HBCU Players in Week 1 of New NFL Season

As the new NFL season kicked off on Thursday, September 7th, 22 former HBCU players will be on the field. From the SWAC, MEAC, SIACC, and all the other conferences that HBCUs play in were all represented.

South Carolina State leads the way with six former Bulldogs in the NFL. Shaquille Leonard and Javon Hargrave have made the biggest names for themselves out of the six. 

Hargrave signed a four-year $84 million dollar deal with San Francisco over the off-season; he previously played with the NFC Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Leonard was ranked No.18 in the NFL’s top 100 after his 2021 season and looked to rise up those rankings in 2022. Lingering injuries sidelined Leonard for a big 2022 season; he only played three games last year.

Now fully recovered and primed for a bounce back 2023 season, the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker was named a captain for the Indianapolis Colts.

Four undrafted rookies made the cut for the opening-day 53-man roster. Ricky Lee, an offensive lineman from North Carolina A&T, made it for the Panthers. Joining him in Carolina will be former Alcorn State linebacker Claudin Cherelus. Fort Valley running back Emmanuel Wilson will be up in Green Bay. The 2021 Buck Buchanan Award winner, Isaiah Land, will suit up for the Colts.

The Colts have three former HBCU players on their opening-day roster, which leads the league.

The only HBCU draftee this year was Jackson State’s defensive back Isaiah Bolden, who was placed on injured reserve by the New England Patriots.

The Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, drafted two HBCU players last year, and both played huge roles in their Super Bowl run. Defensive backs Bryan Cook from Howard and Joshua Williams from Fayetteville State made a huge play in the AFC Championship, which flipped the game for the Chiefs.

Both players look to continue to make plays for the Chiefs and help to another Super Bowl win. Another second-year player representing HBCUs is James Houston.

Houston, drafted out of Jackson State in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions, sacked the quarterback eight times in only seven games. These eight sacks put him second on the Lions and finished 30th in the league.

The longest active HBCU player in the NFL is former Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive lineman Terron Armstead. Armstead has been in the for 11 years and plays for the Miami Dolphins. 

As HBCU football is still on the rise and now more than ever is getting more attention, these athletes now have the platform to showcase their talents. 

Where the HBCU Culture Resides