On Wednesday the NFL announced that seven athletes from five countries would have the opportunity to compete for a spot in the 2019 International Player Pathway Program. One of the names, and the only U.K. representative is Christian Wade. Wade walked away from a Rugby Union contract back in October, looking to make it in the NFL. Wednesday his journey officially began.
Wade will compete with athletes from Germany (David Bada,
Moubarak Djeri & Jakob Johnson), Brazil (Dural Neto), Mexico (Maximo Sanchez) and Australia (Valentine Holmes). This is the first time athletes from Brazil and Mexico will be part of the program, but for the German, Australian and British athletes they will be hoping to replicate the success of some of their countrymen.
What is in store?
It will be a tough road for the seven athletes to make it to the NFL. Starting next month they will have until March to try and impress NFL teams and earn a contract. If they are not signed directly then their hopes will rest on being one of the four selected to the program itself. At that point they will be chosen by a team, from a division selected at random, to partake in training camp.
They will then have the chance to earn a roster spot outright in training camp. If not then they can be put on that teams practice squad, using the international player practice squad exemption. That exemption allows the team to have that player as a bonus 11th member of their practice squad for the season, giving them more chance to impress that team.
Between now and March the seven players will train with draft hopefuls and veterans in Florida. They will be supervised by the IMG training staff and their process can be followed on the NFL Undiscovered program.
Who is Wade competing with?
The program has a mix of players with football experience in other countries a long side Wade and NRL star Holmes. Holmes is the best known of the group globally having represented the Australian Rugby League team on a number of occasions, including scoring 11 tries combined in the quarter final and semi final of the 2017 World Cup. Both Wade and Holmes are expected to compete as offensive weapons and/or kick returners.
The other five have all played american football at a high standard within their own countries. Two of the German players have experienced playing football within the United States. Djeri participated in OTA’s in 2017 with the Arizona Cardinals, but was cut prior to training camp. Johnson attended the University of Tennessee for four years. During that period he transitioned from a defensive player to a tight end. In total he played in 17 games, registering 22 tackles and three receptions.
Wade and Holmes will have the most to learn as rookies to the game.Saying that, they are also unlikely to have developed bad habits and that may work in their favour. However, they will start at a major deficit in terms of fundamentals of the game and that will make the process tough for them.
Who are the success stories?
Efe Obada is the biggest success story of the program. He was the first player to graduate from the program onto a roster when he was signed at the end of training camp. He made his debut in Week 3 of the season and registered a sack and an interception, earning him the honour of NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
There are currently seven other players in the program, including four British players and three German players. One of those players, Moritz Bohringer, was originally drafted in 2016, but after failing to make it in the league he became part of the program in 2018.
Other international players to have made a splash in the league at positions outside of the kicking game are Jordan Mailata, who was drafted by the Eagles in 2018 and made it onto the full roster in 2018. Mailata has recently been placed on injured reserve. Despite not playing a snap for the Eagles this season there have been promising signs and he will have the chance to compete for a spot next year. Jarred Hayne also briefly made a splash as a running back and kick returner with the San Francisco 49ers, but he has since returned to playing rugby.
The final word
This is just the start of the progress for Wade and the other six athletes. There is a long road between now and making it onto an NFL roster, and for three of them there is no guarantee of anything. The next few months are going to be a fascinating story for these seven athletes.
Image Credit: PA