By Niall Connelly
Non-American prospects such as Margus Hunt, Bjoern Werner, Menelik Watson and British Olympian Lawrence Okoye are garnering a lot of attention and creating quite a buzz around the NFL.
All are raw prospects who will need a lot of personal coaching and development but their pure natural ability and potential has NFL teams salivating so much so that Hunt, Werner and Watson all regularly appearing in first round mocks.
It will be no surprise to see these three freakish athletes play in the NFL next season but if the other man mentioned above, Lawrence Okoye, manages to get a spot on an NFL roster, then it could be the start of a new highly exciting and beneficial trend for the NFL.
Australian Football and the AFL is a sport in a similar situation to the NFL, not in the way it is played but in its setup – a highly physical indigenous sport fighting off competition from other sports and trying to expand its worldwide popularity.
Around 10 years ago controversial former AFL player and famous sports agent Ricky Nixon began his Irish experiment. After seeing the success of Gaelic footballers “Big” Jim Stynes (R.I.P) and Tadgh Kennelly as converts to AFL, Nixon embarked on a project to find and develop the finest Gaa talent as Australian rules footballers. To date, Nixon has helped more than 40 Irish footballers forge successful careers down under.
The success of Nixon’s project has led to a whole new breed of Australian footballer – one whose unorthodox style and skill set baffles opponents and amazes spectators. The involvement of Irish players at an elite level of the sport has greatly improved the sports appeal popularity in Ireland.
Were Okoye to make an NFL roster and perform at a high level it may open the floodgates on an influx of foreign players into the NFL from other sports.
Fans are constantly talking about the similarities between sports such as rugby and American football so is it beyond reasonable doubt to suggest that sooner rather than later we will see rugby players donning pads and helmets on Sundays?
With the current day epidemic of poor tackling plaguing the NFL, adding guys who consistantly bring ball-carriers down without the use of helmets and the shoulder charge is a beneficial move for NFL defenses.
How does this have any relevance to the Green Bay Packers, you may ask?
Well not only do the Packers suffer greatly from poor tackling the are also one of the most resourceful and inventive teams when it comes to finding players. Packers General Manager Ted Thompson rarely makes waves in free agency with big money signings, but instead builds from within, taking undrafted and developmental prospects and turning them into contributors.
The Packers’ roster is littered with unheralded prospects – guys like Dezman Moses, DuJuan Harris, Jarrett Boykin, Sam Shields and Tramon Williams all went undrafted only to land with the Packers and land chances to shine.
With this resourcefulness and approach to finding guys to develop, I feel that Ted Thompson would be one of the GMs most willing to give guys from other backgrounds a chance to try their hands at Football.
It is I believe a strategy that could offer huge rewards for very little risk in return.