Twenty-four (24) former black college players were named Saturday to 53-man opening day rosters for the 2016 NFL season which begins Thursday. Another eight were named Sunday to 10-man NFL practice squads.
The total of 32 players from the black college ranks is five less than the 36 that made opening day and practice squad rosters last year but continues a trend that has seen these numbers dwindle over the past couple of decades. Back in 1994 when the Black College Sports Page started publishing the BCSP NFL Report, there were a whopping 86 players on opening day rosters. The numbers have steadily declined since. This season’s list includes an unprecedented 11 rookies. Five were named to opening day active rosters.
They include the three taken in the April NFL Draft – South Carolina State defensive tackle Javon Hargrave by Pittsburgh, North Carolina Central defensive back Ryan Smith by Tampa Bay and S. C. State tight end Temarrick Hemingway by the Los Angeles Rams. The other undrafted rookies named to active rosters were former Grambling State wide receiver Chester Rogers with Indianapolis and Alabama A&M defensive end Anthony Lanier with Washington.
The six undrafted rookies named to practice squads were Norfolk State linebacker Deon King (Dallas), S. C. State running back Jalen Simmons (Carolina), SCSU defensive back Antonio Hamilton (Oakland), Fayetteville State wide receiver Chris Hubert (Arizona), North Carolina A&T defensive back Tony McRae (Cincinnati) and Hampton quarterback David Watford who made the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad as a wide receiver. A total of six former South Carolina State Bulldogs are in the league, tops among black colleges. Hampton with four and Tennessee State and Norfolk State with three are next. With S. C. State leading the way, a whopping 19 players with Mid Eastern Athletic Conference roots made the grade, a number that dwarfs the six from the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
As usual, there are more defensive backs (10) from HBCUs than any other position. Defensive line and receiver are next with five. There are also five at linebacker. Fourteen-year veteran Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis out of Alabama A&M and San Francisco safety Antoine Bethea entering his 11th year out of Howard are the most senior HBCU players in the league.