Bolden only HBCU player picked in NFL Draft

Jim Trotter joins Brother from Another to break down Isaiah Bolden being the only HBCU player drafted in the 2023 NFL Draft and explains how the draft process for players at small schools impacts their path to the NFL.

Video Transcript


- Way to go, baby! Way to go, baby!


- Yay!

- Yeah!

- Dallas Cowboys.

- Dallas Cowboys just called.

- Yes! Let's go.


- Yeah!

- You got this!

MICHAEL SMITH: So Isaiah Land out of Florida State was one of the nearly 20 HBCU, oh, Florida A&M, I beg your pardon. Oh, I'm sorry, I beg your pardon. Florida A&M.

- Oh!

MICHAEL SMITH: Florida, yeah. Isaiah Land out of Florida A&M was one of the nearly 20 HBCU players signed as undrafted free agents. More than last year. But Jackson State's Isaiah Boldin, was the only HBCU player drafted, who heard his name called. Didn't get the phone call about being an undrafted free agent, but heard his actual name called in the 2023 draft, down from four last year.

So it feels like we're having an annual conversation, Jim Trotter, of The Athletic, nice to see you, about the NFL shunning HBCU players, despite players like Detroit's James Houston, for example, making an immediate impact as a rookie last year. Doug Williams said he was surprised. Deion Sanders, OK, for whatever it's worth, said he was ashamed.

MICHAEL HOLLEY: Hey, man! Hey, hey, hey.

MICHAEL SMITH: I mean, I'm saying--

MICHAEL HOLLEY: I'm glad he did, though. I'm glad he did.

MICHAEL SMITH: OK, that's nice.

MICHAEL HOLLEY: I'm glad Deion--

MICHAEL SMITH: Not to get sidetracked.

MICHAEL HOLLEY: --brought attention to it.

MICHAEL SMITH: Deion has already, Deion has already said that their ice is colder. But, OK, Deion, thanks, appreciate you chiming in, OK.


MICHAEL SMITH: So Deion, Deion says--

JIM TROTTER: It's getting hot in here.

MICHAEL SMITH: --that he was--

MICHAEL HOLLEY: --already!

MICHAEL SMITH: Bottom line, Jim, what is going on here? There's an HBCU combine. There's a Legacy Bowl. People like you and Steve Wyche at your old place, NFL Media, doing so much to continue to shine a spotlight on these prospects and these players.

The NFL is known for looking at every nook and cranny, at home and abroad, for talent. But one player good enough to get drafted, quote unquote, what's going on here, man?

JIM TROTTER: Yes, fellas, there's a lot to unpack here. First off, full disclosure, being unemployed until next week, I think I only watched the first 12 picks of this draft and did not watch another moment of it thereafter.

And that was refreshing for me, because it had been how many decades that I have participated in this draft process? But when I saw the story about only one HBCU player being drafted, I cut short my unofficial vacation and started making a few calls.

And so this morning, I talked to at least five GMs and a couple HBCU head coaches. And the reality here, guys, if you take the emotion out of it, is that there are a lot of layers to this story. Number one, what I wanted to do, is try and compare apples to apples.

So we know that HBCU's play at the football championship subdivision, which was previously known as 1AA football, so there are 125 schools that play at football at that level. What I wanted to know was, how many players total at that level were drafted. Not just HBCU, but total.

And what I came up with is that there were 10 total at that level who were drafted, only one being from an HBCU. The year before, there were 20 total from that level, four of whom, as you said, were from HBCUs. And the year before that, in 2021, there were five total players from that level, none of whom were from HBCU.

So what that means, is that players from the FCS division or level aren't being drafted very often in the NFL today. Teams are looking for players from the Power Fives conferences and schools. And so as one GM said to me today, you've got MVPs from power five schools and whatnot who weren't drafted. There is no bias against HBCUs.

Here's the other thing that's going on, guys. And again, being an HBCU alum, I want to bring the heat and say, man, these schools, these teams are discriminating against these schools and whatnot. But it's hard to, when you look at the numbers.

Here's what I'm talking about from that standpoint. So the transfer portal and NIL has made this extremely difficult for players at smaller schools to get drafted from those schools. Why do I say that? Because what's happening now, when you talk to GMs and you talk to college coaches, Power Five schools are now using these the smaller division schools as feeder programs to their programs. You guys there? Can you hear me?

- Yeah, we got you, yeah, yeah.

- Yeah.


- Yeah.

JIM TROTTER: OK. So what's happening is, these Power Five schools are now recruiting, so to speak, from these smaller conference schools. And so players aren't hanging around there. So in other words, if you see a player at a small college school who shows he can play at that level, the Power Five schools are coming in and saying, hey, hit the transfer portal. Here's NIL money that's waiting for you and whatnot, come on up.

So some players who would typically be at an HBCU, aren't there anymore. And Deion just did--

MICHAEL SMITH: Who am I thinking about last year? Who am I thinking about--

JIM TROTTER: No, look at Deion--

MICHAEL SMITH: Last year, who am I thinking about last year?

JIM TROTTER: I know. But look at Deion this year. Deion took three of the top players from the Jackson State program with him to Colorado.

