James Houston Drafted by Lions; Deion Sanders' 1st Draft Pick as Jackson State HC

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIApril 30, 2022

East linebacker James Houston IV, of Jackson State, (41) in coverage against the West during the East West Shrine Bowl football game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
AP Photo/Gregory Payan

The Detroit Lions selected Jackson State edge-rusher James Houston with the No. 217 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft on Saturday.

Per Eric Woodyard of ESPN, Houston is the first-ever player drafted under Deion Sanders, the Pro Football Hall of Famer and Jackson State head football coach who took over the Tigers program in 2020.

Jackson State has thrived under Sanders, who led the program to an 11-2 record, a SWAC Championship and an appearance in the Celebration Bowl last year.

Houston played a massive part in that success with 16.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and 70 total tackles. He received an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl and fared well there too.

Bill Smith, NFL Sr. Manager of Research & Analytics, shouted out his efforts in a postgame piece:

"Jackson State linebacker James Houston was another bright spot for the East as he had a big hit in the run game, stopping Ty Chandler for a loss. He was also able to put pressure on Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy in the fourth quarter. Houston is an intriguing prospect after transferring from Florida. He had 16.5 sacks last season for head coach Deion Sanders."

Sanders has been a vocal advocate for all draft prospects from HBCU schools, not just his own.

There was an HBCU pro day in Mississippi last March, and Sanders called out 10 teams that didn't attend in an interview with NFL Network (h/t Khari Thompson of the Mississippi Clarion Ledger).

"You 10 that's missing, if I catch you at Mississippi State or Ole Miss, it's going to be a problem, that's all I'm going to say. That's all I'm saying—it's going to be a problem. Our kids are that good, you should have shown up too," he said. 

Sanders also spoke at the pro day and expected at least a few attendees to be drafted.

Cameron Wolfe @CameronWolfe

Jackson State HC <a href="https://twitter.com/DeionSanders?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DeionSanders</a> giving speech before pro day field drills feat <a href="https://twitter.com/nflnetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nflnetwork</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/shawn_kopelakis?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@shawn_kopelakis</a>:<br><br>“You ball you get the call. I’m expecting a few of y’all to get the call. There’s no way we’re going another year without a player from HBCU getting drafted. That’s a lie” <a href="https://t.co/nmNxosTWX5">pic.twitter.com/nmNxosTWX5</a>

It's no surprise that the Lions are giving Houston a chance, especially after Lions general manager Brad Holmes, a graduate of HBCU North Carolina A&T told Woodyard that he wants to give more football prospects from those schools a fair shot.

"Again, we just need opportunities, man," Holmes said in part.

"I know with me coming from an HBCU and knowing what it’s like, I don’t put anybody behind the eightball because I know that they’re just as good and they’ve got the same ability as the next person. It’s just giving them the opportunity."

Now Houston is getting that opportunity in Detroit.