For the first time in the history of the NFL, 14 Black quarterbacks took the snap on week 1. Last season, 11 Black quarterbacks started on week 1. The Week 1 starters are Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Jalen Hurts (Eagles), Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Deshaun Watson (Browns), Russell Wilson (Broncos), Geno Smith (Seahawks), Desmond Ridder (Falcons), Joshua Dobbs (Cardinals), Justin Fields (Bears), Jordan Love (Packers), Bryce Young (Panthers), C.J. Stroud (Texans) and Anthony Richardson (Colts).
The 2023 NFL Draft marked the first time in NFL history Black men were selected in the top three positions for quarterback. The position was once seen as a white male-dominated one until players such as Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham revolutionized the position and the game of football. In the modern era, the NFL has seen an increasing number of Black quarterbacks breaking barriers and achieving success. Players like Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Patrick Mahomes have become stars in the league. Mahomes is currently one of the most recent standout Black quarterbacks. He led the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory and has won the NFL MVP award.
The history of Black quarterbacks in the NFL is a story of perseverance. Breaking down racial barriers in the NFL has been a long and difficult road in a sport that is now dominated by African Americans. But the quarterback position has been a special problem: Teams from college up have been reluctant for decades to encourage Black players to play quarterback. Many talented Black athletes were denied opportunities to play quarterback.
In the 1920s Fritz Pollard became one of the first African American quarterbacks in the NFL. He played for the Akron Pros in 1920, making him one of the league’s first Black players. He also became a player-coach. But he was a rare early pioneer at a time of racial segregation Jim Crow. In 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the first Black quarterback to start in the NFL during the modern era. He played for the Denver Broncos and later transitioned to a wide receiver position.
In the 1980s, Houston Oilers QB Warren Moon became one of the most prominent Black quarterbacks in NFL history. Moon started as a star in the Canadian Football League before joining the NFL in 1984. Had a highly successful NFL career, earning nine Pro Bowl selections and being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1988, Washington Redskins QB Doug Williams made history in Super Bowl XXII (1988) when he became the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He led them to a victory and was named the game’s MVP. Philadelphia Eagles QB Randall Cunningham was known for his athleticism in the 1980s and 1990s. Cunningham was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. While there have been significant strides in the representation of Black quarterbacks in the NFL, there is ongoing recognition of the need for continued diversity and inclusion in all positions in professional football — including owner and head coach.
By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor
Black Quarterback History
Fritz Pollard | In the 1920s, Fritz Pollard became one of the first African-American quarterbacks in the NFL. He played for the Akron Pros in 1920, making him one of the league’s first Black players. He also became a player-coach. But he was a rare early pioneer at a time of Jim Crow racial segregation.
Marlin Briscoe | In 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the first Black quarterback to start in the NFL during the modern era. He played for the Denver Broncos and later transitioned to a wide receiver position.
Doug Williams | In 1988, Washington Redskins QB Doug Williams made history in Super Bowl XXII (1988) when he became the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He led the Redskins to victory and was named the game’s MVP.
2012 Draft, 3rd Round
During Wilson’s 10 years in Seattle, he made the Pro Bowl nine times, the Super Bowl twice, and won NFL Man of the Year in 2020. The former Superbowl-winning QB got a change of scenery last year when he was traded to Denver. The first year in the mile-high city was a bit of a bust, but now there’s a new, seasoned head coach in Sean Payton, who’ll look to get the best out of Wilson as he enters his 12th professional year out of Wisconsin.
2013 Draft, 2nd Round
Coming out of West Virginia, Geno Smith looked to be the next great QB when the Jets selected him high in the 2nd Round of the 2013 Draft. A rough start to his career saw Smith become a journeyman back-up. Smith played for the Jets, Giants, and Chargers before catching on in Seattle. After years as a backup to Russell Wilson, Smith made the Pro Bowl and won Comeback Player of the Year last season by taking the Seahawks to the playoffs.
