Top 10 Offensive HBCU Players of All-Time | Jerry Rice Is The HBCU And NFL GOAT

Historically Black colleges and universities produced some of the greatest college and professional football players until the traditional Power Five schools started to recruit and lure those players to bigger programs in the mid to late 1970s.

Now these programs are fighting to get back to the glory days by making splash head coaching hires to help recruit the bigger names from high school. Hue Jackson, a former NFL head coach, is making his mark at Alabama State. Deion Sanders built a solid foundation at Jackson State to set them up for a bright future before he departed for Colorado’s head coaching job.

Let’s take a look at some of the greatest offensive weapons the NFL has seen that came from HBCUs.

1. Jerry Rice, WR, Mississippi Valley State (1981-85)

Rice was selected 16th overall in first round by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1985 NFL draft. He was a 13-time Pro Bowl selection, 10-time All-Pro selection, 1987 NFL MVP, Super Bowl XXIII MVP, two-time all-decade team selection for the 1980s-90s, NFL 100 All-Time team member, and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

He spent 15 seasons with the 49ers, four with the Oakland Raiders, and one with the Seattle Seahawks. His 22,895 receiving yards and 197 receiving touchdowns in his career still both stand as NFL records for a wide receiver. He is also highly regarded as the greatest receiver of all time.

2. Walter Payton, RB, Jackson State (1971-75)

He sits second on the list behind Emmitt Smith in rushing with 16,726 yards for his career. Payton was the fourth overall selection in the first round by the Chicago Bears in the 1975 draft. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl player, five-time All-Pro selection, 1977 NFL MVP, and currently has an award named after him called the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.

Payton was named an all-decade player in the 1970s and 1980s. He also was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. He received no offers from SEC schools, so he decided to take his talents to an HBCU. In 1984, he broke Jim Brown’s NFL all-time career rushing record until Smith broke his record in 2002.

3. Art Shell, OT, University of Maryland Eastern Shore (1964-68)

Shell attended current-day Morgan State University and was the 80th overall pick in the 1968 draft. He played all 14 seasons with the Raiders organization that moved from Oakland to Los Angeles during his career.

He is in the 1989 Pro Football Hall of Fame class and was named to the NFL 100 All-time team. He was an eight-time Pro Bowl player and two-time All-Pro selection.

4. Jackie Slater, OT, Jackson State (1972-26)

Slater was a teammate of Payton while at Jackson State and was selected 86th overall in the third round of the 1976 draft. It took three years for him to become the full-time starter with the Rams, but he eventually would make eight Pro Bowls.

He played all of his 19 NFL seasons with the Rams in Los Angeles and St. Louis. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

5. Shannon Sharpe, TE, Savannah State (1986-90)

Sharpe is affectionately known as everyone’s television “Unc,” but before that Shay Shay had one of the greatest careers for a tight end. He is the younger brother of South Carolina standout Sterling Sharpe and holds the single-season record for yards in a game by a tight end with 214 yards.

He set the all-time tight end record for receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060), and touchdowns (62). He was the first tight end to surpass 10,000 receiving yards in his career. He played 11 seasons with the Denver Broncos and two with the Baltimore Ravens. He was selected 192nd overall in 1990 draft and switched his position from wide receiver to tight end just to make the Denver Broncos roster.

Sharpe is eight-time Pro Bowl pick, four-time All-Pro selection, three-time Super Bowl champion, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

6. Steve McNair, QB, Alcorn State (1992-95)

The University of Florida offered McNair a scholarship to play running back out of high school, but he turned it down. He then set his sights on Alcorn State, where he went on to become the third overall pick in the 1995 draft by the Houston Oilers.

McNair 12 NFL seasons with the Oilers, Titans, and Ravens. He was co-MVP in 2003 with Peyton Manning. McNair led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV but came short when they failed to punch it in from 1 yard out.

7. Bob ‘Bullet Bob’ Hayes, WR, Florida A&M (1960-64)

Hayes gave life to the name utility player and paved a new lane for players like Darren Sproles and Taysom Hill. His speed set him apart, and he was able to turn that into an 11-year career with the Cowboys and 49ers. Hayes returned kicks, punts, and occasionally lined up in the backfield. He was a three-time Pro Bowl player, two-time All-Pro selection, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

8. Larry Little, G, Bethune-Cookman (1964-68)

Now part of the 1993 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, Little went undrafted out of Bethune-Cookman. He was a two-time Super Bowl champion, seven-time All-Pro selection, and a five-time Pro Bowl player.

Little also coached at his alma mater from 1983-91 and won MEAC Coach of the Year in 1984. He won over 100 games as a coach at Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central.

9. Leroy Kelly, RB, Morgan State University (1960-64)

He spent nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns and had the most rushing attempts with 1,727 in the league during his playing career. He was the true definition of a workhorse running back. Kelly was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994, was a six-time Pro Bowl player, three-time All-Pro, and part of the 1960s All-Decade team.

10. Doug Williams, QB, Grambling State (1974-78)

Williams didn’t have the playing career like many other players on this list, but he has one title that can’t be taken away from him as the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He led the formerly known Washington Redskins to Super Bowl XXII and was named MVP of the game. During his time in the NFL, he was the lowest-paid quarterback, but ultimately became a legend and one of the most significant people in NFL history.

Honorable Mention:

WR John Stallworth (Alabama A&M) — Stallworth had a 14-year NFL career with the “The Steel Curtain” as one of the best pass catchers to ever do it after graduating from Alabama A&M. Playing alongside Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, Stallworth became a four-time Super Bowl champion (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979), three-time Pro Bowl player (1979, 1982, 1984), two-time NFL All-Pro (1979, 1984) and NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Stallworth was one of four future Hall of Famers taken by the Steelers in 1974.

WR Charlie Joiner (Grambling State) — Joyner was one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history out of legendary HBCU program Grambling State. Joyner played 18 NFL seasons and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection (1976 1979, 1980) and two-time NFL All-Pro (1976, 1980). Joiner retired in 1986 as the NFL’s career leader in receptions, receiving yards and games played, before being inducted into Canton’s Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.


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