A couple of years ago, I drove out to a couple of Pro Days during the offseason. After visiting some of the major Division I schools, there was definitely an uncertainty walking up to the weight room with very little fanfare. The coach of Florida A&M at the time looked to be a bit puzzled. After telling him about my eight-hour drive to get there, he looked stunned. “Why on earth would you drive all that way to get here?” He asked.
HBCU Prospects Still A Rarity in NFL Draft
HBCU Players Perform Without Notice
The question caught me a bit off guard. Being somewhat new to the scene of covering Pro Days, the expectation was to be plenty of media or scouts there. Right? Or maybe one scout. The exact number of scouts or media escapes me at the second, but the scene wasn’t exactly a huge crowd. Still, plenty of players were there for a chance. Just a chance to grab someone’s attention. And my memory of this event seems like yesterday. In fact, the media was simply me and a student from the college newspaper.
Perhaps it was a bad day since Florida State held their Pro Day ironically on the same day. Even the time was eerily booked approximately the same time. Regardless, there was something that irked me that day. Many of the kids won’t even get that 30 seconds of attention.
That same year, Grambling was on my radar, because of a guy named Chad Williams. Williams was a projected late round pick until he blazed a 40-yard dash at both workouts at Grambling and Louisiana Tech.
Williams garnered attention after that one day. He beat the odds and got drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the NFL Draft in 2017. Surely, that moment had to be special for his friends and family. Tarik Cohen, Grover Stewart, and Jylan Ware were also picked in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Against All Odds for HBCU Players
On the other hand, the odds of becoming an NFL player from an HBCU school is very rare. However, the numbers don’t make a lot of sense. Almost 10 percent of the NFL players are in the Hall of Fame. Here’s the list. So keep that percentage handy. There are 32 teams in the NFL and seven rounds of the NFL Draft each year. That’s roughly almost 250 players counting the compensatory picks. Let’s cut that percentage in half. If just 5% of the players get drafted from the HBCU were picked, the number should be at least 10 players drafted per year. But that’s not the case.
The numbers are puzzling. What’s even more staggering is from the year 1967-1972, there were 365 players drafted in that five-year span. Willie Lanier was one of them. Lanier attended Morgan State in Baltimore. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs back in 1967. Lanier would eventually end up in the Hall of Fame.
“When I got to Morgan, guys were being drafted all the time,” recalled Mark Washington, a teammate of Lanier’s at Morgan State. What’s even more interesting is the position that Lanier played was mostly reserved for white players. The executives felt that these positions were considered “thinking” positions. Obviously, the times have changed since then. If it wasn’t for a scout named Will Robinson from the Detroit Lions that compared him to the next Dick Butkus, Lanier may have never been sought after so highly.
“With him saying that about me, I began to look at myself differently,” Lanier said. “I put myself in a different context. Will Robinson gave me a new reference point.”
NFL Teams Miss Out
Lanier makes a point of putting the responsibility to the universities to sell their athletes more these days. Regardless, the common sense doesn’t add up. Why back then, teams were drafting 40 plus players per year and now the HBCU is barely getting 2% of players drafted. It’s hard to believe the talent level has dropped off so much. Also, think about how technology has made it easy to connect and get film on these kids.
Even with the success of Tarik Cohen and Darius Leonard recently hasn’t moved the marker for HBCU players. Furthermore, in this draft upcoming, five players drafted would be an accomplishment. Think about this too. The NFL and Roger Goodell are constantly making efforts to bring in international players in for a new program. In reality, the HBCU prospects go by the wayside. The answer is unknown. The fact of the matter is, the talent is out there. The Pro Days welcome scouts, coaches, and media. Perhaps, the blame is a combination of all of the above.
Follow the Money
The only thing that separates is the color of money. The institutions that have bigger facilities and resources seem to win that battle nowadays. What would happen if more players committed to HBCU schools out of high school? Just a thought. Certainly, more players opting to attend HBCU schools could change the landscape of college football and the NFL. All things considered, universities will continue to lure players with the selling point of sending more players to the NFL. Maybe it will change one day, but not in our lifetime.
Here is one list of HBCU prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft in just under two weeks. Of course, there is always the possibility of a player going undrafted and making a roster. It can happen. But the eyes have to see them first. Unfortunately, there seems to be a reluctance to commit to HBCU players at the moment. Nonetheless, there’s always hope for those players to at least get an opportunity. An opportunity to get that 30 seconds of time.
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