Many great NFL players have come to the league from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the Green Bay Packers have had many talented players come from these schools. For many years, these colleges were an often overlooked source of talent for the NFL but that has certainly changed over time.
Here is a look at the top six Packers players who attended HBCUs. The rankings are based on what these players did with the Packers, not how they played in college or what they did with other NFL teams.
- DE Clarence Williams, Prairie View A&M (1970-77)
Clarence Williams spent eight seasons with the Packers after spending a year on the Cowboys taxi squad. He was acquired in the trade that sent Hall of Famer Herb Adderley to the Cowboys and was brought in to replace another Hall of Famer performer in Willie Davis at left defensive end.
Williams led the Packers with 10.5 sacks in 1972, the year the team won the NFC Central Division title with a 10-4 record. Three of those sacks came in the Week 13 win over the Vikings in Minnesota that clinched the division title for the Packers.
Nicknamed “Big Cat,” for his quickness, Williams also led the Packers in sacks in 1974 with seven and had another 10-sack campaign in 1975.
In 1977, the Packers drafted defensive ends Mike Butler and Ezra Johnson in the first round so they moved Williams to defensive tackle for his final NFL season.
Unofficially (since sacks weren’t made an official stat by the NFL until 1982), Williams recorded 51 sacks in eight seasons with the Packers and scored a touchdown on one of his eight career fumble recoveries.
- DE Ezra Johnson, Morris Brown (1977-1987)
Johnson was drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 1977 NFL Draft along with Mike Butler. His best season came one year later when the former Morris Brown star recorded 20.5 sacks (unofficially) including five sacks in the season-opener that year against the Lions. He earned Pro Bowl honors that season after finishing second in the league in sacks.
Johnson had good size and speed and over the course of his career, developed many great moves to sack opposing quarterbacks.
He added 14.5 sacks in 1983, a year the Packers defense struggled with injuries and inconsistency. Johnson unofficially recorded 92 sacks during his 11 seasons with the Packers and recovered seven fumbles.
Johnson closed out his career by playing for the Colts and Oilers. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1997.
- CB Ken Ellis, Southern University (1970-75)
The Packers selected cornerback Ken Ellis out of Southern University in the fourth round of the 1970 NFL Draft. With Herb Adderley traded to Dallas, Ellis stepped in and became a starter as a rookie and intercepted three passes in his first season.
Ellis was named All Pro in 1972 as he was part of a strong Packers secondary that limited opposing offenses to just seven touchdown passes all season. Ellis also earned Pro Bowl honors in 1973 and 1974.
Ellis returned three interceptions for touchdowns during his tenure with the Packers and also returned punts. His 80-yard punt return for a touchdown was the turning point in the Packers 24-23 comeback win over the Lions in Week 5 of 1972. That win gave the Packers momentum in their division-winning campaign.
In six seasons with the Packers, Ellis intercepted 20 passes and teamed with Willie Buchanon for four of those seasons to give the Packers an extremely talented pair of starting corners.
Ellis was traded to the Houston Oilers in the deal that brought Lynn Dickey to Green Bay. He played for the Rams in Super Bowl XIV which was the final game of his NFL career.
Ellis was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1998.
- S Nick Collins, Bethune-Cookman (2005-2011)
Nick Collins authored one of the greatest plays in Packers Super Bowl history. Late in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLV, Collins intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and returned the pick 37-yards for a touchdown. When he dove into the end zone, he gave the Pack an early 14-0 lead and they would never relinquish.
The Packers added Collins in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft and he became a starter as a rookie. In fact, Collins started all 95 games he played for the Packers during his career.
He earned Pro Bowl honors from 2008-2010 before a neck injury ended his career early in the 2011 season.
Collins finished his NFL career with 21 interceptions and returned four of them for touchdowns including three pick-sixes in 2008 alone.
Had he remained healthy, there is no telling how great he could have been.
Collins was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2016.
- WR Donald Driver, Alcorn State (1999-2012)
Donald Driver started off as a seventh-round draft choice out of Alcorn State and ended his career as the Packers all-time leading receiver.
Driver finished his Packers career with a franchise record 743 catches for 10,137 yards and 61 touchdowns. He went over 1,000-yards receiving in a season seven times and helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV.
During his career, Driver was selected to the Pro Bowl three times including 2006 when he had a career-best 92 catches for 1,295 yards and caught eight touchdown passes.
Driver was a hard worker and was dedicated to the team and the community. He has a street named after him in Green Bay for all he accomplished, known as Donald Driver Way.
Driver was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2017.
- DE Willie Davis, Grambling (1960-1969)
Vince Lombardi traded for Willie Davis from the Cleveland Browns before the 1960 season. The former Grambling star played 10 seasons in Green Bay and became the captain of the defense.
Davis played on all five of Lombardi’s championship teams in the 1960s including the first two Super Bowls. He was credited with 1.5 sacks in Super Bowl I against the Chiefs and then sacked Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica three times in Super Bowl II.
Davis was named All Pro five times between 1962 and 1967 and was also voted to five Pro Bowls. His quickness and intelligence helped make him an outstanding pass rusher and he was strong against the run as well.
During his tenure in Green Bay, Davis provided leadership on and off the field. He was nicknamed “Dr. Feelgood” for his sunny disposition and enthusiasm.
The team held “Willie Davis Day” in 1969, his final year with the team. After his retirement, he served on the Packers Board of Directors and became a leader in the business community as well.
Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Packers Hall of Fame in 1975. He died at the age of 85 in 2020.1
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