Cover 9@9: HBCU combine set to kickoff Senior Bowl week

Alcorn State quarterback Felix Harper passes against North Carolina A&T during the first half of the Celebration Bowl Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

caption arrowCaption
Alcorn State quarterback Felix Harper passes against North Carolina A&T during the first half of the Celebration Bowl Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

(Here’s our weekly nine items at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the Atlanta Falcons, otherwise known as the Cover 9@9 blog!)

1. The no-spin zone. Four players with Georgia connections are set to participate in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Combine - held by the NFL in partnership with the Senior Bowl - Friday and Saturday at the University of South Alabama Jaguar Training Center in Mobile, Alabama.

Two quarterbacks (Alcorn State’s Felix “the Triggerman” Harper from Creekside High and Prairie View’s Jawon Pass from Carver High in Columbus) will join a pair of receivers (North Carolina A&T’s Korey Banks from Sandy Creek High and Fort Valley State’s Shemar Bridges) representing the state in the 40-player two-day event.

The primary goal of the HBCU combine is to increase the exposure of players from historically black colleges ahead of the NFL draft held every spring. There wasn’t a player from an HBCU selected in the 2021 draft, and less than 10 signed as undrafted free agents.

The Falcons signed Chris Rowland, who played at Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference, in 2020, and offensive tackle Kion Smith of Fayetteville State of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association last season. Both were signed as undrafted rookie free agents. Rowland spent most of the 2020 season on the Falcons’ practice squad. He was called up to the 53-man roster for the final two games of the 2020 season.

Smith didn’t make it out of training camp last season, but was signed by the Dolphins for their practice squad Sept. 6. He signed a reserve/futures contract with the Dolphins on Jan. 11. Rowland spent some time on the Titans’ practice squad in 2021.

Harper completed 132 of 222 passes for 1,702 yards and 14 touchdowns and four interceptions last season. He also rushed 77 times for 360 yards and four touchdowns.

Harper was named the 2019 SWAC offensive player of the year after he passed for 2,954 yards, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also had six rushing touchdowns.

Banks had an excellent first season with the Aggies after transferring in from South Carolina in 2019.

He started at slot receiver and also returned punts and kickoffs. He has tremendous speed, elusiveness and was a key receiver for the Aggies in 2021. He enrolled at N.C. A&T in 2018 and sat out the season as a transfer.

He played wide receiver for the Gamecocks in 2016 before switching to cornerback in 2017. He has 4.44 speed in the 40-yard dash.

Pass started his career at Louisville.

caption arrowCaption
Creekside Seminoles QB Felix Harper looks to pass during action in the second quarter. Stephenson Jaguars match up against the Creekside Seminoles in a high school football game at Hallford Stadium Friday, September 18, 2015. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Creekside Seminoles QB Felix Harper looks to pass during action in the second quarter. Stephenson Jaguars match up against the Creekside Seminoles in a high school football game at Hallford Stadium Friday, September 18, 2015. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

caption arrowCaption
Creekside Seminoles QB Felix Harper looks to pass during action in the second quarter. Stephenson Jaguars match up against the Creekside Seminoles in a high school football game at Hallford Stadium Friday, September 18, 2015. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Here are the players who will participate in the HBCU combine:

Dee Anderson, TE, Alabama A&M, 6-6, 220: Started his career at LSU and had 20 receptions. Had a stopover at Oklahoma State before finishing out his career at Alabama A&M. He had 33 catches for 393 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

Ezra Gray, RB, Alabama State, 5-7, 174: Had 525 carries and 2,209 yards and 11 touchdowns over six seasons. Had 52 catches for 34 yards and three touchdowns.

Juwan Taylor, DB, Alcorn State, 5-11, 200: He played in eight games and had 58 tackles, three pass breakups , an interception and a quarterback hit.

Solomon Wise, OLB, Alcorn State, 6-4, 245: He played in seven games and had 29 tackles, three tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries.

Josh Wilkes, WR, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, 6-3, 185: He caught 41 passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns over 10 games last season. He had five catches for 103 yards against Prairie View A&M.

KeShawn Williams, RB, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, 5-10, 195: Averaged 7.4 yards per carry back in 2019.

Untareo Johnson, OLB, Bethune-Cookman, 6-1, 240: He was named to the All-SWAC first-team defense. Johnson led the Wildcats in most defensive categories, where he also finished among SWAC leaders. He finished with the second-most tackles in the conference with 101 – averaging 9.2 per game, the highest mark in the SWAC. He also added 5.5 tackles for loss, two pass break ups, two hurries, and a forced fumble.

Jamal Savage, OT, Bethune-Cookman, 6-6, 320: He was All-MEAC third team in 2019. Was a 7-A All-State selection in 2015.

