The 2022 NFL draft will take center stage beginning Thursday night in Las Vegas. While there’s some real intrigue as to what teams are thinking concerning the top Power Five prospects, the bigger questions surround a deep HBCU talent pool and what kind of opportunity they will be given to perform on Sundays.
Will they be shut out and overlooked again over the three days of picks?
Since 2018, just eight players from HBCUs have been drafted, including none in the 2021 NFL draft. Former South Carolina State and current Indianapolis Colts All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard was chosen in the second round in 2018. Former Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair was chosen third overall in 1995, making him the highest-drafted HBCU offensive player ever.
The 2021 draft shutout still stings. While there were outside factors such as COVID-19, regular seasons being played in the spring, no pro days, no face-to-face meetings, and no combine invites, to have not one HBCU athlete drafted was a complete travesty.
Jackson State head football coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders has been the most visible figure advocating for exposure and visibility. He had this to say in a tweet after the 2021 draft.
“NEGLECTED AND REJECTED”
In July, former Southern wide receiver and new Hall of Fame inductee Harold Carmichael chimed in on the bleak situation via Zoom with the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
“It’s very, very troublesome to me to see that happen. Back in the late ‘60s, early ’70s, a lot of big-time players were coming out of the HBCU teams.”
Carmichael was drafted in the 1971 draft, where 55 players from HBCUs were taken.
Of the 354 members gracing the halls in Canton, 34 played their collegiate ball at an HBCU. That list includes iconic players such as Walter Payton, Jackie Slater, Art Shell, Donnie Shell, Doug Williams and a plethora of others.
— HBCU Gameday (@HBCUGameday) May 2, 2021
Deion Sanders Wants To See 10 Players From HBCUs Drafted
Earlier this week, Sanders described to The Associated Press his list of players he believes should and could get the call.
“My prediction is five to seven, maybe 10 guys should be drafted,” Sanders said. “We have at least 15,16 truly draftable guys, more that I feel like probably are going to get drafted. Exposure helps. What’s going on and what’s translating today in HBCU football is helping tremendously. We’re getting a lot of shine.”
Sanders dubbed his list of prospective draft picks “Prime Prospects,” and it features a boatload of talent, including Alabama A&M quarterback Aqeel Glass, who’s probably better than most of the Power Five QBs in this draft.
He’s got all the tools, and a team looking for a young signal caller to develop should consider drafting him. Wideout Dee Anderson, all 6 feet 6 of him, caught 12 touchdowns from Glass last season for Connell Maynor’s Bulldogs. Zabrian Moore is another dynamic wideout that Glass had at his disposal and will be getting some looks on draft day.
Will Adams (DB/Virginia State), Joshua Williams (DB/ Fayetteville State), James Houston (Edge/Jackson State), Keith Corbin (WR/Jackson State), Jerry Garner (LB/Miss Valley State) are all marvelous talents who can play on Sunday.
Some others include DeCobie Durant (DB/South Carolina State), Markquese Bell (DB/ FAMU), Ja’Tyre Carter (OL/ Southern), Jah-Maine Martin (RB/ NCAT), Ezra Gray (RB/ Alabama State). The list goes on, to the point where there seems to be no way the NFL could once again forget about HBCU athletes come this weekend.
Adams, Carter, Markquese Bell and Joshua Williams were the only four HBCU players invited to participate in the NFL Combine in Indy. All performed well, which should help in their draft potential.
The Mission Is To Hear Names Called
Sanders’ role and mission has been to help open doors for players of all HBCUs, not just Jackson State.
“I’m happy in the role that God has chosen for me,” Sanders said. “I’m happy to be where I am, and I tell people all the time I know I’m employed at Jackson State, but I’m working for the whole HBCU.”
The stage is set, and the players have had more exposure than ever before. From their game tape, to the first annual HBCU Legacy Bowl, to the HBCU Combine, to pro days, and individual face-to-face meetings with teams.
If Sanders and HBCUs have it their way this is just the beginning of less “separatism” and more HBCU players getting that call to play at the next level.
The NFL Draft begins with Round 1 on Thursday at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Rounds 2-3 will take place Friday and 4-7 on Saturday, live from the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada.