A trend is slowly developing in the NFL. Over the last couple of years the NFL has seen a "small " rise in the influx of " foreign " players . The Jets have Aussie Hayden Smith , a convert from the game of rugby and Vlad Ducasse a Haitian national . There are others sprinkled around the NFL but are the league and teams doing enough to promote the sport at a grass roots level abroad ?
This years draft saw 2 european players ( Bjoern Werner & Margus Hunt ) drafted in the top rounds and Lawrence Okoye was an undrafted pick up by the 49ers . Both Werner and Hunt played college ball but Okoye didn't , hence the massive difference in expectation and draft positions . All 3 guys have almost identical athletic ability but the main difference between them is A) coaching and B) playing standard .
Football is a minority sport in europe playing wise but the popularity of watching the NFL seems to grow every year. I have watched football religiously since the 80's when NFL made its 1st ever appearance on Irish TV . As a young kid i looked in awe at this wonderful "new " sport and like every young kid i had dreams of playing this game . Well after 25 years of waiting my dream came through . In 2012 i took to the field as a 36 year old rookie RB for my local team Drogheda Lightning . They had been set up the year previous by a wonderful man and coach Russell Kerly. I learned an amazing amount from him so much so that i am now a coach for our new youth team .
As a fan of many other sports , i have witnessed their growth .I have seen teams like Manchester United trawl every corner of the earth looking for the next David Beckham , setting up youth programmes all over the world . I have seen basketball camps for kids in Barcelona ran by the NBA .
But what has the NFL done ? From a marketing stand point they have brought NFL games to europe to help increase the sports popularity. Its obviously working, this year an extra regular season game will be played in London meaning 2 games for the european fan to look forward to.
From a grass roots stand point they have done almost nothing. They still use the traditional method of replenishing talent through the college game. This is the main reason NFL teams don't see a need to develop talent. There is no reason for them to set up youth programmes around the world even if it means missing out on potential Hall of Fame players.
Would the cost for teams setting up youth programmes make financial sense for teams ? Well in my opinion , yes . You can't put a price on finding the next Tom Brady or Ray Lewis. NFL teams are way behind every other sport when it comes to finding talent. The riches they could potentially find are endless , they just need to take the 1st step. Hopefully kids in europe don't have to wait as long as i did to realise their dreams. Hopefully we see more players from outside the US getting the chance to play the sport at the highest level. The players are out there.