Aug 9, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) on the sidelines in the fourth quarter of a preseason game against the New York Jets at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

A Rise in international NFL players

While the The 2013 NFL draft is well deep in our memories, it did help add to a popular trend in the NFL recently. In the first two rounds, five foreign-born players found homes on NFL teams. Five more were picked up in later rounds. In addition to these, Lawerence Okoye, a former Olympic discus thrower from Great Britain, is an undrafted free agent for the San Francisco 49ers. As is Daniel Adongo, a former Kenyan Rugby player who is now with the Indianapolis Colts.

What all of these guys have in common, besides being born or growing up in different parts of the world, is that they are very gifted. If you consider the amount of work it takes to scout players and how much many of these scouts put on the line to promote certain players, it must tell of the work these guys have put on tape, considering the amount of experience they have. One of the things most of them lack is experience. Ziggy Ansah, Menelik Watson, and Margus Hunt are very talented physically but do not have nearly the amount of experience that guys like Barkevious Mingo and Luke Joeckel have.

This is a trend that is not dropping out any time soon. In fact, there have been many players who have been born outside of the U.S. that have grown (or grew) into fantastic football players. One of my favorites is Tamba Hali, or “Tambahawk”. It’s hard to believe now that he was rated behind Mario Williams and Kamerion Wimbley in the 2006 NFL draft because he is such a great pro. His Liberian background is well documented, especially by The Sporting News in their 2006 cover story. If you get a chance to read it, it’s incredible to see where Hali has come from to where he is now.

Another player that was surprising to me was Hines Ward. You forget that he was born in Seoul, South Korea because he grew up in Georgia and had a very storied career with the Steelers. Sebastian Janikowski, Osi Umenyiora, and Gosder Cherilus are just a few foreign-born players who are still playing today that are doing really well. These guys are proof that the background is null as long as you have the drive and the athleticism to play the game.

For now, most of these guys have played in the college ranks before moving to the pro game. Okoye, though, is different. If he proves to gain a grasp on football, he may break the college-to-pros mold that has escaped the NFL. Of course, foreign-born players are very common in the NBA and most have never played college ball. Okoye could open doors for hesitant or reluctant international athletes who have hid their interest due to the complex and complicated nature of American Football.

Though, as David Fucillo of describes, he might have a little ways to go.

Another great example of a non-college player trying to make it in the NFL is Adongo. With absolutely no former American Football experience, (or even experience in an American city), Adongo is a talent with a chance of making it big with the Colts. His claim to fame is his Rugby background. A world-class player, Adongo might not make the final roster but he has a great shot with his desire to hit and his great athleticism.

As the NFL continues to try to break into the international community (the “next frontier”), we will continue to see players that come from other countries. It’s not because the NFL is trying to extend into these markets but because there is real talent that is ripe for the coaching, but because American football is intriguing around the world. The more players from outside the U.S. that play, and do well, the bigger draw some of the countries will have to the sport. It is a trend that is exciting to watch and hopefully produces some great football in the future.

What do you think of foreign players? Who are some of your favorites? Tell us on Facebook and Twitter!

Tags: Lawrence Okoye NFL