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Road to the Draft: Top HBCU prospects to look for in the 2023 draft class

Between the East-West Shrine Bowl, the Senior Bowl and the HBCU Legacy Bowl, the Raiders have had ample opportunities to evaluate top HBCU talent.

The Silver and Black have had a fair share of talented HBCU players on the rosters, with a rich history dating back to Art Shell and Willie Brown. The last time the Raiders selected an HBCU player was 2018 third-round pick Brandon Parker, who has started 32 games in the Silver and Black.

Among the top of this class, these three players from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) stand out as some of the best options in the draft come late April.

Isaiah Land, Florida A&M, EDGE

Land is the No. 1 player on my radar.

The defensive lineman wreaked havoc in the SWAC, with an unprecedented 2021 season that put him on the map. In his redshirt junior season, he led the nation in sacks (19) and tackles for loss (25.5), en route to winning Buck Buchanan Award (FCS Defensive Player of the Year) and the SWAC Defensive Player of the Year. He followed up the exceptional season with 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2022, helping lead the Rattlers to a 9-2 record.

An area of concern for Land has been whether his size will translate to the next level. The 236-pounder has been considered light for NFL defensive lineman standards, and he's been open throughout the draft process to switching to outside linebacker. Scouts were able to get their first look at him as a linebacker at the Senior Bowl, with a good week of practice in Mobile and a sack during the showcase.

He followed up the Senior Bowl with the NFL Scouting Combine, one of two HBCU prospects to participate in the event. In Indianapolis, he ran a 4.62 40-yard dash, a 10-foot-6 broad jump and 21 reps on bench press.

"I didn't start playing football until my junior year of high school. So I feel like there's still a lot of football left for me to learn," Isaiah Land said at the Combine. "I feel like I learn every day just from being around [other] guys and seeing how they play the game and just hearing the coaches talk. I learn something [new] every time someone talks about football, so I feel there's a lot left for me to learn about the game and I got a lot more potential."

Mark Evans II, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, OL

Hailing from the alma mater of Pro Bowl tackle Terron Armstead, Evans could be the next great offensive lineman to come from UAPB.

Evans evolved into a full-time starter as a true freshman, shining among the top HBCU offensive lineman in the nation. His physical presence in run blocking has propelled two different running backs to rush for over 1,000 yards in his career. He was named to All-SWAC First Team Offense in three consecutive seasons.

While playing tackle in college, his 6-foot-2, 303-pound frame could make him an ideal fit to be a center or guard in the NFL. He saw some action at center in the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas, helping pick up a victory for the West with 127 rushing yards for the offense. Along with Land, Evans attended the NFL Scouting Combine.

"I feel like the advantage for me going to HBCUs was the pool of players was smaller, so I feel like I was able to stand out if I went out there and did what I had to do each and every game," Evans said. "If I would have gone to a bigger school, I feel like I'd still being the person I am, I still would have been able to try to come here and do what I had to do to make this spot today because that's kind of the person I am. I want to go out there and compete. I want to play the game at the highest level."

Aubrey Miller Jr., Jackson State, LB

After two seasons under Head Coach Deion Sanders at Jackson State, Aubrey Miller may be the most NFL-ready prospect coming from an HBCU this year.

Miller was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and originally committed to Missouri. After two seasons, he decided to transfer schools to Jackson State. Under the tutelage of a Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback, Miller was All-SWAC First Team Defense in 2021 and 2022. Additionally, he was named 2022 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year with 117 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and six pass breakups.

Miller's draft stock is continuing to rise after his performance in the Senior Bowl. He led the American Team in total tackles (seven), consistently flying around the field the whole week.

"More knowledge. Being versatile," Miller said at the Senior Bowl of what he can bring to an NFL team. "Being able to play either position, so if any team needs you to play some position, I mean, you can be able to help the team win in any aspect –no matter if it's special teams, as well. Just to make sure you're able to do everything you can for the team.

"I'm a great communicator. Fast to the ball. Very strong. See a lot of things, so you know, the key things you want a linebacker to be is what I try to focus on."

In honor of Black History Month, we look back on the Raiders who have played for a Historically Black College or University. Not pictured: Willie Williams from Grambling State University (1966), Rod Hill from Kentucky State University (1987) and Victor Jackson from Bowie State University (1987).

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