NFL draft, HBCU

As HBCU Football Players Go Undrafted, GMs See Lack Of Competition As Issue

This year, like 2021, no players from HBCUs were selected in the NFL Draft.

The push to get football players from HBCUs into the NFL, spearheaded publicly by former Jackson State head football coach Deion Sanders, suffered a setback as this year, like 2021, no players from HBCUs were selected.

This occurred despite the creation of recent initiatives like the HBCU Legacy Bowl and the HBCU Combine, backed by the NFL, in 2021 and 2022. 

As USA Today reports, in 2022, four HBCU players were taken, and last year, Jackson State cornerback Isaiah Bolden was the lone selection, taken by the New England Patriots late in the seventh round. Two HBCU players, Virginia State cornerback Willie Reed, and Howard University offensive tackle Anim Dankwah were expected to be the most likely HBCU players to get drafted. 

However, as The Athletic reported in 2023, the NFL is a business, and team executives are loath to use draft picks, even late-round picks, on players they don’t think can produce at the next level.

Reporter Jim Trotter spoke to six NFL general managers, composed of a mixture of multiple demographics, including race, state of the team and age. All agreed that the level of competition at the Football Championships Subdivision (FCS) can’t compete with the Football Bowl Subdivision. That matters more than seeing players from HBCUs succeed.

“I don’t think they have a downright bias; it’s more of HBCUs aren’t a priority,” Arnold said. “For so long, there has been this notion that if you can play they will find you — and that still remains true,” Orlando Arnold, an Alabama State alumnus and a certified agent who has represented four clients from HBCUs told The Athletic. “However, at HBCUs, so much has to go into making sure a player is seen. Does he have the stats? Does he have the measurables, etc.? Are the pro liaisons for the schools being proactive with scouts and evaluators and informing them of the player? At the end of the day, especially with the transfer portal, we aren’t getting that many NFL-caliber players like we used to.”

Trotter also indicated that he believes that the fight within the NFL for the equitable treatment of Black employees is a real one, but that creating a narrative that the NFL has a vendetta against players from HBCUs does a disservice to that credible fight. 

As USA Today reported, Trotter did not have his contract at NFL Media renewed after he pointedly asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell if he planned to address the lack of Black media members. In response, Trotter filed a lawsuit against the league for wrongful termination. 

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