2016 Draft, 4th Round
Dak Prescott enters his eighth year with the Cowboys. Prescott is a former 4th Round pick out of Mississippi State and has had a solid career as a two-time Pro Bowler, but hasn’t been able to take the Cowboys deep in the playoffs. The Cowboys have a modest 2-4 playoff record with Prescott at the helm, something they hope to change this year.
Kansas City Chiefs
2017 Draft, 1st Round
Between the constant wins and commercials, you can’t miss this hometown hero. Mahomes is entering his seventh NFL season out of Texas Tech as both the reigning NFL and Super Bowl MVP. After sitting his rookie year behind Alex Smith, Mahomes has made it to at least the AFC Championship game every year as a starter.
2017 Draft, 1st Round
A national champion QB at Clemson and 1st Round pick by Houston in 2017, Watson was a budding star. Then, scandal forced him out of town after many — since settled — allegations of sexual assault came to light. The Cleveland Browns were all-too-eager to sign Watson to a multi-year deal in 2022. After serving a year and a half NFL suspension, Watson enters his first full season as a starter for the Browns.
2017 Draft, 4th Round
Dobbs had a tremendous career at the University of Tennessee before being drafted in the 4th Round in 2017. He’s entering his fourth professional season in the NFL as a bit of a wild card. Dobbs was traded to Arizona a week before the start of the season, and the season opener represents just his third start of his career. The Cardinals’ entrenched starter, Kyler Murray, is out with an injury until at least Week 6. Dobbs will try to take advantage of this opportunity with his fourth NFL team.
2018 Draft,1st Round
The 2019 NFL MVP from Louisville had a rocky season last year dealing with injuries but briefly became the highest-paid QB in NFL history when he signed a new deal this offseason. Jackson gets a new passing-minded offensive coordinator this year, who’ll look to use more of Jackson’s arm than his legs in order to lengthen the star QB’s career.
Green Bay Packers
2020 Draft, 1st Round
When drafted in 2020 out of Utah State, he was supposed to be the heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers. But Rodgers hung on in Green Bay, forcing Love to learn from the bench the past three years. Love looks to capitalize on his apprenticeship this season as he takes the reins for the Packers.
2020 Draft, 2nd Round
The former Alabama and Oklahoma signal caller made a massive leap for the Eagles last year in his third season as a pro. Hurts took the Eagles all the way to the Super Bowl last season, going toe-to-toe with Mahomes’ Chiefs before falling just short of a championship. Hurts will look to improve on his breakout year and solidify himself as one of the best QBs in the league.
2021 Draft, 1st Round
A former top pick in 2021, Fields is supposed to be the answer at quarterback that the Bears have long sought. A dual threat to run and pass at Ohio State, Fields has done the same in the NFL, running for 1,000 yards last season. Fields looks to make a leap this year, putting it all together for the Bears by honing his passing skill with his running ability.
2022 Draft, 3rd Round
A 3rd Round pick last season out of Cincinnati, Ridder sat most of his rookie year before starting the last four games for the Falcons. This year, Ridder hopes to build on those starts as he enters the year looking to prove he has what it takes to lead the run-first Falcons.
2023 Draft, 1st Overall
After a tremendous career at Alabama and winning the Heisman Trophy, Bryce Young became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The supremely talented but small-in-stature Young won the starting QB job in training camp and will start the season as a rookie.
2023 Draft, 2nd Overall
This year’s draft had analysts guessing who’d get picked first, Ohio State’s Stroud or Alabama’s Bryce Young. While Young went first, Stroud went shortly after to Houston at pick 2 in the 1st Round. Stroud looks to help a team that only won three games last season as he starts his rookie year.
2023 Draft, 4th Overall
Taken fourth overall in this year’s draft, Richardson wowed with his physical talent in Florida and the NFL’s Combine. He is 6’4 and 232 lbs and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the combine. Big, fast, and with a cannon for an arm, Richardson only started one season in college but oozes potential. He joins two other 1st Round QBs starting the season as rookies.