European Talent Starting To Gain A Foothold In The NFL


The recent induction of quarterback Kurt Warner into the NFL Hall of Fame has made people remember just how valuable the European developmental league was. Warner notably spent a year playing for the Amsterdam Admirals before moving to the St. Louis Rams, who he would help win Super Bowl XXXIV. But it's more than just the opportunity for further development, it's also a reminder for fans that there's a lot of talent to be found across the pond.

Europeans have long been a staple of the NHL, and in the last decade it's become commonplace to see European players in the NBA. It was really only a matter of time before we saw the NFL get in on the action. And now there's also talk of the NFL looking at Europe to further deepen its available talent pool. We're beginning to see a greater influx of foreign talent into the NFL. There's been a fair amount of European players in American football, but they're often relegated to special teams positions. It's no coincidence that many of the greatest European players in NFL history were kickers given the incredible talent of European footballers who have translated their talents to the league, notably Morten Andersen and Sebastian Janikowski. In recent years, some of the most notable foreign NFL stars are more than kickers and punters, and they're moving into offensive positions.

Jay Ajayi of the Miami Dolphins is British and he had a breakout season in 2016. Last year he made himself known as one of the standout running backs of the NFL. He became the fourth player in NFL history to rush for over 200 yards in consecutive games and was one of the biggest surprises of the 2016 NFL season. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill injured, it's likely that Ajayi will be a major focus of the Dolphins offense to start the season, and one of the key European players to keep an eye on.

Alex Gray is another British player looking to make his name in the NFL and, unlike many other players, never played football at an American university. Gray was best known as a rugby player in England before deciding to try his hand at American football. He went through the International Player Pathway program and participated in the NFL combine, ultimately being signed as a tight-end for the Atlanta Falcons. Considering that the Falcons are fresh off a season in which they went to the Super Bowl, it's impressive that the former rugby union star was able to make an impression on the 2016 NFC Champions. League rules mean that he can't be activated for his season, but if he can stick around, he could become a valuable member of the organization.

Slowly but surely the NFL is opening up to the possibility of finding players outside of the United States. If more players like Jay Ajayi and Alex Gray continue to develop, it's likely we'll see a lot more attention paid to Europe from the NFL in the future.
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