NFL drafts eight from black colleges
That's after eight players were taken Saturday and Sunday in the seven-round 2003 Draft at New York's Madison Square Garden, nearly double the five that went off the boards a year ago and exactly twice the all-time low of four taken in the 2001 Draft.
And while this year's number is quite a bit below the 52 black college players drafted in the 17 rounds of the 1967 Draft, the first after the NFL-AFL merger, the slight upsurge does provide more hope for black college prospects seeking shots at the next level.
Bethune-Cookman safety extraordinaire, Rashean Mathis, topped the list going to his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars with the seventh pick of the second round, 39th overall.
The selection of Mathis, who won both the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference and NCAA Div. I-AA defensive player of the year awards and set new I-AA records for single-season (14) and career (31) interceptions, was greeted with much anticipation by the Jaguar brass. Former Grambling quarterback James Harris is the Jaguars' new player personnel director.
"He's a guy with great range," said Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio, also in his first year on the job, on the team's offical website. "He has the size and speed we covet. What role he ends up in will depend on how well he learns our system. This is in no way a knock on our two corners. We talk about increasing the level of competition and we just elevated the level of competition at defensive back."
"You can't paint a better picture than this, coming home and playing in your hometown," said Mathis. "I think this is a great opportunity for me."
Mathis led a contingent of four black college players selected on Day One of the Draft when the first three rounds are held. That means black colleges produced four of the top 100 players to go off the boards.
A few picks behind Mathis, San Diego took lightning-quick all-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference cornerback Drayton Florence of Tuskegee with the 14th choice (46th overall) of the second round. Florence, like Mathis, is thought to have the speed and versatility to play at either cornerback or safety in the NFL.
"We feel good about the guy (Florence)," said San Diego Director of Player Personnel, Buddy Nix, who was a former head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga, a school Florence attended before transferring to Tuskegee. "He has the same physical ability as the first round guys. We feel fortunate that he fell to us where he did."
"He's very gifted athletically," said San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer. "I think he's similar to (Washington Redskins cornerback) Champ Bailey. He's got tremendous speed and physical skills. I think he's a very good tackler."
Following those two defensive standouts were two players on the other side of the ball, Arkansas-Pine Bluff tackle Courtney Van Buren and Morgan State tight end Vishante Shiancoe.
Van Buren, a mammoth 6-6, 358-pounder, followed Florence to San Diego when the Chargers made him the 16th pick of the third round (80th overall).
"He's a big guy, and all of our people are really excited about him, especially his position coach (Houston Houck)," said Chargers' general manager A. J. Smith of Van Buren. "We wanted to get a young guy who has a bright future with a lot of upside. He's young, bright and athletic. We think he has what it takes."
"It completely exceeded my expectations when the Chargers called me," said Van Buren, who was projected as best as a second-day pick. "To be called with the 80th pick is definitely an honor. I'm going to try to capitalize the best I can on that and try to make San Diego a championship team. For a guy my size, I run very well. I'm very aggressive on the field. I like finishing people."
Shiancoe, who wowed scouts at the Combine with his speed, strength and athleticism, was taken by the New York Giants with the 27th pick of the third round (91st overall). Shiancoe is the first draftee from once-powerful Morgan State since 1981.
He is expected thrown into the tight end mix with Giants' rookie sensation Jeremy Shockey who made the Pro Bowl in his first year.
"This is a very talented player," Giants' General Manager Ernie Acorsi said of Shiancoe who reportedly told Giants' scout (Morgan State grad and NFL Hall of Famer) Rosie Brown, 'I'm better than Shockey'.
"He just absolutely knocked the lights out of Indianapolis, he was the star of Indianapolis (the Scouting Combine)," Acorsi added. "He was at the top level on all the drills and he caught the ball; it wasn't just the gymnastics."
I-AA sack leader and Southwestern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Robert Mathis of Alabama A&M was the first second-day pick going to Indianapolis with the third selection of the fifth round. Indy head coach Tony Dungy called Mathis the most productive player the Colts had selected in his two seasons with the team.
"He did everything you can do at the level he was asked to play at," said Dungy. Mathis is expected to play on special teams while being groomed as a rush end or nickel lineman.
Zuriel Smith, who excelled for Hampton as a receiver and kick returner, was next with the 13th pick of the sixth round to Dallas. Smith returned five punts during his career for touchdowns and was among the MEAC's top receivers.
"He's someone who showed some very unique awareness," Cowboys' owner and general manager Jerry Jones said of Smith, who might have caught Bill Parcells' eye during a college game played at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands in which Smith returned three punts for touchdowns, tying a I-AA record.
"He didn't play at the top level, but we saw a lot of vision on returns. He gives us a contribution not only there, but could potentially be a sixth receiver for us."
Huge Howard offensive tackle, Marques Ogden, will get a chance to join older brother Jonathan (of the Baltimore Ravens) in the league after Jacksonville made him the 20th pick in the sixth round.
Tuskegee's other cornerback, Frank Walker, Jr., will get his chance with the Giants after they selected him with the 34th pick of the sixth round.
Among conferences, four players came out of the MEAC while two each played in the SIAC and SWAC.
© 2003 Azeez Communications, Inc.