32 HBCU players make opening-day NFL rosters
The Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts have the most
Thirty-two players from historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) appear on NFL rosters as the 2016 NFL season starts. Play kicks off with Thursday’s rematch of Super Bowl 50 with the champion Denver Broncos hosting the Carolina Panthers.
Veterans such as 13-year Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis out of Alabama A&M University and San Francisco 49ers safety Antoine Bethea, in his 11th year out of Howard University, were joined by an unprecedented 11 rookies from the HBCU ranks who made either 53-man opening-day active rosters or 10-man practice squads.
The compilation of such data is part of the Black College Sports Page (BCSP) NFL Report that each year breaks down HBCU players on opening-day rosters, the schools they attended, the positions they play and the HBCU conferences from which they came.
Thirty-six HBCU players were on opening-day rosters a year ago.
That’s a 50-player drop from back in 1994 when the BCSP began publishing its report. There were 86 HBCU players on opening-day active rosters that year. That list included legends such as future Professional Football Hall of Famers Jackie Slater (Jackson State University), Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State University) and Michael Strahan (Texas Southern University).
The numbers have steadily declined since.
Former Grambling State University and NFL quarterback, and former Grambling State and Morehouse College head coach, Doug Williams, now a senior personnel executive with the Washington Redskins, explains the trend:
“No. 1, I think we as a league and as scouts have to pay a little more attention to the historically black colleges, maybe not like in the past before integration, but I still think you’re still going to come up with one, two, three or four guys that can play at this level.
“I know, since I’ve been in the administration part of it, that some of these scouts are inclined to give a guy at an FBS school who has not played at all more of an opportunity than a guy who’s played four years at a historically black college,” said Williams, who had a nine-year NFL career and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXII in 1988 while playing for Washington.
“I think what we have to do is don’t judge the school. We’ve got to start judging the player. It’s all about opportunity.”
Washington, in no small part to Williams’ efforts, had a league-high seven HBCU players in preseason camp and topped the league with four who made opening-day rosters.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that we are getting a little less of that type of player, the kinds of players that have those types of abilities to play at the next level,” said South Carolina State University head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough, the dean of black college coaches, who is entering his 15th year leading the Bulldogs.
“I think it’s just a sign of the times. You have to continue to work hard to evaluate guys that might not have some of the measurables to give them an opportunity to play in the league. And, there are just so many schools playing college football right now, more than there were back in those days.”
Leading the rookies on active rosters this season is one of Pough’s pupils, former South Carolina State standout defensive tackle and two-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Defensive Player of the Year, Javon Hargrave. The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder was the first HBCU player taken in April’s NFL draft, selected in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He showed tremendous pass-rushing ability and technique during the preseason and may start when the Steelers face the Washington in the year’s first installment of Monday Night Football on Sept. 12.
Also on active rosters are the two other HBCU players taken in this year’s draft, North Carolina Central University defensive back Ryan Smith with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and South Carolina State tight end Temarrick Hemingway with the Los Angeles Rams.
Wide receiver Chester Rogers of the Colts and defensive end Anthony Lanier of the Redskins are two undrafted HBCU rookies who earned active roster spots.
Rogers (6-foot-1, 180 pounds), a former all-Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) wide receiver at Grambling State, consistently made big catches during the Colts’ preseason, finishing with 14 receptions for 174 yards, second most among all rookie receivers. He stood out from the beginning to the end of camp, including grabbing seven passes in the preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Lanier, at 6-foot-6, 282 pounds, showed the ability to stuff the run, rush the passer and swat down passes during the preseason. Washington waived veteran defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and fifth-round draft choice Matt Ioannidis to keep the former Alabama A&M Bulldog. Lanier’s surprising ascension somewhat lessens the sting of Washington losing 10-year veteran defensive end Jason Hatcher of Grambling State, who abruptly decided to retire after the 2015 season.
Six first-year players from the HBCU ranks were named to 2016 practice squads. These are players who practice with the teams and many times have first shot at being added to active rosters. Quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Danny Amendola and linebacker Brandon Marshall are former practice-squad members who’ve gone on to NFL stardom.
After a sparkling preseason, 5-foot-9, 160-pound wide receiver Chris Hubert out of Fayetteville State University was named to the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. Hubert is one of three former Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) players to make an NFL roster. The L.A. Rams’ ninth-year defensive end William Hayes out of Winston-Salem State University and eighth-year Washington Redskins defensive back Greg Toler out of Saint Paul’s College made their team’s active rosters.
The other five practice-squad rookies are all out of the MEAC. They include South Carolina State University running back Jalen “Scoot” Simmons (Carolina Panthers) and defensive back Antonio Hamilton (Oakland Raiders), Norfolk State University linebacker Deon King (Dallas Cowboys), North Carolina A&T State University defensive back Tony McRae (Cincinnati Bengals) and former Hampton University quarterback David Watford, who made the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad at wide receiver.
Two other former MEAC players in their second years — linebacker Lynden Trail from Norfolk State and defensive back Deji Olatoye from N.C. A&T, made practice squads for the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. Olatoye was first waived by Dallas before being picked up by Atlanta.
Second-year linebacker Joe Thomas out of South Carolina State, who played on the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad last season, made the Packers’ active roster this year.
Continuing a recent trend, the MEAC has by far the most players in the league among HBCU conferences with 18. Just six hail from the SWAC, the league that historically placed the most players in the league. South Carolina State tops this year’s list with six players on NFL rosters. Two other MEAC programs are next, as Hampton has four players in the league and Norfolk State and Tennessee State University have three.
