2020 NFL Draft: How COVID-19 is impacting players from historically black colleges and universities

The coronavirus pandemic is proving an added obstacle in the effort among players of historically black colleges and universities to make themselves known ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft, believes NFL Network’s Steve Wyche. 

HBCUs have produced some of the greatest players in NFL history over the years, including Super Bowl champions and Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Deacon Jones and Michael Strahan.

This year’s build-up has seen HBCU prospects confronted by a limited window in which to assert their potential as a result of Pro Days and pre-Draft visits being cancelled amid the fight to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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“Right now because these small schools can’t get these interviews or didn’t have pro days, and a lot of their players didn’t get invited to the combine, it’s their game film, that’s it,” Wyche told Sky Sports.

“A lot of these schools are in small towns, if a scout happened to be going through that town to see a player play he’s got an advantage. But that doesn’t happen to a lot of these guys, or maybe when that scout came through that player was hurt and didn’t come back until the third week of the season. Now they’ve just got some film.

“So the lack of exposure could really hurt a lot of these players, especially from these historically black colleges.”

Darius Leonard is a recent success story to emerge from a HBCU college in South Carolina State, winning 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year after being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in round two.

Fellow Bulldog Alex Taylor, an offensive lineman, is one of the more likely HBCU products to be selected at the draft after earning invitations to the Scouting Combine and the Pro Bowl earlier this year.

Wyche added: “It only looks like one or two might get drafted, whereas in previous years there are usually four or five.

“Some are usually high draft picks like Darius Leonard and Tytus Howard, he was a first-round pick for the Houston Texans last year.

“That’s not going to happen this year. This pandemic and other circumstances have really affected different people in this football world in a lot of different ways.”

History tells us that there are still opportunities to be successful for those that are overlooked in all seven rounds of the draft.

Offensive guard Larry Little became a two-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer after going undrafted in 1967. Safety Donnie Shell won the Super Bowl five times with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was selected to the Hall of Fame having gone undrafted in 1974.

There are possibilities beyond the draft for all players in general, retired linebacker James Harrison going undrafted in 2002 before winning two Super Bowl rings, earning five Pro Bowl selections and finishing his career as the Steelers’ all-time sack leader.

“The good teams know, the good teams have sources at these smaller schools, whether they’re coaches or folk that have been in town,” said Wyche.

“They’ll say ‘hey, is there anybody there?’ and these coaches will be honest and say ‘nobody really this year’, so the majority of players coming from these schools, they’ll probably get opportunities and get signed as undrafted free agents.

“As we know there’s a good chunk of players who are undrafted and have great careers, and a bunch of undrafted players who make NFL rosters every year.

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