Originally posted on Optimum Scouting  |  Last updated 4/12/13

 

As Bruce Feldman wrote earlier this week, the NFL Draft is going to see a uniquely international influence this year. With up to five foreign-born players that are now projected to potentially first round draft picks, the NFL's international growth is about to have a bigger impact on the draft than it ever has before.

One of the more interesting foreign-born prospects is Lawrence Okoye, who recently dominated a NFL regional combine. The British discus thrower turned plenty of heads when he displayed great athleticism, but with no real football experience to speak of it's difficult to imagine him someone teams will look to outside of as a free agent.

There's plenty of other quality talent from overseas though, and the NFL will certainly have to weight the elite potential many of these players possess against the inexperience playing the sport many of these players have. Is being new to the game an issue that would make these players too big of a risk?

 

You won't have to spend much time looking at a big board before you see the international flair in this class. In fact, Optimum Scouting has defensive end Bjoern Werner ranked as its number one overall talent in the 2013 draft. Werner, a native of Germany, came to America as a foreign exchange student. He spent some time playing high school football before moving back to Germany, and although he didn't spend much time playing football in the states, his talent was clear and he became a highly regarded college recruit.

Werner went on to have a consistently productive career at Florida State and developed into the top defensive end in this draft. He doesn't look like a player who's only been playing football for a few years. There may be more that Werner still needs to learn – but he's perhaps the most instinctive defensive end in this class, and that's something that can't be taught. Although typically players that don't have much experience in the game represent a significant risk, but with Werner that's not the case. He's not only one the best defensive end in the draft, but he's also one of the safest picks as well.

The rest of the international players do represent more of the risk you'd expect out of relatively inexperienced players, and that's illustrated no better than with one of the most controversial prospects in this draft, Ziggy Ansah. Ansah is by far one of the most intriguing prospects we've encountered in years. He came to BYU from Ghana to try and become a track star and perhaps play basketball, but the track program folded and Ansah was left without a sport.

Ansah eventually found his way to the football field, but it wasn't a sport he'd been terribly interested in before – he even needed help putting on his pads for the first time. And while he didn't have much of a knowledge of the game, there's no doubt he had the physical skills to be an elite player. Those physical gifts didn't necessarily result in the production you'd like to see, however. That's the biggest concern with Ansah – will his tremendous physical talents ever translate to on the field production? He may have one of the highest ceilings of all the defensive ends, but he's certainly got one of the lowest floors as well.

Estonia isn't known for producing NFL talent, but there's a very good chance that the nation will produce a first round pick in two weeks. SMU's Margus Hunt has been lost somewhat among the discussion of Ansah and other defensive end prospects, but he's still very much on the radar of NFL scouts and general managers. Hunt came to the US to further his track career, and he was quite successful – he won gold medals at the World Junior Track and Field Championships in shot put and discus.

Unlike Ansah, once Hunt made his way to the football field he didn't take long to start making an impact. His freshman season was spent playing special teams, but he blocked an astounding seven kicks that season, making good use of his 6'8 frame. By the time his senior year rolled around he was making a significant impact on defense as well, including 16.5 sacks in his career. At this point in his development, Hunt is still more of an athlete than a technically sound football player. He was productive in college winning battles with his athleticism. Can he make plays in the NFL while he works to refine his game?

England has produced NFL talent in the past, and now in 2013 one of the most athletic offensive tackle prospects hails from there. Like the other international prospects, Menelik Watson grew up in sports but not necessarily football. Both boxing and basketball kept Watson occupied growing up, and the nimble feet and agility he developed then are paying big dividends now.

His athletic talents have pushed him to near the top of many offensive tackle rankings, but he has yet to show the instincts and knowledge of the game you'd want to see in a tackle before relying on him as a starter. He's got the upside to be an exceptional talent, but can he avoid becoming an addition to a long list of athletic tackle prospects that ended up being busts?

The NFL Draft has always been about balancing risk and reward. The influx of talent from overseas certainly adds some new types of risk we haven't often seen before. Athletes that haven't played football much at all before are now being seriously considered by NFL teams. And while that risk is certainly a major one, it's easy to see why teams are looking at these prospects long and hard.

The unique athleticism that these prospects bring is in part developed by the time they've spent playing sports other than football, and it adds an aspect to their game that many American players don't have. If this unique class ends up being successful, we may see an even larger presence of foreign talent in the future.  

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