Hall of Famer Deion Sanders’ first NFL draft pick as head coach will begin his career at Motor City.
Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes met HBCU linebacker James Houston IV of Jackson State in the sixth round, 217th overall. Holmes, an HBCU graduate from North Carolina A&T, talked all year about giving these players a chance. He stood by his word and Houston is grateful for the opportunity.
“My mom gives me shit about it all the time, and says, ‘Why don’t you draft any HBCU players?'” Holmes said. “But I’ve always said that too. They need to control it too. They’re not appointed just because they’re at an HBCU. They need to deserve it. So these kids deserve it. Last year was just not that. caliber or process.It was a great race for HBCU players for a long time.
“You had your Darius Leonards and Tarik Cohen and Brandon Parkers, and it took a little dip there with COVID,” he said. “So it’s good to see that we’re making much better progress now.”
Houston – nicknamed “Da Problem” – dominated last season with 16.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for losses. He spent three seasons as an inside linebacker with the Florida Gators, making 100 tackles, 4.5 sacks and three forced fumbles before switching last year.
Houston said he had no contact with the Lions before he was drafted. He was the first Jackson State player to be selected since 2008 and among four HBCU players taken in this draft, joining Fayetteville State’s Joshua Williams (Kansas City Chiefs), South Carolina State’s Decobie Durant (Los Angeles Rams) and Southerns Ja’Tyre Carter (Chicago Bears).
There were no HBCU players drafted in 2021.
“When it comes from an HBCU perspective, I know a lot has been done in the past, especially last year that no one was selected,” Holmes said. “So I was very happy to see, even before we took James, the others selected … It was good to see progress on that front.”
Detroit had not 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.
“It’s clear to have Deion who was just a big factor in me going there,” Houston said. “Obviously it’s an HBCU that also drew me there, and my whole family we come from HBCUs, and everyone from my immediate to my extended family has been to HBCUs. That was something I like would experience and it was just like that .. felt like the right timing.
“I know me and Coach Prime, we all had the same hopes and the same motivation to somehow start this thing, and I can not be more excited that I’m his first customer in the NFL.”