Trey Gross, WR, Delaware State, 6-4, 210: Team leader with 17 receptions for 248 yards (14.6 ypr) and five touchdowns during five spring games … had five receptions for 123 yards and career-high three touchdowns (42, 9, 56) in 37-28 win at Howard (April 3) … caught three passes for 52 yards, including two touchdowns (12, 34) , vs. South Carolina State (April 17) … also credited with two blocked kicks … recovered a block punt for touchdown vs. Delaware (April 10)

Kwannah Kollie, WR, Delaware State, 6-0, 200: Played in three games and had three catches for 56 yards (18.7 ypr) and a touchdown. … Had two catches for 40 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown, vs. South Carolina State (April 17) In 2019, he appeared in all 12 games and had 35 catches for 431 yards and 10 kick returns for 187 yards.

Keyshawn James, DE, Fayetteville State, 6-3, 280: He had nine sacks last season and is set to play the Legacy Bowl.

Elvin De La Rosa, S, Fayetteville State, 6-0, 198: He had 161 tackles and four interceptions over his career. Was the 2017 CIAA newcomer of the year.

caption arrowCaption
East quarterback Jawon Pass looks to pass during the second half of the Army All American Bowl high school football game against the West, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in San Antonio. West won 37-9. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Credit: Darren Abate

East quarterback Jawon Pass looks to pass during the second half of the Army All American Bowl high school football game against the West, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in San Antonio. West won 37-9. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Credit: Darren Abate

caption arrowCaption
East quarterback Jawon Pass looks to pass during the second half of the Army All American Bowl high school football game against the West, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in San Antonio. West won 37-9. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Credit: Darren Abate

Credit: Darren Abate

Antwan Collier, S, Florida A&M, 6-0 198

Keenan Forbes, G, Florida A&M, 6-3, 330 (Washington State transfer)

James Fagan, DT, Hampton, 6-6, 280

Jett Duffey, QB, Hampton, 6-0, 205

Keith Corbin, WR, Jackson State, 6-0, 200

Kingston Davis, RB, Miles, 6-1, 245

Jerry Garner, OLB, Mississippi Valley State, 6-2, 245

Chris Myers, OLB, Norfolk State, 6-6, 245

Juwan Carter, QB, Norfolk State, 6-0 175

Jah-Maine Martin, RB, North Carolina A&T, 5-10, 220

Ron Hunt, WR, North Carolina A&T, 6-3, 190

Zafir Kelly, DB, South Carolina State, 6-1, 170

Chad Gilchrist, ILB, South Carolina State, 6-2, 220

Will Vereen, WR, South Carolina State, 5-11, 200

Ladarius Skelton, QB, Southern, 6-2, 210.

Marquis McClain, WR, Southern, 6-3, 210, (Auburn transfer)

Joshua Flowers, CB, Winston-Salem State

Cam Durley, OT, Tennessee State, 6-6, 315 (Started career at Kansas)

Jeff Proctor, RB, Texas Southern, 5-8, 185, (Southern Illinois transfer)

Jonathan Giles, WR, Texas Southern, 6-0, 201 (LSU transfer)

Will Adams, S, Virginia State, 6-3, 195

Javon Frazier, OLB, Virginia State, 6-2, 250

Zachary Wilcox, OT, Virginia State, 6-5, 300

caption arrowCaption
North Carolina A&T wide receiver Korey Banks (2) cuts back on Alcorn State defensive back Keyron Kinsler Jr. (15) during a long run in the second half of the Celebration Bowl Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: John Amis

North Carolina A&T wide receiver Korey Banks (2) cuts back on Alcorn State defensive back Keyron Kinsler Jr. (15) during a long run in the second half of the Celebration Bowl Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: John Amis

caption arrowCaption
North Carolina A&T wide receiver Korey Banks (2) cuts back on Alcorn State defensive back Keyron Kinsler Jr. (15) during a long run in the second half of the Celebration Bowl Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: John Amis

Credit: John Amis

2. Pitts named to All-Rookie team by PFWA: Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, the highest player drafted at his position in the modern era when he was selected fourth overall in the 2021 draft, was named to the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) All-Rookie team Tuesday.

Pitts had a strong rookie season, as he caught 68 passes of a team-leading 110 targets for 1,026 yards and a touchdown. He was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, who posted a rookie-high 13 sacks and tied for the NFL lead with 20 tackles for loss, is the 2021 rookie of the year and the defensive rookie of the year, chosen in voting conducted by the PFWA.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who ranked third in receiving touchdowns with 13 and fourth in receiving yards with 1,455 – the most ever by a rookie in the Super Bowl era, is the 2021 offensive rookie of the year.

Three teams – the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins – each had three All-Rookie selections.

