INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS ADDED TO ROSTERS
teams will carry an additional overseas player on their practice squads in 2018
as part of an expansion of the International Player Pathway program, the NFL announced
The program, instituted in 2017, aims to
provide international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level,
improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster.
Alex Gray (Atlanta Falcons), Alex
Jenkins (New Orleans Saints), Eric Nzeocha (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and Efe
Obada (Carolina Panthers), participants in 2017, will return to their NFC South
teams for the upcoming season.
An additional four teams – the AFC North
– will carry an overseas player on their roster until the end of the 2018
training camp. At that time, the players
would be eligible for an international player practice squad exemption.
The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati
Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers will each be given an
exemption for an eleventh practice squad member – ineligible to be activated
during the season – with two of the players selected coming from the UK and two
from Germany. The AFC North was chosen to receive the international players in
a random draw.
The players include Moritz Böhringer
(Cincinnati Bengals), who was originally drafted in the sixth round by the
Minnesota Vikings in 2016, German Football League player Christopher Ezeala
(Baltimore Ravens), former British American Football League player Tigie Sankoh
(Cleveland Browns) and former English professional rugby player Christian
Scotland-Williamson (Pittsburgh Steelers).
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 including
running back coach Earnest Byner, offensive line coach Paul Dunn, defensive
back coach Donnie Henderson and wide receiver coach Larry Kirksey.
players taking part in the 2018 International Player Pathway Program:
BÖHRINGER, Tight End/Wide Receiver (Germany), Age: 24 – Cincinnati Bengals
in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, becoming 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
EZEALA, Fullback (Germany), Age: 22 – 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.”
Defensive Back (UK), Age: 21 – Cleveland Browns
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.
SCOTLAND-WILLIAMSON, Tight End (UK), Age: 24 – Pittsburgh Steelers
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.
returning participants from the 2017 International Player Pathway Program:
GRAY, Tight End (UK), Age: 27 – Atlanta Falcons
and raised in Bishop Auckland, England, Gray captained England's rugby teams at
Under-16, Under-18, Under-20 and International Sevens levels and played for
Newcastle Falcons and London Irish. He was named in the original extended Great
Britain Sevens squad for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, before suffering an
injury. He signed for Yorkshire Carnegie for the 2016-17 rugby season and
decided to convert to American football.
JENKINS, Defensive End (UK), Age: 25 – New Orleans Saints
and raised in Bath, England, he began playing football at the Bath City Academy
and for the Bristol Aztecs, earning a spot on the Great Britain youth team.
Having been selected to participate in an all-star high school camp in
Virginia, he earned a scholarship to play college football at the University of
the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. He was a three-year starter as
defensive end at UIW, posting 3.5 sacks in his senior year.
NZEOCHA, Linebacker (Germany), Age: 25 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
began playing football for the Franken Knights youth team in Neusitz, Germany,
and was selected for the German national junior team. He played three years at
the University of Wyoming, switching from tight end to linebacker before the
2015 season. His brother, Mark, is a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.
OBADA, Defensive End (UK), Age: 26 – Carolina Panthers
in London after arriving from the Netherlands at age 10, Obada signed as a free
agent for the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 after playing only five games of amateur
football with the London Warriors. He played in the preseason for the Cowboys
and spent part of the 2015 season on the club's practice squad. He has since
had spells on the rosters of the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons.
Draft weekend culminated an exciting time for another international NFL
hopeful, offensive lineman JORDAN
MAILATA. The Samoan-born Australian
professional rugby league player for the South Sydney Rabbitohs was drafted in
the seventh round by the Philadelphia Eagles (thereby making him ineligible for
the International Player Pathway Program this season). Converted to football full-time early in
2018, the 6-8, 350-pounder has impressed NFL scouts at various workouts with
his strength, footwork and athleticism, and will now continue his football
journey with the Eagles.