After successfully overseeing the transition of four players from HBCU programs to the NFL last spring, the first wave of accepted invites for the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl features three NFL draft prospects from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Led by Florida A&M OLB Isaiah Land, the talented trio are headed to Las Vegas to compete against the top seniors in the nation at college football‘s longest-running all-star game.
2023 Shrine Bowl To Feature Talented Trio of HBCU NFL Draft Prospects
As the college football season careers to an explosive conclusion, the early wave of all-star game accepted invites are pouring in. Amongst those heading to Las Vegas for the Shrine Bowl — college football’s longest-running all-star game — are a talented trio of HBCU prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. In addition to Florida A&M star Land, Hampton WR Jadakis Bonds and Jackson State pass catcher Dallas Daniels have accepted their invites.
Since taking over as the Director of the Shrine Bowl, ensuring that HBCU programs receive the appreciation and awareness they deserve has been at the heart of Eric Galko‘s mission. However, don’t be under the illusion that the inclusion of three 2023 NFL Draft prospects from those programs is a simple box-ticking exercise or passion project.
The passion is very much bringing the best CFB seniors to Las Vegas to compete in front of NFL staff with the goal of those prospects having sustained NFL success. In Land, Daniels, and Bonds, that’s exactly what Galko and his team at the Shrine Bowl believe that they have. It just so happens that they’ll represent HBCU programs on the biggest stage.
“One of the important things that we talked about a few weeks ago, and is still true, is that we are really excited to have HBCU players at the Shrine Bowl. But, we were never going to compromise on inviting “less than” players. These three players — Isaiah Land, Dallas Daniels, and Jadakis Bonds — are outstanding prospects. We believe that they are amongst the best in the entire senior class, and that’s why we invited them, and invited them early.”
Last year, the longest-running CFB all-star game had four HBCU prospects, with all four starting the 2022 season on an NFL roster. Land, Daniels, and Bonds may just be the start for this draft cycle, with Galko admitting that “we’re probably going to have more HBCU players” at the 2023 Shrine Bowl. However, he stresses that’s “because there’s a lot of talent at the HBCU level and not because we’re trying to fit some player in there.”
Land Leads the HBCU Charge in the 2023 NFL Draft
The talent level is undeniable, and in the 2023 NFL Draft class, it starts with Florida A&M’s Land. The Rattlers’ star won the Buck Buchanan Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the FCS last fall. And after missing time early this season, he’s back to establishing himself as one of the very best defensive dominators at the level.
Ahead of FAMU’s game with Bethune-Cookman this weekend, Land has racked up 11.5 tackles and 7.5 sacks, with a forced fumble and two pass breakups for good measure. While the statistics are impressive, his explosive first step, flexibility, tenacity, and speed as a dangerous pass-rush presence is what is drawing significant attention in the 2023 NFL Draft class.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
The Shrine Bowl wasn’t the only all-star game courting the dynamic defensive prospect, and Galko explains why his team was so excited to get Land to Las Vegas.
“Isaiah Land is a really impressive, athletic edge rusher. He’s been productive over his college career. He’s been a guy that we’ve known about for going on three years now. I think if he adds a little weight and kind of takes that next step as a developed pass rusher, this is a guy who could be an impact NFL starter for a long, long time. Really excited about a guy like him.”
While Galko and the Shrine Bowl team are excited to get Land to their event, the Florida A&M man knows that the longest-running college football all-star game offers a significant opportunity for him. There’s a proven historical pathway from the Shrine Bowl to the NFL.
“He saw last year, James Houston use the Shrine Bowl to vault himself into a Day 3 selection,” Galko explains. “I think Isaiah sees that he can maybe do that and more for his draft stock.”
Daniels Can Be the Real Deal in the 2023 NFL Draft Class
While Land is the sole defensive player from an HBCU program at this moment, Daniels is one half of a WR duo representing HBCUs at the 2023 Shrine Bowl. The Jackson State pass catcher has trodden a windy path to the 2023 NFL Draft, playing at the JUCO level before transferring to Western Illinois and finally finding a home this season with Deion Sanders’ team in Mississippi.
