ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Beginning in 2022, NFL Draft-eligible players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities will be able to participate in the newly created HBCU Legacy Bowl, the Black College Football Hall of Fame announced Thursday.
The HBCU Legacy Bowl, which will be held the weekend after Super Bowl LVI at Tulane University, will be an all-star game that showcases top playing and coaching talent from HBCUs.
Broncos Ring of Famer Rich "Tombstone" Jackson, who played collegiately at Southern University, the largest HBCU in Louisiana, believes the Legacy Bowl will create opportunities for both Black players and coaches.
"With the decline of NFL teams drafting players from HBCUs, I think something like that is long overdue," Jackson said Thursday. "It will give them an opportunity to showcase some of the talent that is still available at the Black colleges. … We just need somebody to kind of zero in on these schools and identify these ballplayers."
The all-star game, which will air on NFL Network, will hopefully increase the visibility of prospects from HBCUs. There are signs of progress, as at least one player from an HBCU has been taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft in every year but one since 2016. In 2020, though, just one player from an HBCU was selected in the NFL Draft, as Lachavious Simmons was taken by the Bears in the seventh round. There also have been eight drafts since 2000 in which no players from an HBCU were selected.
Jackson, a member of the Black College Football Hall of Fame, believes the creation of the all-star game could help more players gain attention from NFL scouts.
"Once you put them on television, then everyone can see, 'Hey, you still have a lot of talent that comes from these schools,'" Jackson said. "You've got thousands of ballplayers, and you're telling me you can't find one out of that number? That's crazy."
Jackson said if the HBCU Legacy Bowl were around when he entered the league in the 1960s, it likely would have changed his career path. Instead of signing with the Raiders as a free agent in 1965, he believes he would have been among the top players selected.
His three combined AFL All-Star and Pro Bowl selections and second-team AFL All-Time Team honors certainly prove Jackson had the talent worthy of a top draft pick.
"It probably would've enhanced my opportunity to not have to sign as a free agent," Jackson said. "… I guess they didn't look at the Black schools and the talent in the same manner that they look at the talent today. … Just think if I would've come out of school today. I would've been a [Round] 1, 2 [or] 3 draft choice."
Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe is another former Bronco whose HBCU attendance may have impacted his draft stock. Sharpe fell to the seventh round of the 1990 NFL Draft before the Broncos selected him. He went on to be a three-time Super Bowl champion and four-time first-team All-Pro.
The creation of the HBCU Legacy Bowl — and the NFL HBCU Combine that was announced in 2020 — could do more than help individual athletes and coaches looking for a path to the NFL. Jackson believes the exposure may also help restore HBCUs to more prominent footing.
"Not only will it increase the opportunities for these youngsters to showcase their talent, it also would not allow the other universities and colleges to use that against [HBCUs] for recruiting," Jackson said. "[They say], 'If you come to my school, you have a better chance of going to the NFL.' And that's what most of the parents and youngsters worry about. They don't worry about education, they worry about if they have the opportunity to play in the National Football League or basketball or whatever. Now, you can have something to help these schools. Once you put that talent out there, it's no longer overlooked. I go to a lot of the games, and I see a lot of guys who could play at the next level, but there's nobody to [scout] them."
The HBCU Legacy Bowl aims to help change that — and to increase the odds that the next great HBCU player could soon be headed to the Denver Broncos.