Hall of Famer Deion Sanders’ first NFL draft pick as a college head coach will start his career in the Motor City.
Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes drafted HBCU linebacker James Houston IV from Jackson State in the sixth round, 217th overall. Holmes, an HBCU graduate of North Carolina A&T, spoke throughout the year about giving those players a chance. He stood by his word, and Houston is thankful for the opportunity.
“My mom gives me crap about it all the time, saying, ‘Why don’t you draft any HBCU players?'” Holmes said. “But, I’ve always said about that, too. They have to control it, too. They don’t get drafted just because they’re at an HBCU. They have to earn it. So, these kids earned it. Last year just wasn’t that caliber or process. It was a great run for HBCU players for a long time.
“You had your Darius Leonards and Tarik Cohens and Brandon Parkers and it kind of took a little dip there with COVID,” he said. “So, it’s good to see that we’re making a lot better progress now.”
Houston — nicknamed “Da Problem” — dominated this past season with 16.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss. He spent three seasons as an inside linebacker with the Florida Gators where he made 100 tackles, 4.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, before transferring this past year.
Houston said he had no contact with the Lions before being drafted. He was the first Jackson State player to be selected since 2008 and among four HBCU player taken in this draft, joining Fayetteville State’s Joshua Williams (Kansas City Chiefs), South Carolina State’s Decobie Durant (Los Angeles Rams) and Southern’s Ja’Tyre Carter (Chicago Bears).
There were no HBCU players drafted in 2021.
“When it comes from an HBCU perspective, I know a lot was made in the past, especially last year about none being selected,” Holmes said. “So, I was very happy to see, even before we took James, the others selected … It was good to see progress made on that front.”
Detroit hadn’t selected an HBCU product since 2013. Houston also becomes the second-highest Jackson State player selected by the Lions, joining Hall of Fame defensive back Lem Barney who was taken in the second round of the 1967 draft.
“Obviously having Deion there was just a huge factor in me going there,” Houston said. “Obviously with it being an HBCU, that also drew me there as well and my whole family we come from HBCUs and everybody from my immediate to my extended family has been going to HBCUs. It was something I wanted to experience and it just kind of felt like the right timing.
“I know me and Coach Prime, we all kind of had the same aspirations and the same motivation to kind of kick this thing off and I can’t be more excited that I’m his first prospect in the NFL.”