The NFL has announced that the AFC North will be the pilot division to host four international players this season.
The AFC North was randomly selected and the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals will each be given an exemption for an eleventh practice squad member. These additional squad members will be ineligible to be activated during the season as they get familiarized with the NFL.
The NFL International Player Pathway program was instituted last year to provide international athletes the opportunity to compete on the NFL level.
After a season of learning the game and improving their skill set, these international players can compete for a roster spot.
Last season, the NFC South had the honor of welcoming four UK talented individuals. They included tight end Alex Gray (Atlanta Falcons) and defensive ends Alex Jenkins (New Orleans Saints), Eric Nzeocha (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Efe Obada (Carolina Panthers). All four of these players return to their respective clubs this season to compete.
“I’m excited about this year. I love this game, I learned tons last season and I’m ready to earn my spot,” said Gray when he attended the NFL Regional Combine Invitational to provide support for the newcomers of the IPP program.
This season’s newcomers included German Football League player Christopher Ezeala (Baltimore Ravens), former British American Football League player Santigie Sankoh (Cleveland Browns), former English professional rugby player Christian Scotland-Williamson (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Moritz Böhringer (Cincinnati Bengals), who was originally drafted in the sixth round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2016.
The IPP program originally featured five UK athletes this year. For example, offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, a former rugby league player from Australia, was too talented to pass up as the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the seventh round (233rd-overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The massive 6-9, 345-pound offensive talent moves well and is powerful. Mailata can also catch, and if he makes the club, the Eagles will have a secret weapon.
Based on the ability and size of these foreign-born talents, their eventual positions were predetermined. All five members participated in the NFL Regional Combine Invitational held in Tampa, Florida during late March.
So, what exactly are the AFC North squads getting in these pioneers?
Glad you asked!
The AFC North is a physical division where power and athleticism is a necessity for success – and each of these players fits.
The Ravens welcomes Ezeala who performs well at the fullback position. He stands 5-11, 243-pounds and moves pretty well for his weight. Ezeala displays decent hands and aggression. Straight line speed is not a problem, but his overall lateral movement from left to right needs improvement.
Sankoh has good attributes as a defensive back and could be a solid addition for the Browns. Besides being strong, Sankoh has decent speed, lateral movement, incredible leaping ability and his desire to learn the game is certainly evident.
Locating the ball in flight will be Sankoh’s mountain to climb. He has the speed to track the ball down, but his hand/eye coordination will be a work progress.
Scott-Williamson, at 6-9, 276-pounds, is the perfect specimen for the Steelers at the tight end position. The 24-year-old is unbelievably quick with good balance, control and decent hands. He is aggressive and brings an attitude.
If any one of these UK pioneers has a chance to play this year, it would be Moritz Böhringer. Böhringer is a polished tight end. His early experience in the NFL helped make him perfect for the IPP program. The Bengals have a masterful tight end in this player who features great speed, hands, balance, control and athleticism.
These players bring the right attitude and physicality that gives them the capability of being successful in the AFC North division. Clearly, International athletes has embraced the NFL.