Players from Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have earned a spot in the 2022 International Player Pathway program, the NFL announced today. The program, which enters its sixth year in 2022, is part of the NFL’s efforts to strengthen the pipeline of international players and aims to provide elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster.
As a first step in the IPP process, the NFL conducted international Combine’s in the UK and Mexico last October that featured 66 athletes from 21 countries. Following the Combine, the players were among a group of 12 selected to receive additional training and development alongside NFL players and draft hopefuls in the United States this past winter at the OLP performance academy run by NFL Legend and NFL Senior Advisor of Player Development & Performance, LeCharles Bentley. They then had the opportunity to showcase their talent at a pro day in March.
Two players stood out at the pro day and were signed by clubs in April. Chigbo Roy Mbaeteka and Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi, both from Nigeria, were signed by the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals, respectively. Both players were discovered through The Uprise, a football program in Nigeria established by Osi Umenyiora, NFL Legend and two-time Super Bowl winning defensive end with the New York Giants.
“The IPP program is instrumental in the discovery and development of international players, and we are excited the quality of players continues to increase each year,” said Damani Leech, NFL Chief Operating Officer of International. “We’ve seen great momentum in the program with Roy and Haggai having already signed with teams this year. They, along with the players allocated to teams through the program, will now have the chance to further develop their skills in an NFL environment. Teams are looking forward to welcoming the players to their camps this summer.”
This year’s participants are:
The four AFC South clubs will carry these players on their roster until the end of training camp. At that time, the players are eligible for an international player practice squad exemption, granting the team an extra practice squad member. Clubs have the opportunity to elevate the player to the active roster during the season.
The AFC South was chosen to receive these players in a random draw and becomes the sixth division to participate in the program.
This year’s class brings the total number of players that have been assigned to clubs through the program to 24.
Players that participated in the program in 2021 will rejoin their NFC West teams – Aaron Donkor (Seattle Seahawks), Alfredo Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers), Max Pircher (Los Angeles Rams) and Bernhard Seikovits (Arizona Cardinals).
This is in addition to Isaac Alarcon (Dallas Cowboys), David Bada (Washington Football Team), Matt Leo (Philadelphia Eagles) and Sandro Platzgummer (New York Giants), who are set to enter their third year of the program with their NFC East teams.
Since the program’s inception in 2017, more than 50 players from 18 countries have trained in the U.S. In addition to Mbaeteka and Ndubuisi, the program has also helped players such as Efe Obada (Washington Commanders), Jakob Johnson (Las Vegas Raiders), Jordan Mailata (Philadelphia Eagles) and Sammis Reyes (Washington Commanders) earn a place in the NFL after participating in the program’s training session.
Last season, both Johnson and Mailata recorded their 1,000th career snap joining Efe Obada of the Washington Commanders in IPP players to reach this milestone in their NFL career.
The new players taking part in the 2022 International Player Pathway Program
Marcel Dabo, DB, (Germany) – Indianapolis Colts
Played in the Stuttgart Scorpions youth football program before entering the European League of Football as a cornerback and kick returner for the Stuttgart Surge last season, recording 28 tackles and 1 interception. Earned a spot on the 2021 ELF All-Star team and won the league’s defensive rookie of the year award.
Adedayo Odeleye, DL, (United Kingdom) – Houston Texans
Born in Nigeria and raised in the UK since age 9. Started playing football in 2017 at Loughborough University where he played DL for three years and was named a team captain in his second year. Participated in the 2021 International Player Pathway training phase but was not allocated to a team. Spent last season with the Berlin Thunder of the European League of Football where he was named to the ELF All-Star team.
Thomas Odukoya, TE, (Netherlands) – Tennessee Titans
Started playing football at age 16 in the Netherlands where he was named the Dutch National MVP. Played college football at East Michigan University, where he was team captain for two seasons and received Academic All-MAC honors.
Ayo Oyelola, DB (United Kingdom) – Jacksonville Jaguars
Introduced to football at the University of Nottingham where he graduated in 2020. Participated in the 2021 International Player Pathway training phase but was not allocated to a team. Spent last season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.