This is the fifth in a series of posts ranking the greatest NFL players from HBCUs, by position. Only players whose college careers started after 1970 were considered.
Michael Strahan, Texas Southern
By the time Michael Strahan entered Texas Southern in the late 1980s, HBCUs were no longer getting the best black players. Teams like Texas and Texas A&M were now loaded with top notch black talent, leaving schools like Prarie View and Texas Southern to search for diamond in the rough. That’s exactly what TSU got in Strahan, whose uncle also played for TSU. After playing just one season of football, Strahan was offered a scholarship and the rest is history. As a senior, Strahan recorded 19 sacks, and recorded 32 tackles for loss en route to being named first-team All-America by the AP.
Strahan was selected by the New York Giants in the second round of the 1993 NFL Draft. His first years weren’t all that memorable, but he finally broke out in 1997 with a 14 sack season, and followed it up with a 15 sack season the next year. Strahan vaulted himself into history during the 2001 season, setting a new NFL record with 22.5 sacks in one season. Strahan capped off his career in storybook fashion, helping Giants upset the heavily favored New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Strahan finished with 141 sacks over his career, good for fifth all-time. He also made seven Pro Bowl appearances, and was selected All-Pro six times in his 14 seasons. Strahan didn’t make the Pro Football Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility in 2013, but it’s only a matter of time before he becomes the latest in a long line of HBCU players to receive that honor.
Richard Dent, Tennessee State
Richard Dent is one of the unsung greats of HBCU football. Dent played his Tennessee State career at the tail end of the John Merritt era, as integration was reaching levels previously unfathomed. Dent was a three-time All-American at TSU, finishing his career with 39 sacks. Despite his stellar resume, Dent dropped all the way to the eigth round of the 1983 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Chicago Bears.
After an uneventful rookie season, Dent became one of the pillars of a great Chicago defense, recording 34.5 sacks in the next two seasons, including 17 in the legendary 1985 season when the Bears went 15-1 and won the franchise’s only Super Bowl. Dent continued his excellence as the rest of the team faded, as he recorded double digit sacks in eight of his first 11 seasons with the Bears. Dent skipped around the league his last few years, finally retiring after the 1997 season where he still had enough game left to record 4.5 sacks.
Dent finished with 137.5 sacks in his career, still one of the best figures of all-time. A four-time Pro Bowler and five-time All Pro selection, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Tennessee State
Ed Jones came to Tennessee State to play basketball, but the 6’9 Jones quit the basketball team after two years to focus on football. Jones only played three high school football games before joining John Merritt’s Tennessee State squad, but with Merritt’s coaching and Jones’ athletic ability, he quickly became a sought after prospect. The Dallas Cowboys selected Jones with the first overall pick of the 1974 draft, making him the highest selected HBCU prospect in NFL Draft history.
Jones became a starter his second season, and was one of the key players in the famed Doomsday Defense that helped make Dallas “America’s Team” in the late 70s and early 80s. Jones briefly retired from football to pursue a boxing career, but came back in 1980 and resumed his dominance on the field, playing all the way up to the 1989 season. Jones is only officially credited with 59 sacks, but the first half of his career sacks were not an official stat. Over 20 years after his final game, Jones has yet to make the Hall of Fame. He is, however, a member of the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
Robert Mathis, Alabama A&M
The latest edition to this list is coincidentally the latest drafted player in this bunch. Mathis had a standout career at Alabama A&M, but wasn’t selected until the fifth round in the 2003 NFL Draft. He immediately found a backup role with the Colts, and by registered double-digit sacks (10.5) by his second year. Mathis has had double-digit sacks five times in his career, including a career-high 19.5 in 2013. For his career, he has 110 sacks in 163 career games. The six-time Pro Bowler enters the 2015 season looking to add to that total after missing all of 2014 after tearing his ACL.
Robert Porscher, South Carolina State
A contemporary of Strahan, Porshe was a force on his own during the late 1980s/early 1990s at South Carolina State. Porcher pillaged MEAC offensive linemen under the directon of legendary SC State coach Willie Jefferies.
Porsche was selected 26th overall by the Detroit Lions in the first round of the 1992 NFL Draft. Like several of the other players on this list, Porsche’s production was inconsistent his first few seasons. He hit his stride in 1996, recording 10 sacks. Porsche would go on to record 68 sacks in the next six seasons, collecting three Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections. He finished with 95.5 sacks for his career.
Hugh Douglas, Central State
When you list the great defensive linemen of college football in the 1990s, Hugh Douglas’ name has to be mentioned. Douglas recorded 42 sacks in just 32 games for a star-studded Central State team in the early-to-mid 90’s, helping to lead the Maruders to the NAIA National Championship as a sophomore.
Douglas was selected 16th overall by the New York Jets in the 1995 NFL Draft. His selection paid immediate dividends for the Jets as he recorded 10 sacks in his rookie season. Over his ten year career, Douglas averaged eight sacks per season, recording a career-high 15 in 2000 for the Philadelphia Eagles. Douglas finished with 80 sacks for his career, which included three trips to the Pro Bowl.
Deacon Jones, South Carolina State/Mississippi Valley State
Willie Davis, Grambling State