HBCUs are stuck in reverse when it comes to the NFL Draft.
South Carolina State safety Christian Thompson, the Baltimore Raven’s fourth-round pick, was the only athlete from an HBCU selected in the 2012 draft. It is the lowest number of black college draft picks since 1994, and it continues a recent trend that has seen NFL teams snub athletes from HBCUs during the draft and then quickly sign them to free agent contracts.
HBCUs haven’t had double-digit draft picks since 13 athletes were selected in 2000. Eighty-four athletes from HBCUs were drafted from 1994-2000; the highpoint was in 1996 when 17 black college athletes were picked. Forty-nine black college athletes have been drafted since 2001, and 2012 was the 12th consecutive year that HBCUs have had fewer than 10 players drafted.
“That’s alarming,” Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor says of the low number of athletes from HBCUs in the 2012 NFL Draft. “I just can’t believe that.”
On the other hand, NFL teams had signed 24 undrafted free agents as of May 3.
At 6-0, 211 pounds, Thompson played three seasons at South Carolina State after transferring from Auburn, has exceptional size and speed. He was a 2011 first-team All-MEAC pick after making 66 tackles and intercepting two passes for the Bulldogs. Draft analysts ranked him in the top 10 at his position going into the draft. He solidified his ranking with his performance at the NFL Combine in February. He had the best time in the 40-yard dash (4.50 seconds) among safeties and the third best time in the 60-yard shuttle.
The Ravens have Thompson penciled in as a backup at free safety behind All-Pro Ed Reed and strong safety behind Bernard Pollard. Thompson and Reed both live in South Florida and the two worked out together leading up to the draft after a chance meeting at a restaurant. Reed endorsed the Ravens selecting him.
“This is a blessing in disguise,” Thompson said after learning the Ravens had picked him. “It’s like a dream come true. Myself and plenty of other football players idolize Ed Reed. To be a part of the same defense as him and being able to learn from him is going to be a great experience. I’m just very excited. All the hard work and dedication paid off.”
“It’s a perfect fit,” South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough says. “Reed will take him under his wing. They have similar ability. He reminds me of the guy (Reed) he’s going to back up – very physical and hard-nosed. He’s a legitimate guy. (Being drafted in the fourth round) didn’t happen just because he was blessed with talent. He’s a hard worker.”
The Ravens selected Thompson based on need. Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski, the teams’ backup safeties last season, signed free agent contracts with the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts.
“Christian is in the mold of the guys we like on defense,” Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees told the media following the draft. “He’s hard-nosed, tough and physical and smart. We like his versatility.
“We don’t really consider guys box safeties or whatever. We don’t want a one-dimensional safety that can only play down or play up. Christian can help us in a lot of ways.”
Thompson is expected to be a special teams starter immediately, and draft analysts project that in time he will be a starter on defense as well.
Thompson was the 130th player picked overall, and the second of two fourth-round picks for the Ravens. He isn’t a lock to make the Ravens’ roster, but the odds are in his favor. The same can’t be said for the crop of HBCU free agent signees, however.
“It’s unfortunate,” says Grambling State coach Doug Williams, a former personnel executive for the Tampa Buccaneers. “It’s hard for me to imagine that only one kid deserved to be drafted. I know better than that. A lot of teams draft kids (from major colleges) because they’re on a team. That’s a little disrespect (for HBCUs). I’m not saying it should be like it was in the ’70s. But it should be better than it is. I can live with three or four (HBCU athletes being drafted). One is hard to live with.”
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