Deion Sanders Blasts NFL Teams for Overlooking HBCU Players in the Draft

Article Highlights:

  • Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders ripped NFL teams after his school’s recent pro day
  • The Pro Football Hall of Famer called out the 10 organizations that didn’t attend to scout HBCU players
  • Although Sanders deserves praise for wanting to spotlight HBCU players, he needs to learn how the NFL draft actually works

It’d be difficult not to consider Deion Sanders‘ first two seasons at Jackson State a resounding success. The Tigers went 15-5 in that span and, in large part because of their eccentric head coach’s recruiting, have begun the process of putting HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities) back in the national spotlight.

Was the Tigers’ recent on-field success enough to make Sanders, who has a history of moaning and complaining, happy at the school’s pro day? Absolutely not.

Deion Sanders blasted NFL teams for skipping Jackson State’s pro day

There once existed a time when NFL teams regularly added Jackson State’s best players through the NFL draft. Across a 26-year span from 1963 through 1998, there were only two years (1971 and 1995) when no Tigers players were drafted.

However, the days of Jackie Slater and Walter Payton leaving Jackson State behind for the NFL are long gone. JSU hasn’t had a player drafted since the Minnesota Vikings used a sixth-round pick on receiver Jaymar Johnson in 2008. Johnson, who had one catch in three seasons with the Vikings, is the only Tigers player drafted since 2001.

Enter Sanders, who has publicly advocated for more teams to draft HBCU players since he took over at JSU in 2020. Although 22 teams attended the Tigers’ pro day on Monday, March 21, the eight-time Pro Bowler instead began his interview with NFL Media’s Cameron Wolfe by focusing on the 10 teams that chose to spend the day elsewhere.

“Ten of them are missing. Don’t think I ain’t going to call you out. You 10 that’s missing, if I catch you at Mississippi State or Ole Miss, it’s going to be a problem, that’s all I’m going to say. That’s all I’m saying; it’s going to be a problem. Our kids are that good; you should have shown up too.”

Deion Sanders

As of publication, it remained unconfirmed which 10 teams were not in attendance.

NFL scouts missed an opportunity to see Tigers linebacker James Houston up close. The Florida transfer tallied 16.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss and forced seven fumbles during the 2021 campaign.

Sanders made it clear he wants NFL teams to consider players from all HBCU schools, not just Jackson State. No HBCU players were selected in the 2021 draft, a shutout Sanders said will “never happen again.”

“I know for the pandemic year we got an excuse, but that’s not gonna happen again,” Sanders said. “My desire is 7-10 players this year drafted, then we’ll try and double that, and then the sky’s gonna be the limit.”

Sanders still seemingly doesn’t understand how the NFL Draft truly works

Jacksonville State head coach Deion Sanders in 2021.
Jacksonville State head coach Deion Sanders isn’t happy with NFL teams | Charles A. Smith/Jackson State University via Getty Images

To be clear, Sanders has every right to demand NFL teams pay more attention to HBCU prospects. According to the NFL Mock Draft Database, Houston is projected to go undrafted despite his stellar 2021 season.

However, Sanders should know by now how the draft currently works. Most teams are always going to focus on Power 5 prospects, especially those who thrived in the Big 10 and SEC. There’s a reason why Alabama has had at least nine players selected in each of the last five NFL drafts.

Mid-major schools, even those who perenially rank in the Top 25 like Cincinnati and UCF, will always be at a disadvantage compared to the Power Five programs. FCS schools, such as Jackson State and North Dakota State, are at an even bigger disadvantage. Despite being an FCS powerhouse, NDSU has only had three non-quarterbacks selected since 2015.

Think of things this way. UCF, which currently plays in the American, went 41-8 from 2017-20 and had 11 players drafted in that span. Not bad! Florida State and Miami (FL) each play in the ACC, a Power Five conference. FSU went 21-26 in that time — remember, not every college team played a 12-game season in 2020 amid the pandemic — and Miami went 31-19.

One would think, then, that UCF would have far more players selected than either school because of how dominant the Knights were in that span.

Miami (FL) running back DeeJay Dallas in 2019.
Miami (FL) running back DeeJay Dallas, a fourth-round draft pick in 2020, rushes against Florida State in 2019 | Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Nope. Miami had 19 players selected in the 2018-21 drafts, and FSU had 13. Why? If an organization has to pick between a player who excelled at the Group of Five level or an above-average — but not elite — starter from an ACC school, there’s a better chance the ACC prospect will win out.

Let’s apply that mindset to Jackson State. If a team needs to decide between an elite FCS skill player or an above-average starter in the American or the Sun Belt, the G5 prospect will probably hear his name called.

As unfair as it sounds, NFL teams don’t care about being fair. And while Sanders is committed to seeing more HBCU prospects selected in the draft, the reality is that the odds are stacked against them from the second they enroll at JSU.

Sanders deserves credit for trying to ensure more HBCU players are drafted, and he doesn’t sound prepared to throw in the towel yet. Unfortunately for the legendary cornerback, he’s fighting a losing battle, and attacking the NFL teams that didn’t attend JSU’s pro day won’t help his players.

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