Courtesy of The Athletic, a look at the history that could be made by black quarterbacks in the upcoming NFL draft:

When the NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night from Kansas City, quarterbacks Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Hendon Hooker will find themselves within striking distance of historical milestones.

Alabama’s Young, Ohio State’s Stroud and Florida’s Richardson could become the first trio of Black quarterbacks to all come off the board in the top 10. At the very least, Thursday might represent only the second time in NFL history that three Black quarterbacks are drafted in the first round. The first instance came in 1999 when Donovan McNabb went second, Akili Smith third and Daunte Culpepper 11th.

And this year’s quarterback prospects could actually take the progress one step forward if a fourth quarterback-needy team deems Tennessee’s Hooker worthy of a first-round pick.

We’re only three paragraphs into this column and some of you are already rolling your eyes, gnashing your teeth and asking, “Who cares? What’s the big deal?”

I’ll break it down for you.

Although the NFL was founded in 1920, it wasn’t until 1970 that it merged with the AFL, giving us what most closely resembles the league that we know and love today. But opportunities still remained scarce for Black quarterbacks. Not until 1978 did Grambling State’s Doug Williams become the first Black quarterback drafted in the first round, going 17th to Tampa Bay.

The McNabb-Smith-Culpepper draft — 21 years later — was a big deal because, until that point, multiple Black quarterbacks had never gone in the first round of the same draft. And it wasn’t until 2001, 23 years after Williams’ breakthrough, that a Black quarterback went first. That was Michael Vick, to Atlanta.

So here we are, 22 years after Vick’s moment, with history again within reach. Only three draft classes since Vick’s selection have featured even two Black quarterbacks taken in the first round: 2017 (Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson), 2019 (Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins) and 2021 (Trey Lance and Justin Fields).

Progress is slow, but it’s progress just the same.

Young, Stroud, Richardson, Hooker and Kentucky’s Will Levis round out the top five at their position on most draft projections, with Levis regarded by most as No. 4 on the list.

However, Young, Stroud, Richardson and Hooker potentially going in the first round not only represents another monumental stride for a greatly marginalized fraternity of players. Their stature in this year’s draft also signals the continued evolution of a game whose gatekeepers long hindered progress because of their narrow-minded views of players of color.

“It says to me that mindsets and mentalities have changed,” Williams said, speaking to The Athletic by phone this week. “It’s not that ability has changed, because we’ve always had guys with the ability for years. But it’s the mindset of the guys picking the quarterbacks that has changed. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s heartwarming for me, really.”

For Williams, 2023 represents the continuation of a celebration of progress.

In February, Mahomes and Jalen Hurts became the first pair of Black quarterbacks to start opposite one another in the Super Bowl, with Mahomes becoming the third to win the championship game, and the first quarterback of color to hoist multiple Lombardi Trophies.

But here we are, days away from the draft, and the skin color of Young, Stroud, Richardson and Hooker (and don’t forget UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, projected as a Day 3 pick) has commanded minimal attention.

Williams is right: The mindset in the NFL certainly has changed, and not just from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when quarterbacks often were pressed into duty at cornerback or wide receiver because talent evaluators struggled to believe that a Black man could lead a team. Just five years ago, Lamar Jackson had to deal with questions about whether he — a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback — was better suited as an NFL running back or wide receiver.

But this year, there have been no debates about whether Richardson, a 6-foot-4, 244-pound specimen, would be better off switching to tight end. No one has questioned the grit and leadership ability of Young, Stroud and company.

The evaluation of this year’s crop of top quarterbacks has centered solely on their abilities as leaders, playmakers and decision-makers. And that’s exactly what these quarterbacks — and their forefathers like Williams, Warren Moon, James “Shack” Harris, Jimmy Raye Jr., Marlin Briscoe and many others — have always wanted: to be evaluated on their resumes, rather than hate-fueled excuses about why they can’t do the job.

Now, coaches and general managers evaluating Young, Stroud, Richardson and Hooker view them as potential standard-bearers with game-changing, dual-threat abilities.

This quartet owes a great debt to Williams’ generation, who proved they could indeed execute under pressure, sling the ball all over the field and inspire a locker room to rally around them. They also owe the stars of the next generation — guys such as Randall Cunningham, Kordell Stewart, McNabb and Vick — who terrorized defenses with their escapability and improvisational skills when protections broke down or when stingy defenses took away their primary passing targets.

Then came Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, whose skill sets and college bodies of work inspired NFL coaches to implement designed quarterback runs into their playbooks.

When Washington used the second pick on Griffin in 2012, Mike Shanahan predicted that the Baylor product would revolutionize the quarterback position. He was right. Injuries derailed Griffin’s career, but the concepts Shanahan and then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan cooked up to feature Griffin’s abilities now are on display in stadiums across the NFL.

Today, coaches recognize the pressure a dual-threat quarterback — Black or White — puts on a defense. The statuesque pocket passer is a dinosaur. Now, it’s essentially a requirement for all NFL quarterbacks to possess mobility.

Despite boasting similar traits, Young, Stroud, Richardson and Hooker come in varying shapes and sizes while offering their own unique styles of play. As a result, most NFL talent evaluators view them as capable of joining this Mahomes-led young wave of quarterbacks who will usher the game into the post-Tom Brady era.

This year’s quartet will no doubt develop at different rates. But the relationships and trust they build with their coaches and mentors will be key.

Andy Reid and Mahomes share a strong bond. That personal connection and the Chiefs coach’s willingness to embrace Mahomes’ unconventional style of play have paved the way for the quarterback’s strong input on the offense and overall success. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s decision to pair Jalen Hurts with a Black quarterback coach (and now offensive coordinator) in Brian Johnson — a former quarterback himself, who played high school football for Hurts’ father — has also paid off in a big way.

But trust and support aren’t foreign concepts. Instead, they’re keys to success that every team should apply to drafting and grooming a young quarterback, regardless of color. And now that NFL teams fully embrace the idea of investing in and entrusting offenses to Black quarterbacks, hopefully, this year’s crop of quarterbacks receive all of the assistance and guidance necessary for development while also possessing the internal drive to transition to the pro game with excellence.

As four of the top five quarterbacks in this year’s draft, Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Hendon Hooker find themselves at the doorstep of history. They stand on the shoulders of Black quarterbacks who endured everything from offensive and racially charged questions from prospective employers, to limited and unfair opportunities from their eventual coaches to mistreatment from teammates to death threats and hate mail from fans.

It may have been a long time coming, and Lord knows much progress is still necessary on the equality front, particularly in the head coaching ranks. But when it comes to the plight of the Black quarterback, change truly appears to be happening.


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