A lot of NFL fans in the UK pin their hopes of a franchise coming to London. It will provide a great boost for Britball, but even if it doesn’t happen the NFL is already trying to extend their model overseas.
A few days after the draft, NFL Communications sent out a press release regarding eight international players being added to NFL rosters. It was actually four new players joining the existing four who were assigned to teams last year with whom they will be staying with for another season.
The International Player Pathway program began last year in the AFC South with the intention of providing the opportunity for overseas players to develop their skills in an environment where there was no fear of being cut while they progress. They train and practice with the team outside the fear of being cut.
This year, after a random draw, the AFC North was chosen to receive the international players. The Ravens, Bengals, Browns and Steelers were each given an exemption for an eleventh practice squad member if eligible at the end of training camp. The players will be ineligible to be activated during the season if they make it, but will remain on the roster.
Two of the newly selected players are from the UK and two from Germany:
Moritz Böhringer, Tight End/Wide Receiver (Germany), Age: 24 joins the Cincinnati Bengals
Selected in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, he became the first player to be drafted directly from European football. Had previously been combining his university studies with playing for the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns in the German Football League. Spent the 2016 season on the Vikings practice squad.
Christopher Ezeala, Fullback (Germany), Age: 22 joins the Baltimore Ravens
Played as a fullback and linebacker in the German Football League for the Ingolstadt Dukes, having begun playing the sport for the Munich Rangers and Allgäu Comets. Has focused on the fullback position, saying: “My coaches told me that while there are many linebackers like me in the NFL, there is no fullback that is so athletic and fast, so they are trying to create a new type of player with me.”
Tigie Sankoh, Defensive Back (UK), Age: 21 joins the Cleveland Browns
Played amateur football throughout his teenage years and attended the American Football Academy at Filton College in Bristol, England. Went on to represent the London Warriors in the British American Football League.
Christian Scotland-Williamson, Tight End (UK), Age: 24 joins the Pittsburgh Steelers
Converted to American football early in 2018 after a professional rugby career in England, where he played for the Worcester Warriors in the English Premiership. Playing as a second-row forward, he was known in rugby for his physicality and tackling ability and came to international prominence when a tackle in a game against London Wasps was shared widely on the Internet. He graduated from Loughborough University, one of the UK’s leading sports institutions, with a degree in economics.
For the past three months, the players have been training alongside NFL players and draft hopefuls in Florida, under the supervision of former NFLUK head of football Aden Durde, who was hired as the Atlanta Falcons defensive quality control coach after this season’s program, along with IMG Academy coaches.
In addition to the International program, New Zealand’s Jordan Mailata was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the draft. His physical attributes were probably the reason most NFL scouts and general managers were drawn to the player. At only 20 years old, he offers plenty of potential upside if he continues to make progress in his training. And that is the purpose of the NFL’s International program.
In the trans-Atlantic movement of football personnel, the London Warriors lead the way providing Efe Obada to the Panthers, Tigie Sankoh to the Browns and Aden Durde as the defensive quality control coach for the Falcons.
You can imagine what the experience will mean to all the players, but it is underlined by Scotland-Williamson who tweeted, ‘I’m lost for words! Time to go to work!’
It’s a prospect many players in the UK, if not all, will be envious of and the next step for the players on their NFL journey will be the NFL mini-camps.