“I guess we’ve got better players in the MEAC right now,” said Pough, who said he was not aware of his league’s stats compared with the SWAC. “As I see teams, I see programs and facilities, I see teams over on that side [SWAC] that have the potential to have good players just as we have. I just think maybe they haven’t had the success that we’ve had. We’ve had a little of an edge that way.”
Williams recognizes another contributing factor.
“I think the SWAC does not do what they should do in as far as sending video into the league so everybody can view it,” said Williams. “It’s awfully tough when people tell you about a player and you don’t have anything to go on.
“Unfortunately, a lot of these kids think that you can go on HUDL [a popular site for high school or college game tape]. We don’t do HUDL,” he said of the NFL. “They think they can send you DVDs. We don’t do DVDs.”
He said all tape should be sent to a central location at the NFL office in New York that then uploads it to every team in the league.
Defensive back (cornerbacks and safeties) is the most common position manned by HBCU players. There are nine players at that position. Six play on the defensive line (tackles and ends) and another six are receivers (wideouts and tight ends). Five play linebacker.
Washington is the team with the most HBCU products, with four. Los Angeles and Indianapolis both have three.
BLACK COLLEGE PLAYERS ON 2016 OPENING-DAY NFL ROSTERS
By Name, Position, Years of Experience, College
Anthony Levine, Sr., DB, 5, Tennessee State
Isaiah Crowell, RB, 3, Alabama State
Tony McRae, DB, Rookie, N.C. A&T
Kendall Langford, DE, 9, Hampton
Robert Mathis, OLB, 14, Alabama A&M
Chester Rogers, WR, Rookie, Grambling State
Antonio Hamilton (PS), CB, Rookie, South Carolina State
Marquette King, P, 5, Fort Valley State
Javon Hargrave, DT, Rookie, South Carolina State
Rodney Gunter, DT, 2, Delaware State
Chris Hubert (PS), WR, Rookie, Fayetteville State
Eric Weems, WR, 10, Bethune-Cookman
Deji Olatoye, DB, 1, N.C. A&T
Justin Durant, LB, 10, Hampton
Deon King (PS), LB, Rookie, Norfolk State
Jalen Simmons (PS), RB, Rookie, South Carolina State
Rafael Bush, S, 6, South Carolina State
Don Carey, S, 8, Norfolk State
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Joe Thomas, LB, 2, South Carolina State
LOS ANGELES RAMS
William Hayes, DE, 9, Winston-Salem State
Temarrick Hemingway, TE, Rookie, South Carolina State
Demetrius Rhaney, OG, 3, Tennessee State
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Terron Armstead, T, 4, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
NEW YORK GIANTS
Larry Donnell, TE, 4, Grambling State
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, 8, Tennessee State
David Watford (PS), WR, Rookie, Hampton
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Antoine Bethea, S, 11, Howard
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Ryan Smith, DB, Rookie, North Carolina Central
Chris Baker, DE, 5, Hampton
Anthony Lanier, DE, Rookie, Alabama A&M
Greg Toler, CB, 8, Saint Paul’s
Lynden Trail (PS), LB, Rookie, Norfolk State
(PS) – Practice Squad Member
BLACK COLLEGE PLAYERS ON NFL ROSTERS BY SCHOOL
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE (6)
Rafael Bush (Detroit)
Antonio Hamilton (Oakland)
Javon Hargrave (Pittsburgh)
Temarrick Hemingway (Los Angeles)
Jalen Simmons (Carolina)
Joe Thomas (Green Bay)
Chris Baker (Washington)
Justin Durant (Dallas)
Kendall Langford (Indianapolis)
David Watford (Philadelphia)
NORFOLK STATE (3)
Don Carey (Detroit)
Deon King (Dallas)
Lynden Trail (Washington)
TENNESSEE STATE (3)
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (New York Giants)
Anthony Levine (Baltimore)
Demetrius Rhaney (Los Angeles)
ALABAMA A&M (2)
Anthony Lanier (Washington)
Robert Mathis (Indianapolis)
GRAMBLING STATE (2)
Larry Donnell (New York Giants)
Cheston Rogers (Indianapolis)
N.C. A&T (2)
Tony McRaie (Cincinnati)
Deji Olatoye (Atlanta)
ALABAMA STATE (1)
Isaiah Crowell (Cleveland)
ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF (1)
Terron Armstead (New Orleans)
Eric Weems (Atlanta)
DELAWARE STATE (1)
Rodney Gunter (Arizona)
FAYETTEVILLE STATE (1)
Chris Hubert (Arizona)
FORT VALLEY STATE (1)
Marquette King (Oakland)
Antoine Bethea (San Francisco)
NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (1)
Ryan Smith (Tampa Bay)
SAINT PAUL’S (1)
Greg Toler (Washington)
WINSTON-SALEM STATE (1)
William Hayes (Los Angeles)
SCHOOLS WITH MOST PLAYERS ON NFL ROSTERS
South Carolina State (6)
Tennessee State (3)
Norfolk State (3)
(Last year’s numbers in parentheses)
MEAC 19 (+6)
SWAC 6 (-6)
CIAA 3 (NC)
INDEPENDENTS 3 (-3)
SIAC 1 (-4)
Robert Mathis, 13th year
Antoine Bethea, 11th year
Justin Durant, 10th year
Eric Weems, 10th year
Kendall Langford, 9th year
William Hayes 9th year
(Last year’s numbers in parenthesis)
(Cornerbacks and Safeties) 10 (+1)
(Defensive tackles and Defensive ends) 6 (-4)
(Wide Receivers and Tight Ends) 6 (-2)
Linebackers 5 (+2)
(Guards and Tackles) 2 (-2)
(Fullbacks and Running Backs) 2 (+1)
Quarterbacks 0 (-1)
Punters 1 (NC)