Recent moves settled the number of HBCU players on 2023 NFL season opening day rosters at 31. The same number as a year ago.
Twenty-two (22) of the HBCU players will begin on 53-man rosters. Week 1 of the NFL season kicks off Thursday night when Super Bowl champion Kansas City hosts Detroit (8:20 p.m. on NBC).
Look for three prominent second-year NFL HBCU products in Thursday night’s game.
Kansas City’s secondary will feature former Fayetteville State defensive back Joshua Williams and former Howard defensive back Bryan Cook. Detroit will have pass rushing specialist James Houston coming off the edge.
All three had sterling 2022 campaigns as rookies. Williams and Cook, combined for a game-changing interception in the AFC Championship Game vs. Cincinnati. They were both starters for the Chiefs in their Super Bowl LVII win.
Houston, after languishing on the Lions’ practice squad through eight games, posted eight sacks in their final seven games. He finished 30th in the league and second on the Lions’ squad.
2003 NFL Season: The latest moves
New Orleans terminated the practice squad contract of Arkansas-Pine Bluff undrafted rookie free agent offensive lineman Mark Evans II Monday. Also on Monday, Arizona added fourth-year veteran defensive back Bobby Price out of Norfolk State to its practice squad.
That brought the number of HBCU players on 53-man rosters and 16-player practice squads to 31, the same number as in 2022. Teams let go six HBCU undrafted rookies and five HBCU veterans as they got down to their 53-man rosters on August 29.
Four undrafted black college rookie free agents made opening day 53-man rosters. North Carolina A&T offensive lineman Ricky Lee made the grade for Carolina. An excellent preseason where he topped the rushing charts led Green Bay to keep Fort Valley State running back Emmanuel Wilson on its roster.
Indianapolis added former Florida A&M pass rushing specialist and 2021 Buck Buchanan Award winner Isaiah Land to its main roster. Dallas had released Land. Carolina signed Alcorn State linebacker Claudin Cherelus to its 53. The New York Jets released him.
Land’s addition gives the Colts the largest contingent of HBCU players on its roster (3) with linebacker Shaquille Leonard and defensive tackle Grover Stewart. The Colts host Jacksonville Sunday (1 p.m.).
New England placed Jackson State DB Isaiah Bolden, the lone 2023 draftee from the HBCU ranks, on injured reserve. The Patriots will likely release Bolden and make him eligible to sign with another team.
2023 NFL season: Biggest changes
The biggest changes from 2022 are where a couple of black college products landed and others no longer in the league.
South Carolina State veteran defensive tackle Javon Hargrove was the biggest mover. The 6-2, 305-pound eighth-year vet left Philadelphia after three seasons. He signed a lucrative four-year $84 million free agent deal with San Francisco and will be in the starting line-up when the 49ers open with Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Arizona signed Price who played his first three years with Detroit.
Five veterans not in 2023 camps and not picked up, are: 8th-year linebacker Joe Thomas out of South Carolina State (Chicago); 5th-year RB/KR Trenton Cannon out of Virginia State (Tennessee); 2nd-year offensive lineman David Moore of Grambling (Cleveleand); 2nd-year NC Central wide receiver Ryan McDaniel (Jacksonville), and 7th-year wide receiver Chester Rogers of Grambling (Houston).
2023 NFL season: The HBCU rundown
The most senior HBCU player in the league is Arkansas-Pine Bluff 11-year veteran offensive left tackle Terron Armstead. He is expected to start when his Miami Dolphins open Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers. Armstead suffered a leg injury during the preseason but is projected to be ready.
South Carolina State will once again have the most players on NFL rosters. Six Bulldogs, led by Hargrave and Antonio Hamilton, another eight-year vet, are in the league. The SC State newcomer is rookie free agent wide receiver Shaquan Davis, signed to the New Orleans practice squad.
Other undrafted rookie free agents on practice squads are former Florida A&M wide receiver Xavier Smith with the Los Angeles Rams, former Lane defensive end Andrew Farmer with the Los Angeles Chargers and former Alabama State defensive back Keenan Isaac with Tampa Bay.
HBCU PRODUCTS ON OPENING-DAY NFL ROSTERS