With 587 receiving yards and six touchdowns, Daniels is having the most productive season of his career, peaking at the right time ahead of the draft. He’s impressed with his twitchy route-running ability and dangerous after-the-catch potential this year, earning national attention despite playing in an offense with a plethora of pass-catching talent.
“Dallas Daniels has been — in our mind at least — one of, if not the most, impressive receivers in that Jackson State offense,” Galko explains following his selection to the 2023 Shrine Bowl. “It’s a prolific offense and it’s been awesome to see him go to work. I think he’s a really dynamic, multi-faceted receiver. Really productive. That staff speaks super highly of Dallas as a person as well as a player.”
“I think his NFL projection might be a ‘Z’ if they do a lot of spread-out concepts,” Galko continues his evaluation. “Or a slot receiver right away in the NFL. I think he’s a really impressive guy who can do a couple of different things at the Shrine Bowl against some really talented nickel corners that we’ll have there.”
Bonds Realizing His Potential Ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft
While Bonds might not be a household name at this moment, he could have been. With his inclusion in the 2023 Shrine Bowl class, it’s destined to be. The former three-star high school recruit swapped one Pirates program for another when he was deemed academically ineligible for East Carolina.
All Bonds has done is dominate at the FCS level for Hampton ever since.
With over 2,500 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns in his college career, Bonds is one of the most productive receivers in the FCS. His 6’4″, 200-pound frame speaks to a big-bodied receiver, but he’s more than just a “throw up a prayer” and hope he gets you there type of a player.
There’s a dangerous pass-catching weapon who leaps out and grabs you when you flip on the tape, as Galko explains when discussing the thought process behind Bonds’ selection.
“Jadakis Bonds, it’s easy. Turn on the film, and within two or three plays, you’re like, ‘who the heck is this guy?'” Jadakis is a guy where you turn on the film and if you forgot who you were watching, you figure it out pretty quickly.”
“He has a lot of similarities to a guy we had at the Shrine Bowl last year — Dareke Young of Lenoir-Rhyne — who was so physically impressive for that level of football that say no matter what, A) this guy is not going to look out of place in the NFL and B) will be a special-teams ace for a team right away as he develops as a receiver.
“I think Jadakis has a lot of that same NFL projection where he’s a slam-dunk special-teams guy, but as a big-bodied receiver, he has all the tools and ability. We’ve seen Jadakis grow from an intriguing big-bodied receiver into a real top NFL prospect, and we’re really excited about him.”
How Does the Shrine Bowl View the NFL Projection for the 3 HBCU 2023 NFL Draft Prospects?
Since the announcement of an exclusive media partnership between Pro Football Network and the Shrine Bowl, we’ve had unprecedented access to many of the processes that help build the longest-running CFB all-star game. As part of that, we’ve previously discussed how the invitation process focuses less on a specific round grade, but how Galko and the Shrine Bowl team view the NFL potential and projection for their players.
With that in mind, what does the NFL outlook look like for the HBCU trio?
“For Isaiah, the question for some NFL teams — and it’ll depend on scheme a little bit — is where can he play early on,” Galko begins. “He needs to add weight, and he knows that. For Isaiah, it will be how many snaps can he play as a rookie. As a team, you want Isaiah Land out there rushing the passer, even if it’s four, five, six snaps a game.
“If he can show a team in this draft process that tomorrow he can offer you 15 snaps as a rotational guy by Week 1 of the season, that’s a huge impact role and a guy like him is going to go in the top five rounds because he can offer value to your team as a rookie. As it stands right now, he could be a situational edge rusher but his ceiling is top edge rusher in the NFL.”
