By Cameron Lee
August 31, 2023 (updated)
Photo: Alex Cason / CLTure
As the NFL regular season approaches, the Carolina Panthers cut down their roster to 53 players as required by the NFL’s August 29 deadline. One of those players who made the cut was former North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central offensive tackle, Ricky Lee. Lee, who is an undrafted free agent rookie, beat out veteran offensive tackle Cam Erving (a first-round pick in 2015), along with several other lineman competing for the slot.
Starting his college football career at North Carolina Central, Lee transferred to rival North Carolina A&T in 2021, where he became a second-team All-Big South Conference selection as a senior before going undrafted in the 2023 NFL Draft. When rookie mini-camp started in May, Lee’s chances of making the team were slim, but now he is one of only 20 HBCU players on an active roster in the NFL, according to the NCAA website. Lee is currently listed as the Panthers second-string left tackle, but will likely spend most of his time backing up right tackle Taylor Moton this season.
While only one player from an HBCU was drafted in the 2023 NFL Draft (Isaiah Bolden, a cornerback from Jackson State University in the seventh round), a Charlotte native is another one of the 20 former HBCU players that made an active 53-man roster. North Mecklenburg High School graduate and former Johnson C. Smith running back Emanuel Wilson made the Green Bay Packers roster after rushing for an impressive 223 yards on 38 carries in the preseason.
Wilson, who transferred to Fort Valley State in Georgia after his redshirt freshman season at Johnson C. Smith was also undrafted in the 2023 NFL Draft. He signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos and was cut days later prior to signing with the Packers and making the team.
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On August 11, Wilson played in his first NFL game for the Packers on the 14th anniversary of his father’s passing and ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries.
The Panthers kick off the 2023 NFL season against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, September 10 at 1 p.m. Check out the complete 2023 Carolina Panthers schedule.