New Orleans would have missed on a great player in Terron Armstead if they disregarded HBCU players. Fortunately for the Saints and many NFL teams, more opportunities to evaluate talent will come in the form of the HBCU Combine in 2022.
The 32 NFL teams did not select a Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) college football player in April's 2021 NFL Draft.
NFL players, coaches, and many in the media expressed frustration over the lack of HBCU representation in the draft process.
Jackson State University and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders voiced his concerns via Instagram, "HBCU players had been "neglected and rejected."
The National Football League recognizes the issue and explored a remedy.
TWO GREAT HBCU NFL PLAYERS
New Orleans Saints left tackle Terron Armstead (Arkansas Pine-Bluff), and Indianapolis' All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard (South Carolina State) are examples of two highly talented NFL stars who were HBCU players.
Armstead, 29, was New Orleans' third-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. The offensive tackle has protected Drew Brees from 2013 to 2020 and is considered one of the best tackles in the National Football League.
Darius Leonard, 25, entered the league in 2018 and had been honored with two All-Pro selections at linebacker.
HBCU COMBINE SUPPORT FROM THE NFL
On Wednesday, May 26, the NFL and Reese's Senior Bowl announced a collaboration to produce the HBCU Combine.
Some football experts applauded the effort, but some wondered why wouldn't the NFL just expand the number of players invited to the main NFL Combine.
Troy Vincent, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations, has been a staunch supporter. Vincent led the charge for the NFL involvement to assist HBCU football players during the draft cycle.
"Throughout NFL history, HBCU athletes have exemplified a standard of excellence both on and off the field. The HBCU Combine is part of honoring that legacy and making every effort to accelerate the exposure of HBCU draft prospects to all NFL clubs. The game is better when all have the opportunity to compete." Troy Vincent
HBCU COMBINE EVENT DETAILS
The event during Reese's Senior Bowl activities in February 2022.
The University of South Alabama will host the HBCU Combine on its campus in Mobile, Alabama.
An HBCU Scouting Committee will be formed from current and former league executives.
Their task is to scout, select, and invite the participants for the HBCU Combine from the four HBCU football conferences, CIAA, MEAC, SIAC, and SWAC.
Reese's Senior Bowl Executive Director, Jim Nagy, noted, "Over the years, the Senior Bowl has served as a showcase for some of the top Black college football players in America, including seven of our game's 56 future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and this event will help many more HBCU players secure further attention and exposure from all 32 teams."
HBCU COMBINE MISSION
NFL coaches and executives will gain access to the players' comprehensive medical information, interviews, and on-field evaluations of football skills - similar to the NFL Combine.
The Reese's Senior Bowl will provide medical and football personnel to deliver a world-class experience for HBCU prospects.
Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the event was delayed last year.
The Reese's Senior Bowl will host the HBCU Combine in Mobile, Alabama.
The 73rd Annual Reese's Senior Bowl will kick off on Saturday, February 5, 2022, at 1:30 p.m. CT at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
THE HBCU COMBINE IMPACT FOR PLAYERS
The Reese's Senior Bowl as a partner for the HBCU Combine is outstanding.
Nagy and his staff will help leverage the extensive level of NFL expertise invited to the Senior Bowl.
He invited Grambling State's offensive lineman David Moore to the 2021 Senior Bowl.
Moore at practice performed well enough for the Panthers to sign him to an undrafted free agent contract. Today he has an opportunity to earn a roster spot with the Carolina Panthers franchise.
The COVID-19 pandemic altered 2020's and 2021's the normal drafting process for NFL coaches and scouts. Many were suspicious of players' medical information and decided to draft players where they had a connection with a college football program.
Hopefully, the HBCU Combine can start to ease the fears of NFL coaches and scouting departments.
Because HBCUs have bountiful talent.
It's time again for the NFL to be more receptive and embrace the talent that once transformed college and professional football forever.
In the words of the greatest college football coach from Grambling when asked if Doug Williams could play in the NFL - "all he needs is an opportunity."
It's time for more opportunities.
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