How The HBCU Combine Is Already Increasing NFL Opportunities For Black College Stars

The HBCU Combine was founded in 2020 but didn’t physically begin until 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A brain trust led by NFL Executive Vice President Troy Vincent, Pro Football Hall of Famers Doug Williams and James “Shack” Harris and others, including the NFL Network’s Steve Wyche — a Howard University graduate who champions for HBCUs — put the idea into action.

Nearly 50 HBCU players had an opportunity to perform in front of a representative from all 32 NFL teams. (Getty Images)

The purpose behind the combine was to get more exposure and visibility on the HBCU players who get left out of the NFL combine yearly. To give nearly 50 players an opportunity to perform in front of a representative from all 32 teams is huge, and that’s what happened this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers GM Omar Khan Spoke At HBCU Combine

While each NFL team sent a scout or player personnel rep down to New Orleans, one GM decided he needed to be in attendance. Pittsburgh Steelers GM Omar Khan, who’s coming off his first season in the position, addressed the players. 

“Congratulations for being here,” Khan told the players upon his arrival. “You should be proud, but remember all the scouts here didn’t come to celebrate Mardi Gras.”

For Khan to be the one GM to show up is not a coincidence, as no other franchise has drafted more players from HBCUs, with many becoming Hall of Famers once their careers ended. 

Deion Sanders Championed For HBCU Combine

When the idea of the combine first emerged, then-Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders championed for it. But as the inaugural event grew closer, the Pro Football Hall of Famer had a change of heart, believing the NFL should just add 52 more slots to their yearly event in Indianapolis.

The 52 players were suppose to be a part of the first one in Miami in 2020, but was it canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sanders’ new take came as he watched ESPN2 following his Jackson State team’s big win over SWAC rival Prairie View in the SWAC championship game. Sanders wanted to see “separatism” end, leading to an NFL combine that was all-inclusive with players from the SWAC, MEAC and SIAC also attending that event.

Four HBCU Players Invited To 2022 NFL Combine

Three of those players were drafted, with former Fayetteville State Broncos cornerback Joshua Williams playing a vital role in helping the Kansas City Chiefs win their second Super Bowl in four years. Without the HBCU combine, there’s a great chance Williams wouldn’t have been invited to the NFL combine. He was and he showed out, becoming the first HBCU player off the board.

What the aforementioned Williams, Harris and others are doing is great and from the looks of it this is the start of something new and opportunistic for HBCU football players.

No one should expect a sudden influx of Black college players being invited to Indy, so the HBCU combine is vital for their chances. 

Players Who Stood Out At 2023 HBCU Combine

The top four prospects at this week’s HBCU combine vary in position and where they played. 

FAMU wideout Xavier Smith showed elite speed, route-running and great hands. 

Jackson State cornerback De’Jahn Warren, whom Coach Prime called a pro if he “worked harder”, ran a 4.36 40-yard dash.

Lane College edge rusher Andrew Farmer II showed speed to power and elite bend off the edge. Fourteen teams were intrigued.

Division II Bowie State defensive lineman Joshua Pryor is versatile enough to play anywhere on the line. He’ll lean on the success of the aforementioned Williams, with both being from a D-2 program. 

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