By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN — Over the last five days leading up to the three-day hootenanny in Texas, we’ve been taking a look at the best black college football players available in this year’s draft.
Despite the fact that several starters, Pro Bowlers, and Hall of Famers have come out of these campuses, HBCU players still get marginalized and overlooked during these yearly affairs.
Each day, we’ll focus on the best available HBCU players at each position offensively and defensively. Some of them you may have heard of, others you may be introduced to for the first time. Whether you’re a true draftnik or just a casual observer, you’ll definitely be a little bit more informed as you sit and watch the proceedings.
We’ve already ready focused on the best available offensive players. Check out our archives if you’ve missed any of the previous primers. Yesterday, we began on the defense with a look at the best available lineman.
Today’s focus is on linebackers.
DARIUS LEONARD (6-3, 240) SOUTH CAROLINA STATE
The MEAC’s Defensive Player of The Year and FCS All-American over the last three seasons, Leonard is one of the most decorated players in all of college football. The Lake View, S.C. native was one of the three HBCU players chosen to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine. He totaled a school-record 394 tackles in his career. Leonard racked up a game-high 14 tackles and earned Most Valuable Player on Defense in the Reese’s Senior Bowl in January. In 2017, he picked off two passes and had seven (7) sacks. Leonard also had six games with 12-plus tackles highlighted by a high of 18 versus Morgan State.
AARON TILLER (6-1, 260) SOUTHERN
A three-time All-SWAC selection and FCS All-American, the Columbus, Ohio native was one of the anchors of a strong Jaguar defense. In 2017, he had 50 tackles (29 solos) on the season. He also finished in the top five in the SWAC in tackles for loss (17.5), sacks (9.5), fumbles forced, and fumbles recovered. As a freshman, Tiller led the SWAC in sacks and was second as a junior. He finished his SU career with 238 tackles (115 solos) and 62 tackles for losses along with 33 sacks.
OSBAND THOMPSON (6-0, 212) TUSKEGEE
The SIAC’s Defensive Player of The Year the past three seasons and a two-time All-American, the Miami native has been one of the most dominant defensive players in Division II. In 2017, he finished with 131 tackles, the second most in the nation. That’s 35 more than the second leading tackler in the conference. He notched 6.5 tackles for loss, made four interceptions, four quarterback hurries, two broken up passes, a pair of forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. In eight of the Golden Tigers’ 10 games, Thompson made a minimum of 10 tackles. He also became the first linebacker in 10 years to lead TU in tackles and interceptions in the same season.
REGGIE HUNTER (6-0, 225) NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL
A two-time All-MEAC selection and four-year starter for the Eagles, Hunter was one of the leaders of NCCU’s defense. A team captain, he ranked sixth in MEAC with a team-best 85 tackles (54 solos), including 7.5 hits for a loss with 1.5 sacks, five pass break-ups, four quarterback hurries and an interception. He also had a career-high 13 tackles in his final college game at North Carolina A&T. The Henderson, N.C. native finished his career with 245 tackles to rank 11th on NCCU’s all-time list.
JEREMY TAYLOR (6-0, 200) NORTH CAROLINA A&T
A two-time All-MEAC selection, Taylor finished 2017 with a team-leading 65 tackles (46 unassisted), 7.5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 5 picks, 133 INT return yards, and 8 pass breakups. The Kinston, N.C. native finished his Aggie career with 197 tackles (24.5 tackles for loss).
DE’ARIUS CHRISTMAS (5-10, 230) GRAMBLING STATE
The SWAC’s Defensive Player of The Year in 2017 and a two-time All-SWAC selection, Christmas led the Tigers defensively with 88 tackles, including 48 solo stops. He had 17.5 tackles for a loss of 61 yards and five sacks for a loss of 31 yards. The Vicksburg, Miss., native and FCS All-American also added five quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He was also tabbed as an SBN All-American selection in 2017.
DAVID SMITH (6-0, 230) MOREHOUSE COLLEGE
A two-time All-SIAC performer, the Newport News, Va. native led the Maroon Tigers with 88 tackles (48 solos), 16 tackles for loss, six sacks, and an interception. He also forced two fumbles and recovered one for a score. He finished his Morehouse career with over 200 tackles as well as 13.5 sacks.
KENNETH DAVIS (6-2, 225) ALABAMA A&M
A two-time All-SWAC selection, Davis was a key part of the SWAC’s No. 2-ranked defense this past season. The Bulldogs were also second in pass defense and held opponents to the lowest third-down conversion rate in the league. The Pensacola, Fla. native had 75 tackles (39 solos) to go along with 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He had most sacks of any SWAC linebacker and was sixth overall. Known as “Big Hit”, Davis was also sixth in total tackles and seventh in tackles for loss.
CHRIS COLLINS (5-9, 220) TENNESSEE STATE
A two-time All-OVC selection and FCS All-American, Collins finished the 2017 season with 97 stops and led the Ohio Valley Conference in tackles per game (8.8) and solos (58). A four-year starter from Fairburn, Ga., Collins also ranked 27th in the nation with 5.3 solo tackles per game.
Up next: Safeties.