NFL Draft: Why were no HBCU players drafted this year?

Jan 27, 2021; American offensive lineman David Moore of Grambling State (60) drills during American practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, USA; Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 27, 2021; American offensive lineman David Moore of Grambling State (60) drills during American practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, USA; Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports /

For the first time in over a decade, teams drafted no players from HBCU football programs. 

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have a long and proud history of populating the NFL (and AFL before the merger) with black football players. For example, Grambling State University has four players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 1974 Jackson State Tigers can boast that three teammates, Walter Payton, Robert Brazile and Jackie Slater, made the hall. Though the HBCU football pipeline is not what it was in the 1960s and 70s, it is appalling that the NFL drafted no player from an HBCU this season. It has many people asking, “Why?” listed 460 players on their draft tracker, just five were from HBCUs. Two players, David Moore and Bryan Mills, had high draft grades and expected to get picked. Moore was the highest-graded pick and was the Senior Bowl practice player of the week.

Moore was expected to get picked between the fourth or fifth round. Mills, who had a great Senior Bowl practice week, was slated between the fifth and early seventh rounds of the draft. Neither were selected.

Coaches voice frustration

Many coaches voiced their frustration with no players being chosen in this season’s draft. Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders expressed his frustration via an Instagram Post:

"“And we have the Audacity to Hate on one another while our kids are being NEGLECTED & REJECTED. I witnessed a multitude of kids that we played against that were more than qualified to be drafted. My prayers are that This won’t EVER happen again. Get yo knife out my back and fight with me not against me!”"

Former Grambling legend and head coach Doug Williams had this to say:

"“It’s hard to believe that not one guy is worthy of being drafted.”  “That, to me, that’s a travesty. Hopefully, we can fix it.”"

Williams went on to say this later in the same article:

"“Ain’t no question they’re affected a little different than other programs,” Williams said. “That still don’t mean they can’t have one or two” players chosen. I don’t know if a lot of scouts go into the Black schools,” Williams said. “If they see somebody on a Black college campus, they usually judge the school and not the player. I think they need to get into judging the player and not the school.”"

North Carolina A&T head coach Sam Washington pointed out the history of HBCU players in the NFL Draft to the Washington Post:

"“You can go back as far as you like, from Jerry Rice to Tarik Cohen. The quality of the athlete is definitely within our league. Them being seen or not being seen, it happened. For what reasons, I have not figured that part out. But the fact is that it happened.”"

Coaches might see different reasons for this occurrence; every coach agrees that it should have not happened.

The effect of the pandemic on FCS football

There is no doubt that the pandemic harmed the draft. Though Trey Lance was drafted second, he was just five players taken from an FCS school. This disproportionately affects HBCU football.

All FCS conferences canceled their fall seasons and the MEAC, SIAC and CIAA all canceled their football seasons — the MEAC did attempt a spring season; this accounted for over 90 percent of HBCU football.

The SWAC did attempt a spring season and were ineligible for this season’s draft.

The pandemic also canceled the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis and the first HBCU Draft Combine. Though there was an HBCU Draft combine in Birmingham, it was not the size of the intended combine.

As a result, this year’s draft was the smallest pool of players in NFL Draft history.

Look to 2023 for a “normalized” draft.

This season’s small pool pushed many “draftable” players out of the draft. Next season’s large pool could do the same for HBCU players. So far, there have been no COVID-19 severe issues, and most Power Five schools have completed spring practice.

With the regular pool of draft-eligible players, the strong possibility of an NFL Combine, and players who went back for their extra year bloats the 2022 NFL Draft.

Next. Top 10 undrafted HBCU football players. dark

Even with Aqeel Glass and Ezra Gray, HBCU players could get pushed out of the draft next season. However, the 2023 draft could be the best opportunity for multiple players from HBCUs to get drafted.