Hampton University hasn’t had a player selected in the NFL Draft since 2011. With Bonds, there’s a legitimate chance of that drought ending, especially with the opportunity to increase his exposure and stock in Las Vegas. For Galko, there’s an obvious immediate NFL projection for the Pirates’ pass catcher. However, the ceiling is even more enticing.
“For Jadakis Bonds, I’ll stress it again, I think he is an NFL special-teams ace tomorrow with the ability to develop as a separator down the field. He’s not a burner, but he can get past guys. Fine-tuning how he can get that late-breaking separation, kind of how Alshon Jeffery did late in his NFL career. Once Jadakis has that, I think he’s going to be a guy NFL teams feed the ball to quite often.”
For the two HBCU wide receiver prospects, there’s a familiar theme as it pertains to their immediate NFL projection. When trying to shoot through the NFL door, the more arrows in your bow, the better.
Being able to perform on special teams is a particularly potent weapon to possess in your armory. As a receiver, alignment flexibility is just as important. Galko explains that for Jackson State’s Daniels, both are key to his 2023 NFL Draft stock.
“I think for Dallas, the question early on in the NFL is, can he offer value on special teams, and how many roles can he play? I know Dallas wants to show NFL teams in this draft process that he can play not just in the slot. The more that he can show that he can offer a couple of situational spots as a receiver, that’s going to push him from a guy teams are intrigued by, to a guy teams will find a role for early on.”
There’s an exciting mix of possibilities, permutations, and projections for the talented trio of 2023 HBCU NFL Draft prospects. What’s particularly exciting is the enthusiasm with which Galko talks about each prospect in turn.
As he stressed from the get-go, Land, Bonds, and Daniels — plus those that get added to the Shrine Bowl later in the process — aren’t here to make up the numbers, to tick a box, to satisfy a quota.
“I think all three of these guys have immediate NFL roles,” Galko reiterates. “The question for the draft process is can they go from a guy who has a role to a guy that can develop into a starter? I think all three can get there.”
How Can the 2023 Shrine Bowl Help Showcase That Starter Potential?
There’s a reason why NFL draft prospects go to all-star games. Conversely, there’s a reason why “guaranteed” first-round selections don’t go to all-star games. All the prospects that head to Las Vegas for the 2023 Shrine Bowl have something to prove to NFL teams, whether that is in the interview process or out on the field during the week of practice.
For players that come from FCS and HBCU programs, the biggest thing that they have to prove is that they belong at the NFL level. They have to prove that whatever preconception of their talent exists based on a multitude of factors, is a myth. For Land, Bonds, and Daniels, Galko presents a perfect case study of how the Shrine Bowl can help a player challenge those opinions and emerge as an NFL draft selection.
“Decobie Durant. He played Clemson the first game of the season and had two interceptions, was a really good nickel corner against Clemson, and then didn’t really play a whole lot of NFL receivers the rest of the season. At the Shrine Bowl, he showed right away that he could be a sticky nickel corner around NFL players.”
For some players, the jump from the FCS to the NFL is a huge one. For others, like Durant, the Shrine Bowl helps demonstrate that, actually, it’s not that big a jump at all.
As Galko points out, “not every player is going to struggle to make that FCS to NFL jump.” While accepting that players are at different points on their development trajectory as they enter the draft process, the Shrine Bowl can help identify where they are on that curve, and that can have a knock-on impact on where they’re ultimately taken next April.
“I think for all three of these guys,” Galko concludes, “the Shrine Bowl can show whether they’re ahead of schedule. If they are, that bumps them up from being an intriguing Day 3 pick, let’s find a role for them, to a guy who goes in the top 100. I honestly think that all three of these players have a good chance to do that if they have a good process like Durant did.”
That process begins in earnest next January. Land, Bonds, and Daniels are officially on the Shrine Bowl Road To Vegas. The highly-talented trio are putting HBCU programs on the map as they travel the road from college to the NFL. Given the Shrine Bowl’s HBCU success last year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see all three of them suiting up on Sunday sooner rather than later.
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