When people talk about the glory years of black college football, the pre-integration era (pre-1970), is usually what most people consider the apex. And while that may be true, HBCUs were still producing and recruiting NFL-level talent well into the 90s and early 2000s.
The 1991 NFL Draft featured several players from HBCUs who would go on to become prominent names over the next decade plus. Here are some of the names to know.
Aeneas Williams (Southern) picked by the Phoenix Cardinals in the 3rd round (59th overall)
Williams’ credentials speak for themselves. The eight-time Pro Bowler picked off 55 passes in his fourteen-year career which landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year.
Jake Reed (Grambling) picked by the Minnesota Vikings in the 3rd round (68th overall)
Reed’s football career is marked by living in the shadow of legends. He’s rarely mentioned among the list of the Grambling’s elite players, and his solid pro career is forgotten due to the fact that he played with Chris Carter and Randy Moss. Before Moss arrived in Minnesota, he was the perfect compliment to Carter. Reed recorded four-consecutive seasons of at least 68 catches and 1,100 yards. His numbers dropped off when Moss came into the picture, but those numbers are hard to ignore in an era where 3,000 yards passing was exceptional.
Yancy Thigpen (Winston-Salem State) picked by the San Diego Chargers in the 4th round (90th overall)
Like Reed, Thigpen shined brightly for a few years in the mid-1990s. After one fruitless season in San Diego, Thigpen found his way to Pittsburgh. He was one of the key players who helped the team re-emerge as an AFC contender. Thigpen earned his way to two Pro Bowl appearanes and received two All-Pro nods in 1995 and 1997. He finished his career with 313 catches and 30 touchdowns in ten NFL seasons.
Ben Coates (Livingstone) picked by the New England Patriots in the 5th round (124th overall)
The CIAA isn’t known as a football league, and Livingstone doesn’t have much of a history of producing pro players, so you can bet there were plenty of wide-eyes when the Pats picked Coates. By the time his career ended in 2000, Coates stood up with the all-time great pass catchers at his position. Coates finished his career with 499 receptions and 50 touchdowns. His best season came in 1994, when he caught 96 passes for 1,172 yards and eight touchdowns.
Walter Dean (Grambling) picked by the Green Bay Packers in the 6th round (149th overall)
One of only two HBCU student-athletes to win the Walter Payton Award (along with the late Steve McNair), Dean was beast at Grambling, but it never translated to the pros. Dean played in just nine games, and only as a special teams contributor.
Ivory Lee Brown (UAPB) picked by the Phoenix Cardinals in the 6th round (171st overall)
Unlike Dean, Brown actually got a few chances to carry the ball. He rushed for just 194 yards on 68 attempts and was let go after one season. You may have heard of his nephew, Adrian Peterson, though.
Andrew Glover (Grambling) picked by the Los Angeles Raiders in the 10th round (274th overall)
Like Coates, Glover played tight end in the NFL for over a decade. He never became a star or went to a Pro Bowl, but he was a member of the 1998 Vikings squad along with college teammate Jake Reed. In 2013, he joined a class-action lawsuit against the NFL for concussions.
Other draft picks:
77 Kansas City Chiefs Tim Barnett Wide receiver Jackson State 4th Round
177 San Diego Chargers David Jones Wide receiver Delaware State 7th Round