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Jackson State’s Isaiah Bolden raises stock for NFL draft during pro day workout

Cornerback’s stats catch eyes of scouts eager to find ‘that next James Houston’

NFL scouts left last year’s pro day at Jackson State University buzzing about linebacker James Houston, whom the Detroit Lions ultimately selected in the sixth round of the 2022 draft. On Monday, Tigers football coach T.C. Taylor wondered who they would be talking about after this year’s workout.

The answer: cornerback Isaiah Bolden .

Bolden, a 6-2, 205-pound transfer from Florida State, ran a hand-timed 4.31 40-yard dash during Jackson State’s pro day Monday. He also had a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-9-inch broad jump.

“He made some money today,” said Jackson State assistant head coach and tight ends coach Otis Riddley .

Eleven Jackson State players in all worked out for scouts during the school’s pro day. Twenty-seven NFL teams and one Canadian Football League team attended the workout, where players were officially measured and weighed. They also participated in drills testing their strength and agility, such as the 40-yard dash and vertical jump. Teams use all of that information, along with game film, to slot players on the teams’ respective draft boards.

Every Power 5 school has a pro day. This year Jackson State allowed players from Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, Delta State and Mississippi College to participate so they also would have an opportunity to be seen by professional scouts.

While Bolden and Jackson State linebacker Aubrey Miller Jr. have the best chances of being drafted, Tigers wide receiver Dallas Daniels , who played in the East-West Shrine Bowl in early February, and cornerback De’Jahn Warren should earn training camp invites.

“I kind of thought about James Houston today and now he’s playing in the NFL,” said Taylor. “So, who’s that next James Houston in that bunch?

“This is their combine. This is their opportunity and when you can get that type of turnout from the league you want to put on. The responsibility for them was to have a great day because it keeps the scouts coming back.”

Bolden has the rare combination of size and speed for a cornerback. In February, the Memphis Showboats selected him with the 11th pick of the second round of the 2023 USFL college draft.

Coaches estimate he will be a third-day pick (rounds four through seven) in the NFL draft but could move up to an earlier round if some team falls in love with his measurables.

He was an elite kick returner at Jackson State, leading the nation with an average of 36.9 yards in 2021 and returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. Then-coach Deion Sanders took him off kickoff returns last season because he wanted Bolden to focus on becoming a better cornerback.

At Jackson State he played in the slot, which is unusual for a cornerback his size. His 76-inch wingspan allows him to knock down passes even when it looks like he has been beaten. Though he didn’t intercept a pass last season, he had seven pass deflections. In the NFL, his size would give teams the option to use him at safety.

Miller, the Southwestern Athletic Conference defensive player of the year , is an undersized inside linebacker at 6-2 and 225 pounds. He fits best in an odd defensive front because he’s average in coverage.

Miller is a leader and a good tackler who plays with effort and passion. Last season, he had 117 tackles, including 12 for loss. He was one of Jackson State’s best special teams players and played well in the Senior Bowl but ran a 4.7 40-yard dash time at pro day, which isn’t going to excite scouts.

“Aubrey Miller Jr. didn’t get a Combine invite after a strong @seniorBowl but, if we’re being real, NFL teams that like him don’t really care what he does in shorts,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy tweeted Monday night . “We can say this, whoever drafts @Loose_Qannon is getting a physical dude who loves football.”

Warren, Sanders’ first recruit, ran a 4.59 on Monday. The 6-1, 185-pound player was the No. 1 junior college cornerback in 2020 when he flipped from Georgia to Jackson State .

He was a starter in 2021 but didn’t start full time in 2022, partly due to cornerback Travis Hunter’s arrival . Warren did not intercept a pass during his last two seasons, but he had one pass deflection last season. Still, the New Jersey Generals took him in the fifth round of this year’s USFL draft.

“[Warren] has size and speed,” said former Jackson State defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. “But he’s behind a little bit because he just hasn’t played enough football.”

Daniels, a slot receiver, caught 63 passes for 692 yards and six touchdowns this season. He runs good routes and has excellent hands but lacks special size (6-1, 180 pounds) or speed (4.62 at the pro day). He’s the kind of player who will be impressive in camp once the players are wearing pads.

Jean-Jacques Taylor, a native of Dallas, is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL for 25 years and is president of JJT Media Group.