The Bengals, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers each had two selections. In all, 16 clubs are represented among the 27 players honored.

The All-Rookie team offense includes Pitts, New England’s Mac Jones at quarterback, Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris and Denver’s Javonte Williams at running back, Kansas City’s Creed Humphrey at center, Kansas City’s Trey Smith and the New York Jets’ Alijah Vera-Tucker at guard and the Chargers’ Rashawn Slater and the Detroit Lions’ Penei Sewell at tackle.

The All-Rookie defense consists of defensive linemen Christian Barmore (New England), Odafe Oweh (Baltimore Ravens), Kwitty Paye (Indianapolis Colts) and Jaelan Phillips (Miami Dolphins), linebackers Nick Bolton (Kansas City), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Cleveland) and Parsons, Cleveland’s Greg Newsome and Denver’s Patrick Surtain at cornerback and Miami’s Jevon Holland and the Las Vegas Raiders’ Tre’Von Moehrig at safety.

The Dolphins list Phillips as a linebacker in their defensive alignment, and PFWA members voted for him to a defensive lineman honor.

Cincinnati placekicker Evan McPherson, Pittsburgh punter Pressley Harvin, Minnesota kick returner Kene Nwangwu, Cleveland punt returner Demetric Felton and L.A. Chargers special-teams player Nick Niemann make up the All-Rookie special-teams selections.

The PFWA has awarded an All-Rookie team every season since 1974.

2021 ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: LB Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

2021 OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

2021 DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: LB Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

2021 ALL-ROOKIE TEAM

Offense: QB – Mac Jones, New England Patriots. RB – Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers; Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos. WR – Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals; Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins. TE – Kyle Pitts, Falcons. C – Creed Humphrey, Kansas City Chiefs. G – Trey Smith, Kansas City Chiefs; Alijah Vera-Tucker; New York Jets. T – Rashawn Slater, Los Angeles Chargers; Penei Sewell, Detroit Lions.

Defense: DL – Christian Barmore, New England Patriots; Odafe Oweh, Baltimore Ravens; Kwity Paye, Indianapolis Colts; Jaelan Phillips, Miami Dolphins. LB – Nick Bolton, Kansas City Chiefs; Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Cleveland Browns; Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys. CB – Greg Newsome, Cleveland Browns; Patrick Surtain, Denver Broncos. S – Jevon Holland, Miami Dolphins; Tre’Von Moehrig, Las Vegas Raiders.

Special teams: PK – Evan McPherson, Cincinnati Bengals. P – Pressley Harvin, Pittsburgh Steelers. KR – Kene Nwangwu, Minnesota Vikings. PR – Demetric Felton, Cleveland Browns. ST – Nick Niemann, Los Angeles Chargers.

3. Corcoran named high school coach of the year: Zach Corcoran of St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School in Columbus was named the Falcons high school coach of the year.

The award is given to the high school head coach that best represents integrity, leadership, dedication to the community, commitment to player protection and on-field success.

Corcoran is the first girls flag football head coach to be named the Falcons high school coach of the year and is believed to be the first girls flag football head coach to be a nominee for the Don Shula NFL high school coach of the year in the award’s history.

“To find someone as passionate as he is for teaching and coaching sports, he really is special,” St. Anne-Pacelli athletic director Corry Black said. “He’s just a gem. You can’t find anybody that does what he does.”

As the Falcons High school coach of the year, Corcoran will serve as the Falcons’ nominee for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award.

4. Reserve/future players: The Falcons have signed 21 players to reserve/futures contracts.

The players are offensive guard Rashaad Coward, and tight end Daniel Helm, outside linebacker Duke Ejiofor; cornerback Corey Ballentine; defensive back Dee Alford, defensive back Cornell Armstrong, offensive lineman Willie Beavers, outside linebacker Quinton Bell, outside linebacker Jordan Brailford, inside linebacker Dorian Etheridge, wide receiver Chad Hansen, running back Caleb Huntley, cornerback Luther Kirk, tight end Brayden Lenius, punter Dom Maggio, offensive lineman Ryan Neuzil, cornerback Lafayette Pitts, tight end John Raine, outside linebacker Rashad Smith, defensive end Nick Thurman and wide receiver Austin Trammell.

Coward, a converted defensive tackle who’s 6-foot-5 and 316 pounds, was signed as a guard by the Falcons on Monday.

Coward, 27, who played defensive tackle at Old Dominion, has been with Jacksonville, Chicago and Pittsburgh. He’s played in 34 NFL games and made 15 starts. He played in just four games for the Steelers last season.

Helm, 26, played at Duke. He’s 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds. He has played in 14 NFL games and made one start. He’s also spent time with the Chargers, 49ers, Chiefs and Buccaneers.

