History

A complete, brief history of HBCU quarterbacks picked in NFL Draft

Only 13 quarterbacks from HBCUs have been selected in the NFL Draft in the last half a century. Here is how they fared.

The three day 2019 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday afternoon with the first round and will continue through Saturday with the final rounds. Bowie State quarterback Amir Hall is hoping to hear his name called in the draft after a stellar career at Bowie State University.

He faces an uphill battle despite elite statistics as a quarterback from Divsion II in addition to being from an HBCU. Only 13 quarterbacks from HBCUs have been selected in the past 52 years since the AFL and NFL combined their drafts.

Eldridge Dickey

Eldridge Dickey, Tennessee State
1968- 1st Round, 25th overall by Oakland Raiders

The Houston native was a force for John Merritt’s powerhouse Tennessee State squads, throwing for better than 6,500 yards and 67 touchdowns during a time when many college squads still used the Wing-T or T- formations as primary offensive sets. The Raiders picked Dickey in the first round and then chose former Alabama star Ken Stabler in the second. They ultimately moved him to wide receiver, but he never became a star at the position and played sparingly during an injury-plagued career.

Henry Johnson, Fisk University
1967- 12th Round, 315th overall by the San Francisco 49ers

Like Dickey, Johnson never got a shot to fairly play quarterback in the NFL. He was switched to defensive back and never played in the NFL.

Onree Jackson

Onree Jackson, Alabama A&M
1969-5th Round, 110th by Boston Patriots

This 6’4, 210 pound quarterback had pro scouts flocking to North-Central Alabama. He gave FAMU coach Jake Gaither fits, but never found a place in the NFL.

James Harris

James Harris, Grambling
1969-8th Round, 192th overall by Buffalo Bills

Eddie Robinson’s first true superstar quarterback. Harris was arguably the first true star quarterback from an HBCU in his days with the Los Angeles Rams. He led the franchise to the NFC Championship Game and was a Pro Bowler out west.

Joe Gilliam

Joe Gilliam, Jr., Tennessee State
1972-11th round, 273rd overall by Pittsburgh Steelers

Son of TSU assistant Joe Sr., Gilliam followed in Dickey’s footsteps by getting drafted in the NFL. He would give Terry Bradshaw plenty of competition early in his career and had some success, starting the first six games of the 1974 season and leading the team to a 4-1-1 record.

Matthew Reed, Grambling
1973-10th round, 240th overall by Buffalo Bills

Standing 6’5, Reed stepped out of Harris’ shadow to keep Grambling pushing in the early 1970s. He would be drafted by the Bills like Harris but ended up with the Saints who tried to turn him into a tight end. He never played in the NFL but did have a pro career in the World Football League and Canadian Football League.

Parnell Dickinson

Parnell Dickinson, Mississippi Valley State
1976-7th Round, 183rd overall by the Tampa Bay Bucs

Dickinson was a handful for SWAC defenses at Valley, causing a problem with his legs and his arm. He served as Steve Spurrier’s backup as a rookie in 1976, becoming the team’s first African-American starting quarterback.

Doug Williams

Doug Williams, Grambling
1978-1st Round, 17th overall by the Tampa Bay Bucs

The Bucs once again dipped into the SWAC to find a signal caller, making Williams the first quarterback drafted that year. A serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy his senior season, Williams led the Bucs to highs (the franchise’s first-ever playoff appearance) and experienced personal lows in Tampa Bay before resurrecting his career in the USFL and ultimately becoming the first black quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory nearly a decade later.

Joe Adams

Joe “747” Adams, Tennessee State
1981-12th Round, 322nd overall by the San Francisco 49ers

Adams left TSU as the school’s all-time leader in passing yards, passes attempted, passes completed, touchdown passes, 250 and 300-yard passing games, earning the nickname of a powerful airplane. Unfortunately, his brief pro career was defined by controversy and missed opportunity. He didn’t even get a full chance in training camp to show what he could do as the 49ers told him he wasn’t needed after one week. Maybe the biggest “What If” on this list.

Jay Walker

Jay “Sky” Walker, Howard University
1994- 7th Round, 198th overall by New England Patriots

Walker only played two seasons at Howard after transferring from Long Beach State, but they were good enough to get him drafted by Bill Parcells’ Patriots. But just like Adams, he wasn’t beating out a young Drew Bledsoe, but he did spend a couple of years backing him up.

Steve McNair
Alcorn State legend and former NFL MVP Steve McNair talks to teammates.

Steve McNair, Alcorn State
1995- 1st Round, 3rd overall by the Houston Oilers

McNair set the SWAC on fire for four seasons, garnering Heisman Hype not seen since Doug Williams. His selection by the Oilers was the highest ever for ANY black quarterback, later eclipsed by Michael Vick who went first overall in the 2001 NFL Draft. The best overall career of anyone on this list.

Ja'Juan Seider

Ja’Juan Seider, FAMU
2000- 6th Round, 206th overall by San Diego Chargers

This Florida native started his college career in West Virginia but played his final season at FAMU. He led FAMU to the Division I-AA semifinal while running Billy Joe’s Gulf Coast Offense, throwing for 27 TDs and winning MEAC Offensive Player of The Year. He never played in the NFL, but has carved out a nice coaching career for himself and is currently coaching running backs at Penn State.

Tarvaris Jackson

Tavaris Jackson, Alabama State
2006- 2nd Round, 64th pick overall by Minnesota Vikings

Like Seider, Jackson started at the FBS level before coming to an HBCU. He had three stellar seasons at ASU after leaving Arkansas, throwing for 63 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He would transition his skills to a pro career that would last the better part of a decade with the Vikings and Seahawks along with a season with the Buffalo Bills.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Robert Blake

    April 26, 2019 at 8:52 am

    This is incomplete KEN Riley; Before his professional career, Riley played quarterback for Florida A&M University. In addition to being a skilled athlete, Riley also excelled academically. He earned his team’s scholastic award and a Rhodes Scholar Candidacy. In 1977, Riley was enshrined in Florida A&M’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

    After graduating from college, Riley was selected by the Bengals in the 6th round of the 1969 Common Draft to play DB he never got a chance to sit under the center in the NFL.

  2. Dexter

    April 30, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    I dont know why you refuse to put Ken Riley one your list or to include FAMU as the home of the HBCU QB’s. You did a video on the Gulf Coast Offense and used my video without asking for the rights and you even went as far to copy our audio line by line the lease thing you can do is give FAMU credit for it’s place in history in producing some of the best HBCU’s QB’s….

    Ken Riley; Riley played quarterback for Florida A&M University. In addition to being a skilled athlete, Riley also excelled academically. He earned his team’s scholastic award and a Rhodes Scholar Candidacy. In 1977, Riley was enshrined in Florida A&M’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

    After graduating from college, Riley was selected by the Bengals in the 6th round of the 1969 Common Draft but never got to play a down at a QB in the NFL…

    Quinn Fordham Gray, Sr. (born May 21, 1979) is a former American football quarterback who played for four seasons in the National Football League and one season each in the United Football League and NFL Europe. Gray’s last job was coaching the high school football team Whitefield Academy. He played for the Frankfurt Galaxy in 2003, the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2005–2007, the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, and the New York Sentinels in 2009. He was signed by the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2002. He played college football at Florida A&M. Gray has also been a member of the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.

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