The NFL announced Monday that each team in the AFC East will carry an additional international player on its practice squad as part of an expansion of the International Player Pathway program.
Valentine Holmes, a former professional rugby player in Australia will join the New York Jets. Jakob Johnson, a former University of Tennessee tight end and German Football League player will join the New England Patriots. Durval Queiroz Neto, who played football in Brazil, will join the Miami Dolphins and former England national rugby player Christian Wade will join the Buffalo Bills.
The four AFC East clubs will carry these overseas 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 them an eleventh practice squad member that is ineligible to be activated during the 2019 season.
The AFC East was chosen to receive these players in a random draw.
The International Player Pathway Program was instituted in 2017 and aims to provide international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster.
Four players that participated in the program in 2018 – Moritz Böhringer (Cincinnati Bengals), Christopher Ezeala (Baltimore Ravens), Tigie Sankoh (Cleveland Browns) and Christian Scotland-Williamson (Pittsburgh Steelers) – will return to their NFC North teams for the upcoming season.
For the past three months, the players have been training alongside NFL players and draft hopefuls in Florida, under the supervision of the NFL’s Will Bryce along with IMG Academy coaches including running back coach Earnest Byner, wide receiver coach Larry Kirksey, former NFL running back Leon Washington, defensive line coach Randy Melvin, linebacker coach Jim Herrmann and tight end coach Tyler Henderson.
The new players taking part in the 2019 International Player Pathway Program:
Valentine Holmes, Running Back/Wide Receiver/Kick Returner, (Australia), Age: 23 – New York Jets
A former professional rugby league player from Australia’s National Rugby League. Signed his first contract with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at 17 and made his professional debut with the club at the age of 19. Played the winger and fullback positions. Represented Australia in the 2017 Rugby World Cup and scored five tries (touchdowns) in the quarterfinals. The following game, he set a record with six tries in the semifinals.
Jakob Johnson, Fullback, (Germany), Age: 24 – New England Patriots
Played for the Stuttgart Scorpions of the German Football League before moving to Jacksonville. Played one season of high school football in the United States and was recruited to continue his career at the University of Tennessee. Although recruited as a linebacker, transitioned to a tight end during his sophomore season. Attended Tennessee for four years.
Durval Queiroz Neto, Defensive Tackle, (Brazil), Age: 25 – Miami Dolphins
Played domestically in Brazil for the past four seasons on the two best teams in Brazil. A judo champion prior to playing football, he is known for his tremendous athletic ability and a willingness to learn.
Christian Wade, Running Back/Kick Returner, (England), Age: 27 – Buffalo Bills
Represented the English National Rugby Team at the U16, U18, U20 and senior levels. Was selected to the British and Irish Lions squad, the highest honor for a rugby player. His 82 Premiership Rugby tries (touchdowns) ranks third on the league’s all-time list. A projected running back, he has outstanding athletic ability and a versatile skill set.