future plans. Fitzgerald also provides Williams with the perfect receiver after which to model his game. Williams has looked confident and fluid in off-season workouts, preparing himself for a solid camp and impressive rookie season.


Tarik Cohen, RB, Chicago Bears

School: North Carolina A&T  |  Drafted: Round 4

tarikCohen was one of the most electrifying players in the entire 2017 NFL Draft. His speed, quickness and size (5-6, 178) has led to comparisons to Philadelphia Eagles’ mighty-mite, Daren Sproles. While he probably lacks the size to be a full-time running back in the NFL, he’s in the ideal situation in Chicago. His traits will allow him to be the perfect change-of-pace back to bruising back Jordan Howard. Once the pads go on in camp, look for Cohen to make a quick impression in a myriad of ways with ball in his hands.


Grover Stewart, DL, Indianapolis Colts

School: Albany State  |  Drafted: Round 4

While not many conclusions can be drawn from football with shorts — especially from defensive linemen — Stewart has been highly impressive during rookie camp and minicamp. The 340-pound mountain-of-a-man has worked exclusively at nose tackle this off-season and looks to be a solid addition to the Colts’ defensive line. With a good showing in training camp, Stewart could push for a spot in the rotation, especially with former starting NT David Parry dealing with multiple legal issues. The rigors of training camp will test Stewart’s conditioning and tell the real tale once full pads are on, the sun is beaming down and veterans are lined up across from him.


Jylan Ware, OL, Oakland Raiders

School: Alabama State  |  Drafted: Round 7

Ware was drafted for his size and athleticism as a high-ceiling project along the offensive line. Ware has been lined up primarily at right tackle during rookie and minicamp. Blessed with long arms and a 6-7 frame that can withstand more than its current 294 pounds, Ware will be given every opportunity to maximize on his positive traits.


Lenard Tillery, RB, Los Angeles Rams

School: Southern  |  Undrafted

Tillery signed with the Rams after rushing for 4,856 yards (a SWAC record) at Southern. His quick feet and excellent burst are reminiscent of the player he hopes to replace in LA, former UDFA Benny Cunningham. Tillery has a chance to solidify a spot as one of the backups to Todd Gurley. He will battle it out with third-year back Malcolm Brown, former Cowboys’ backup Lance Dunbar and second-year man Aaron Green.


Jessamen Dunker, OL, New York Giants

School: Tennessee State  |  Undrafted 

Dunker, an All-American offensive tackle at TSU, but has been lining up at guard for the Giants in minicamp. There is a veteran-laden offensive line in New York, with John Jerry and Justin Pugh manning the starting guard spots and D.J. Fluker backing them up. Dunker will have to continue to display the promise he’s flashed this off-season if he wants to secure a spot on the 53-man roster or the practice squad.


Jac’Que Polite, OL, Buffalo Bills

School: Winston-Salem State  | Undrafted

The 6-5, 300-pound Polite will compete along the offensive line, being signed by the Bills after a tryout during rookie camp. The All-CIAA performer opened eyes at the Wake Forest pro day and will get looks at guard and tackle.


Javarius Leamon, OL, New York Jets

School: South Carolina State  | Undrafted

Leamon is a towering lineman who will look to improve his consistency in hopes of landing a spot at offensive tackle with the Jets. Leamon is talented enough to at least make the practice squad in his first year.


Ezra Robinson, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

School: Tennessee State  |  Undrafted

The Jaguars could use depth at cornerback behind starters Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Robinson has the requisite size, athleticism and demeanor to claim a roster spot in Jacksonville.


Verlan Hunter, WR, Washington

School: Grambling  |  Undrafted 

Hunter, at 6-2, 201-pounds, is a bigger receiver who has the chance to make some noise, especially considering the dearth of proven receiver talent in D.C.


Ronald Butler, CB, Seattle Seahawks

School: Tennessee State  |  Undrafted

A superb athlete, Butler played quarterback before being moves to wide receiver for TSU. He was switched to cornerback once Seahawks’ rookie minicamp started. With his natural gifts, Butler can stand out and make himself tough to cut in Seattle.


Derrick Griffin, WR, Minnesota Vikings

School: Texas Southern  |  Undrafted

One of the best athletes in this draft class, the 6-6, 215-pound Griffin has taken a winding road to the NFL. The former 4-star recruit, is also a gifted basketball player. He’ll use that athleticism to battle the likes of Stacey Coley and Moritz Boehringer for a roster spot.


Roderick Henderson, DL, Tennessee Titans

School: Alabama State  |  Undrafted

A stout 6-1, 350-pounder at defensive tackle, Henderson is set to compete at nose tackle for the Titans. He’s built in the classic mold of a Dick Lebeau nose, so he has a shot to get backup snaps behind starter Sylvester Williams.


Kevin Kenton, OL, New York Jets

School: Tennessee State  |  Undrafted

Kenton will battle for a roster spot at guard and center for the Jets. A bit undersized at 6-2, 300, Kenton will have to rely on his quick feet and strong upper-body to gain advantage in camp.


Paulin Miano, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles

School: Virginia Union  |  Undrafted

At 6-5, 260 Miano stood out at Eagles’ rookie camp. His ability to be physical at the point of attack didn’t really show in the off-season, but will benefit him once the pads go on.

 

 

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