MICHAEL SMITH: Yeah. But there was a guy from Jackson State. I don't think it was Houston. Maybe it was, who was drafted last year, and the team put out the highlights from, uh, no, yeah, it might've been Houston. They put out the highlights from the Power Five school that he was at before he went to Jackson State. Am I getting that right?


MICHAEL SMITH: So I hear what you're saying, that they're indirectly still coming from HBCUs, but they're going to Power Five schools through this feeder system. I hear you.



Go ahead.

JIM TROTTER: Here's what used to happen, as you guys know. Let's say a player went to a Power Five school and decided that either he wasn't playing, or he wasn't happy or whatnot. And this is prior to the transfer portal.

So rather than going to another Power Five school, where he would have to sit out for a year, he might go down to the 1AA level and some HBCUs where he could play right away. Well, now that's kind of being reversed, where what we're seeing now is, if you go, those players who go to these small division schools,--

--if they go in, they play, and they play well, again, Power Five schools are coming in and saying, hit the transfer portal. Come on up with us. We got NIL money. You're going to play on a larger stage. Teams are going to see you.

And that's where NFL clubs are going right now. Because look, you guys know this, having covered the NFL. As one GM said to me today, we'll go to China if we can find a player who can play for us. That's the reality of what it is. They said the talent just wasn't there this year.

MICHAEL SMITH: Go ahead, Mike.

MICHAEL HOLLEY: Well, are they saying that it doesn't transfer? Because based on the numbers that you used, so 24 out of 20. So you found some--

JIM TROTTER: 1 out of 10 this year.

MICHAEL HOLLEY: --guys there. So you went, you dropped them 20%, if my math is right, you dropped dropping 20% to 10%. 1 out of 10, from 4 out of 20 to 1 out of 10. Are they saying it's hard it's hard to identify those players, it's hard to translate what they will be from 1AA, the old school 1AA to the pros? Are they not--

JIM TROTTER: No, there's the other part.

MICHAEL HOLLEY: What's the issue?

JIM TROTTER: Here's the other problem, as was outlined to me by one GM. And he was being transparent, he was being honest about this. He said if the two scouting services don't include a player's name, they're not going to that school. Talking about small colleges, programs.

They said, we will send three scouts to Ohio State every year, regardless of whether or not they have players' names on the list or not, we're going to have three scouts going through that school every year. If a player from a small division school is not on that list, he said we're not sending a scout there.

So what does that mean? As one agent said to me this morning, again, talking about this, it is incumbent on the pro liaison at HBCUs and the 1AA level to contact these scouting services and say, our guy's name needs to be on that list, so therefore, we can have a scout coming through.

Now, that might sound lazy on the team's part. And I'm not going to argue whether that's right or wrong. I'm just telling you what they're telling me in terms of how they approach this.

- You're just reporting


MICHAEL SMITH: No, we appreciate the as always, thorough and specific reporting. I guess I would, the only slight pushback, and I could be wrong on this, is it feels like, I start out by saying this annual conversation, it feels like we were having this before the era of NIL and a transfer portal.

It feels like this is not specific to 2023. Because even in 2022, four is not a lot. I think the year before that, it was two, and was only a couple of years ago, it was 0. So it's not necessarily a new problem. But it sounds like, is it an unsolvable problem?

I mean, what more, because it was obviously embarrassing and shameful. But is it one of those things where, am I hearing you right, Jim, where it kind of is what it is? Or can the league do more? Can the teams do more, beyond attending an HBCU combine and a Legacy Bowl?

And I guess the hang-up that people have, Jim, is if all these dudes are good enough to be undrafted priority free agents in a lot of cases, undrafted free agents, were they not good enough to hear their name called? I guess it's that distinction tripping people up.

It's like, they can get an opportunity, but it's not it's not going to be by way of the draft.


MICHAEL SMITH: I know that was a lot there, but help me unpack that.

JIM TROTTER: No, no, no, go back to like 2019 and 2018. In 2019, there were four players from HBCUs drafted. In 2018, there were three. And then all of a sudden, we got to 2021 and 2022, and with 2021, we had the pandemic. So we had none.

Then all of a sudden, we had four, and then we had one. And look, this is not something that the league can control. They created an HBCU combine. They also created an HBCU All-Star Game. So the talk about exposure being the problem here, that's not the problem anymore.

The problem really is, when you talk to GMs, they have what they call standards. Some might say they are biases in terms of what they look for in players. And they have specific measurables that they like in players.

For instance, when they go down this list from BLESTO or the other scouting service, they will look at height, weight, speed. If you don't hit the benchmarks that they look for, they automatically rule you out. Like, they're not interested in following you.

So if you're at a smaller school, already they've taken you out of the equation, because you don't meet the standard that they want from players at certain positions in terms of height, weight, speed.

MICHAEL SMITH: Check this out. Speaking of standard, I'm going to just say this. Michael, I know you feel me on this. This is where I am with Jim Trotter. If anybody had reason to come in here today and give the NFL smoke, it was Jim Trotter.

But as usual, my man is like, no, I'm a reporter, I'm a journalist, here are the facts, this is the information, do with it what you will. I'm a reporter--


MICHAEL SMITH: --ain't nothing changing that. Love it.