After no HBCU player was chosen in the 2021 NFL draft, people have been trying to find ways to ensure the players get a fair shot. Now there will be an inaugural HBCU combine! Learn more about it in the full story by Mark Inabinett for below.

Alabama State’s Tytus Howard lines up at right offensive tackle for the South during the Reese’s Senior Bowl on Jan. 26, 2019, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile.AP Photo/Butch Dill

In the 30 NFL drafts from 1966 through 1995, Grambling State had 96 players selected. In the 26 drafts since, four Grambling State players have been picked.

Compare that to Auburn’s draft numbers in those years. The Tigers had 114 players drafted from 1966 through 1995 and 90 drafted from 1996 through 2021.

Grambling State isn’t the only historically Black college and university to see its draft pipeline dry up over the past quarter-century.

In the 2021 NFL Draft, no players from HBCU football programs were selected, the ninth time that has happened since 2000. In the 2020 NFL Draft, one player from an HBCU was picked – Tennessee State offensive lineman Lachavious Simmons, who prepped at Selma.

In the past 20 NFL drafts, two players from HBCU programs have been first-round selections – Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in 2008 and Alabama Stateoffensive tackle Tytus Howard in 2019. Both played in the Senior Bowl in Mobile.

Now the Reese’s Senior Bowl will be working with the NFL to widen the exposure for HBCU players in the draft process by holding the HBCU Combine in conjunction with the annual all-star game. The NFL had hoped to hold the first combine this year, but the coronavirus pandemic caused the inaugural event to be delayed until 2022.

“I don’t know if the community understands what a big deal this is for the Mobile-Baldwin County area that the NFL chose Mobile as the site for its inaugural HBCU Combine,” Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, said on Thursday. “The Senior Bowl is not an NFL-sanctioned event. They’ve been tremendous partners over the years giving us our coaching staff, but this isn’t their event. This is Mobile, Alabama’s event, where (the HBCU Combine) is an NFL-sanctioned event, so that’s a big deal. They could have chosen any one of 32 NFL cities to put this event in. The fact that they chose Mobile, Alabama, I’m extremely grateful for it, and I know our city is going to wrap their arms around this event as well.

“We got immediate feedback after we announced it, whether it be from the alumni bases here in the Mobile community, the fraternities, our former players, everyone is excited about what this event is going to be in 2022 and then what it can become beyond 2022.”

Nagy said “the value of this year’s HBCU Combine is connecting with the 32 NFL teams.”

The players at the first combine will receive the kind of interview opportunities that allow the NFL’s personnel decision-makers to get to know players at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

“You never get the opportunity to really sit in front of them,” Nagy said about HBCU prospects, “and when we’re talking about late-round draft picks and priority free-agent level players, that takes a scout or a coach pounding the table for those players to get them in your building, and you’re not going to do that unless you have really spent time with them. If they’re not at an all-star game or they’re not at the regular Indy combine, sometimes those guys slip through the cracks just because you as a scout or a coach you want to feel convicted about who that person is because they are certainly going to have to overcome some odds to make your roster. If they’re coming in as a late-round pick or a priority free-agent, they’re going to have to be made of stuff a little special to overcome those odds, and the only way of knowing that is interviewing them.

“I think getting the players here for the HBCU Combine, getting them one-on-one time with the 32 NFL teams, now you will have more scouts and coaches convicted about them. When you’re in April meetings leading up to the draft, there will be guys in those meetings saying, ‘You know what? I spent a half hour with this kid from Grambling at the HBCU Combine. Here’s his story, here’s why I believe in him and here’s why I think he works in our building.’ And that’s where you’re going to see more of these guys getting opportunities whether it’s as late-round picks or priority free agents or even tryout players in tryout camps.”

The players for the first HBCU Combine will be selected mainly from schools in the CIAA, MEAC, SIAC and SWAC by the HBCU Scouting Committee, a panel of current and former NFL executives.

They’re scheduled to arrive in Mobile for the inaugural HBCU Combine on Friday, Jan. 28. The next day, the players will participate in the same athletic and position drills as those at the NFL Scouting Combine, except their day on the field will take place at South Alabama’s Jaguar Training Center. NFL interviews and programs will fill the players’ two nights and Sunday morning in Mobile, and the HBCU Combine group will depart as the Senior Bowl players start to arrive for their week of work before the Feb. 5 game at Hancock Whitney Stadium.

“Is it going to make huge difference in terms of getting guys drafted initially? I don’t know that,” Nagy said. “But I think certainly it will create more opportunities for these guys to at least get a foot in the door in the NFL.”

HBCU players’ draft exposure has dwindled as the depth of NFL-level talent at those programs has declined.

Thirty-three of the members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame played at HBCU programs. The pinnacle of HBCU football in the NFL came in the 1976 and 1977 seasons, when 20 of those future Hall of Famers were on the field.

While NFL scouts visit HBCU programs and evaluate their players, the schools don’t have the number of prospects to warrant a deep investment of time and usually don’t have pro days where scouts can get their last-minute questions answered.

Nagy said while he thought the HBCU Combine might help in the short term, a rebounding talent level at the schools could sustain any initial draft momentum the new event might provide.

“I believe the talent level in the HBCU leagues will be on the uptick when you’ve got Deion Sanders at Jackson State and Eddie George at Tennessee State,” Nagy said. “I think they’re going to start getting better players. I know the NFL, the league office and NFL Football Operations are doing a great job of putting resources into the HBCU programs. All these high school kids, the lure is the facilities, right? So when we start upgrading some of the HBCU facilities, I think you’ll see better players coming out of those programs.”