NFL talent comes from many different places, far and wide, and in many intriguing packages of all shapes and sizes. Just because it’s traditionally an American sport, doesn’t mean that the rest of the world doesn’t tune in to the most-watched spectacle each and every year, the Super Bowl. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s efforts to bring games to London and Mexico are further proof of the ever-growing efforts to internationalize the NFL brand.
Indianapolis Colts general manager, Ryan Grigson, seems to be on board with this philosophy as well, as his scouting department.
“Hey, it could be Africa, it could be the South Pacific, it could be Eastern Europe,” Grigson said, according to Conor Orr, an NFL.com writer. “If you have elite athletic traits, you can do this. This isn’t one of those specialized sports, like golf. If you have a level of toughness and you can move and you have instincts, if you have those at an elite level, you’re going to get a chance.”
In fact, one of Grigson’s most-recent pickups hails from Kenya, in the form of 6-foot-5, 257-pound Daniel Adongo. To paint a picture on how raw he is, he stepped off an airplane, courtesy of his invite to training camp by Colts scout Jon Shaw, and broad jumped 11 feet on the nose, which would’ve been good for sixth-best at the 2013 NFL Combine. It should be noted though, that was the first time he had ever broad jumped in his life, not to mention ever putting on a helmet and shoulder pads.
“You basically have a lump of clay for these coaches to work with,” Grigson said, according to Kevin Bowen of Colts.com. “Our linebacker coach Jeff Fitzgerald said ‘He’s truly a blank canvas.’ It’s not like he came from a small school, or he came from a guy that hadn’t played since high school. We’re talking about a guy that hasn’t been able to learn any bad habits because he’s never played.”
After cutting his teeth on special teams his first two seasons, 2015 may be the year Adongo gets to use his athleticism to hunt quarterbacks off the edge of the Colts’ 3-4 defense.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, a record 12 players who weren’t born in the United States were drafted. Ezekiel Ansah, Menelik Watson, Jesse Williams, Bjoern Werner and Margus Hunt are a few, with Hunt being perhaps the most intriguing to Steelers’ fans. At 6-foot-8 and 290 pounds with little body fat, hailing from Estonia, he looks like a 3-4 defensive end manufactured with the “create-a-player” option on EA Sports’ highly popular “Madden” football gaming series. In a few mocks that year, I remember him being linked to Pittsburgh in around the second round, although I won’t hear any fans complaining of the real second round pick, running back Le’Veon Bell. However, Hunt is a very intriguing player with his size-speed ratio, running a 4.51 in the 40 along with 38 reps of 225 in the bench press.
He offers valuable proof that although not American, there exists some specimens overseas, that literally as I’m writing this, have probably never even heard of American football. That’s not to say they’re not using their size, strength or world-class speed at another sport. With Hunt’s attributes, he’s often compared to defensive terror, J.J. Watt, but his athleticism has yet to translate over to the field. When or if the two meet, watch out, as former Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Ellis said Hunt has ability to become a $100 million, franchise player.
Lawerence Okoye of the San Francisco 49ers is another recent example, as he’s entering his third season with the team. At 6-foot-6 and 304 pounds, he has the prototype build of a 5-technique in their 3-4 scheme. After making the 2012 Olympic Games in the discus, he tried out at an NFL Super Regional Combine in Dallas, where he ran a 4.78 in the 40, along with a 35-inch vertical, both eye-popping numbers for a man his size.
The 49ers seem to be another team catching onto the trend of looking overseas, as they’ve recently signed Australian rugby star, Jarryd Hayne to play running back. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds with 4.5 speed, he could be an asset for new head coach, Jim Tomsula.
“You might think a situation with a guy that has so little experience would be complicated, but it’s the total opposite,” said June Jones, a former NFL position coach and Hunt’s former coach at SMU, according to Ryan McGee of ESPN The Magazine.
“What you find is an eagerness to learn and a total absence of bad football habits to undo. Heck, they have no football habits at all. And when an athlete just makes your jaw drop to the floor like that, the risks are worth the potential reward.”
The Pittsburgh offense is arguably set, but upgrades can be had on defense, all that it takes is the right set of eyes to catch a prospect, whether it be in rugby, high jump, etc. Take Usain Bolt, the infamous Jamaican sprinter. At 6-foot-5 and a chiseled 207 pounds, with his world-class speed, no wonder there was talk of him playing wide receiver right after he was winning all those Olympic gold medals. Whether or not his skills make the transition over is a different matter, but he is without a doubt a physical specimen. If the Steelers can find some raw but through-the-roof talented cornerbacks to bring in and mold, that would help speed up the defensive makeover.
Perhaps it’s time for Pittsburgh’s scouting department to start racking up those Expedia frequent flyer miles because if they’re as good at unearthing foreign talent as they are late round wide receivers, a seventh Lombardi Trophy may occur sooner rather than later.