5. 2022 opponents: The Falcons know their opponents for the 2022 season. The Falcons (7-10) finished in third place in the NFC South. Dates and times will be announced at a later date.

The Falcons will play home and away games against the rest of the NFC South (Saints, Buccaneers and Panthers).

The home games will include the Cardinals, 49ers, Browns, Steelers, Bears and Chargers.

The away games will include the Ravens, Bengals, Rams, Seahawks and Washington Football Team.

6. Draft order: The top 28 spots are set heading into the championship round of the playoffs:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars; 2. Detroit Lions; 3. Houston Texans; 4. New York Jets; 5. New York Giants; 6. Carolina Panthers; 7. Chicago Bears (traded to N.Y. Giants); 8. Falcons; 9. Denver Broncos; 10. Seattle Seahawks (traded to N.Y. Jets); 11. Washington Football Team; 12. Minnesota Vikings; 13. Cleveland Browns; 14. Baltimore Ravens; 15. Miami Dolphins (traded to Philadelphia); 16. Indianapolis Colts (traded to Philadelphia); 17. Los Angeles Chargers; 18. New Orleans Saints; 19. Philadelphia Eagles; 20. Pittsburgh Steelers; 21. New England Patriots 22. Las Vegas Raiders; 23. Arizona Cardinals; 24. Dallas Cowboys; 25. Buffalo Bills; 26. Tennessee Titans; 27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 28. Green Bay Packers; *29. San Francisco 49ers (traded to Miami); *30. Cincinnati Bengals; *31. Los Angeles Rams (traded to Detroit); *32. Kansas City Chiefs.

*- Subject to playoffs results

caption arrowCaption
Falcons tight end Lee Smith, top right, shares a moment with his family after their loss against the New Orleans Saints 30-20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Sunday, January 9, 2022, in Atlanta. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Jason Getz

Falcons tight end Lee Smith, top right, shares a moment with his family after their loss against the New Orleans Saints 30-20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Sunday, January 9, 2022, in Atlanta. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Jason Getz

caption arrowCaption
Falcons tight end Lee Smith, top right, shares a moment with his family after their loss against the New Orleans Saints 30-20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Sunday, January 9, 2022, in Atlanta. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

7. Lee Smith retiring: Falcons tight end Lee Smith, who played one season with the team, announced his retirement Thursday.

Smith was used mostly as a blocking tight end last season. He played in 16 games and made six starts. He caught nine passes for 65 yards and a touchdown.

Smith, who played at Tennessee and Marshall, played 11 seasons in the NFL. He played 311 offensive snaps (31%) and 60 snaps on special teams for the Falcons last season.

Smith said he is going to miss the relationships he made over his NFL years.

“I’ve always said that the best thing about pro football is the people,” Smith said. “A lot of great things come with this job. It’s best job in the world. But for me personally, the best thing about this gig for the last 11 years has always been the people. The relationships with guys from every nook and cranny of this country. That’s what’s special to me.”

Over the past offseason, the Falcons acquired Smith from the Bills for a seventh-round draft pick. The veteran played with the Bills from 2011-14 and from 2019-20. He was with the Raiders from 2015-18.

He provided the Falcons with blocking power and helped with the development of rookie tight end Kyle Pitts.

Smith, 34, said he enjoyed working with Pitts.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Smith said late in the regular season. “He’s going to go to the Hall of Fame one day, if the good Lord keeps him healthy. He’s the total package.”

They had to overcome the age difference. Pitts turned 21 this season.

“He’s closer in age to my kids,” Smith noted.

Smith was genuine when discussing Pitts.

“The best thing about him is that he’s humble,” Smith said. “He doesn’t walk around here like he’s arrived because he went to the Pro Bowl, or that he’s about to hit 1,000 yards receiving this week in Buffalo, hopefully. He’s the same guy. He’s the same innocent, goofy rookie he was in minicamp before he caught a damn pass.”

Smith said he played to open a gym in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn.

8. Quinn out interviewing: Former Falcons coach Dan Quinn is sent to interview with the Bears on Wednesday. He’s interviewed for the head coaching jobs with the Broncos, Vikings and Giants.

After he was fired by the Falcons, Quinn went on to serve as Dallas’ defensive coordinator this season.

9. Falcons’ 2021 season review series: We have used a heavy dose of analytics to help us break down the Falcons’ 2021 season in our eight-part series that is winding down with the secondary and the special-teams stories. Here are the links to the previous stories.

Falcons’ position-by-position analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Quarterbacks

Part 3: Wide Receivers/Tight ends

Part 4: Offensive line

Part 5: Defensive line

Part 6: Linebackers

Part 7: Defensive backs

Part 8: Special teams

The Bow Tie Chronicles

About the Author

Editors' Picks