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2024 NFL Draft: Zareon Hayes, Davius Richard headline HBCU Legacy Bowl Week standouts

The HBCU Legacy Bowl keeps getting better with each season. Saturday's game delivered the deepest pool of talent the event has seen in its three-year history. Representatives from all 32 NFL teams were in attendance for a week of competitive practices leading up to the game, featuring 100-plus 2024 NFL Draft prospects from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I had an opportunity to witness it all in person leading up to our broadcast of the game on NFL Network and NFL+.

Before we turn our attention to the NFL Scouting Combine, I'm highlighting six prospects, listed in alphabetical order, who helped themselves -- either during the week of practice, in the game or both -- along with five other players who are deserving of an honorable mention. There were plenty of talented prospects who played well, but in this piece, I'm focusing on guys who consistently performed at a level that should have the attention of NFL scouts.

Tune in for live coverage of the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine beginning Feb. 29 on NFL Network and NFL+.

Jeblonski Green Jr., DT, South Carolina State

Green seemed to be knocking down a pass at the line of scrimmage every time we looked up on Saturday. Clearly, he knows how to get his hands in the passing lane, but he was disruptive against the run, as well. Green is a former high school running back/linebacker who transitioned to defensive tackle. It seemed like he might have added a little too much weight last year and it bogged him down. It appeared he arrived at the Legacy Bowl at a better playing weight. He would still be undersized as an NFL defensive tackle, but if he's looking for some inspiration, he can take a look at what Kobie Turner achieved as a rookie for the Los Angeles Rams last season. Green is not the same player as Turner, who was a finalist for DROY in 2023, but he has a similar style of game.

Zareon Hayes, Edge, Alabama A&M

Hayes kept flashing in team and one-on-one drills during practices. Then he turned it loose in the game, recording four sacks and making plays against the run on his way to earning Defensive MVP honors. The 6-foot-1, 242-pounder knows how to use leverage and quickness to his advantage, and he showed a good array of pass-rush moves. He plays the game with a lot of intelligence and effort, which helped him rack up 10.5 tackles for loss last season.

Isaiah Major, LB, Florida A&M

Major is a run-chase-hit linebacker, which means he's at his best in space. He's going to struggle when offensive linemen get to him at the second level, but we could say that about many linebackers in the league today. He shows up with suddenness to fill gaps and can make plays in coverage because of his quickness -- see his game-sealing interception against Howard in the Celebration Bowl. He came in highly touted as the 2023 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year, and he lived up to the hype in New Orleans.

Davius Richard, QB, North Carolina Central

Richard was recipient of the 2023 Deacon Jones Trophy as the Black College Football Co-Player of the Year, sharing the honors with Florida A&M quarterback Jeremy Moussa. Richard offers good size (6-2, 225 pounds), strong leadership ability and outstanding production. I thought he got better every day of the week in New Orleans. He has a good arm (166-of-273, 60.8% completion rate, 2,177 yards, 21 TDs, 4 INTs in 2023) and he can make plays with his legs (117 carries for 630 yards, 5.4 average, 18 TDs). The two-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year is a true dual threat. On the first drive of Saturday's game, he made two good throws and then ran the ball for a score. Unfortunately, he suffered a leg injury on the TD run and had to exit the contest. He was named Offensive MVP of the game, and here's hoping the injury will not cost him an opportunity to compete for a job in the NFL. He was clearly the best player in attendance.

Tairiq Stewart, OT, North Carolina A&T

Stewart is a physical right tackle with a nasty playing temperament. He has to make sure he channels that energy for positive gains and not hurt his team by drawing a penalty flag, but he has the aggressiveness coaches like to see. He'll flat-out pancake a defender. The former JUCO transfer showed good things in pass protection and seemed to love the challenge of one-on-ones drills in practice. Teams looking for a fiery competitor on the offensive line should give him a look.

Jordan Toles, S, Morgan State

Toles spent the first two seasons of his college career at LSU before transferring to Morgan State. He has the look of a traditional strong safety, and he might also fit as a big nickel or dime linebacker. One thing's for sure: He brings the pop when he makes a hit. He did a good job during the week in underneath coverage, a strong follow-up to his first-team All-MEAC 2023 season (66 tackles, three interceptions, blocked kick). To me, he should be looking to emulate the Dallas Cowboys' Markquese Bell. A safety out of Florida A&M, Bell wasn't drafted in 2022, but he's playing a significant role in the NFL now, starting eight games last season. That's the path Toles could follow to an NFL opportunity.

HONORABLE MENTION: Cedrick Anderson, DB, Grambling State; Darrian Brokenburr, DL, Howard; Loobert Denelus, DT, Benedict College; LaDarius Owens, RB, Texas Southern; Eric Smith, DB, Florida A&M.

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