2024 NFL Draft fails to select Black college players 

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Maliik Obee

Special to the AFRO

After Jackson State cornerback Isaiah Bolden became the only Black college player selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, there were no players from Historically Black Colleges or Universities called during this year’s draft on April 24-25 in Detroit.

Observers of college football and the NFL were left devastated by the news and what many are calling a lack of respect by NFL owners, coaches and scouts. They point to a recent history of neglect from the league and are demanding answers as to why talented players are consistently overlooked from HBCU institutions.

Morgan State University alum and Sirius XM radio host Donal Ware has devoted his career to HBCU advocacy and created a nationally syndicated sports program to discuss these issues.

“It’s really disappointing,” Ware said. “A travesty really. All of the great talent in HBCU football not just this year, but over the last several years, deserves better than this.”

Days following the conclusion of this year’s draft, more than 20 Black college players have been signed to an undrafted free agent contract, or earned a rookie minicamp invite. 

Still, observers say, the continued marginalization of Black college talent over the past decade-plus continues to be an issue. 

Despite boasting 30-plus Pro Football Hall of Fame recipients from a litany of historically Black institutions across FCS and Division II football, this year marks the second time (2021) in the past-five drafts that no Black college players have heard their name called. 

This comes as a shocking development, following the success of the 2022 class. All four players selected are currently on the rosters of the team that drafted them, with several becoming key contributors.

Fayetteville State cornerback Joshua Williams was selected in the fourth round by the Kansas City Chiefs, after earning an opportunity to participate in the Reese’s Senior Bowl. In two seasons, Williams has played in 33 games, helping the Chiefs to consecutive super bowl championships. 

With the No.142 selection, the Los Angeles Rams selected South Carolina State corner Decobie Durant, who snagged three interceptions as a rookie, before rising to start 9 games in 2023. Jackson State linebacker James Houston IV captured 8 sacks in 7 games as a rookie for the Detroit Lions in 2022, after the sixth round selection started off the year on the practice squad. Seventh round Southern University selection Ja’Tyre Carter was taken by the Chicago Bears to close out the draft at pick No.226. 

After two seasons on the practice squad, Carter looks to rise up Chicago’s depth chart in the third year. Florida A&M safety Markquese Bell was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, showing his versatility by switching positions and rising to starting linebacker in 2023. The University of Maryland transfer recorded 94 combined tackles, 4 pass deflections and 2 forced fumbles across 17 games in his sophomore campaign.

But despite the numbers showing the productivity and success of Black college players granted an opportunity to play in the NFL, the numbers show a regression of chances taken by teams league-wide on draft night. Since 2010, there have been five drafts (2011, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2022) where four Black college players heard their name called on draft night. In every case, fewer players were selected in the following year.

“When 30-40 percent of HBCU players make rosters in the NFL are undrafted free agents, that speaks to the talent level,” Ware said. “It’s up to the league to answer the question as to why HBCU players are not being drafted.”

In 2022, the NFL launched the first-ever HBCU Legacy Bowl, creating a showcase game for the top Black-college talent across FCS and Division II football. The annual game hosted in New Orleans has bridged the gap between old and new, connecting Black college draft hopefuls with legends that were once in their shoes, like Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams and four-time Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl Champion and Pro Football Hall of Fame wideout John Stallworth. 

Despite a nationally-televised contest sponsored by the league itself, the game has yet to produce any drafted players. 

Interestingly enough, Legacy Bowl participant and former Florida A&M Rattlers wideout Marcus Riley made waves on social media Sund, after signing a 3-year, $2.83million undrafted deal with the New York Jets.

No HBCU players were selected from two of the biggest showcase games for college talent, as the Reese’s Senior Bowl and the Shrine Bowl failed to have any HBCU participants called from the podium. 

After earning a spot on the Senior Bowl roster following several standout seasons for Virginia State University at corner, Willie Drew was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Carolina Panthers on April 27. So were the Shrine Bowl participants, despite standout performances from Grambling defensive end Sundiata Anderson, Alabama State cornerback Mikey Victor, Howard tackle Anim Dankwah and TCU guard (Jackson State transfer) Willis Patrick. All-four players have since agreed to undrafted deals.

Shrine Bowl scout Gerald Huggins Jr., spent his playing days at Virginia Union University, before becoming an assistant coach at Lincoln University. He pointed the issue away from race and focused on the size of the programs. 

“Though I was disappointed in the results of the draft for HBCU prospects,” he said. “The bigger conversation is, if you’re not in a Power 5 conference, then your chances of getting drafted are similar. It’s not an HBCU issue, so that narrative needs to be stopped. HBCUs need to continue to lean on platforms and individuals in spaces that can help with putting their players in better positions to reach the professional level. Getting drafted is fine but the goal is to get into camp.”

Anderson earned a $10,000 signing bonus in an agreed deal with the Seattle Seahawks, while Victor earned a $3,000 bonus from the New England Patriots. The guaranteed money points to an urgency for teams to secure talent amid the chaos of the undrafted market, yet does nothing to quell the fears of Black college talent who hope to see their NFL dreams come true. 

With the NCAA transfer portal continuing to become a bigger component in roster building, observers say the lack of crossover for HBCU talent may be a troubling sign for current players and potential recruits in the future.

Overall, 11 FCS players were selected in the 2024 draft, along with just one Division II player. The number is a dropoff from the 20 FCS names called in 2022. 

Between 2010-2018, there were 15-plus FCS players selected in 7-of-8 drafts. Since 2019, there have been two seasons with less than 10 players called. 

As more of the top HBCU players hope to receive a call for a rookie minicamp invite or undrafted deal, the growing neglect to draft small school talent continues to become a growing issue that could have troubling effects on Black college football in the future without immediate attention.

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