London NFL International Combine: Offensive standouts

This past Tuesday, 40 young athletes from over 14 different countries took a shot at their NFL dreams at the NFL International Combine. Under the open roof of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, on a cloudy London day, these NFL dream chasers showed why they had been selected as elite prospects for the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program.

Instituted in 2017, the NFL International Player Pathway program aims to give elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster.

While all the invites showcased their strengths and weaknesses in front of NFL scouts, coaches, and media, a few players stood out from this year’s strong group of participants.

Today we’ll take a look at some players that turned heads and may have earned themselves a shot at the NFL, starting on the offensive side of the ball.

Ricki Matsui (Japan) catching the ball Photo: NFL UK

Ricki Matsui – WR – Japan
Japan’s lone invite to the combine, Matsui’s athletic performance created quite a buzz among scouts. The 6’2 receiver backed up his stature with elite speed posting a blazing fast 4.41 40-yard dash. In addition to having the combine’s fastest 40, he had an impressive 36′ vertical jump.

Talent evaluators were very excited about Matsui’s athletic ability as it complements his accomplished on-field career in his home country. The 25-year-old pass catcher is an impact player in Japan’s XLeague winning MVP of last year’s championship game with the Fujitsu Frontiers.

Running back Tyrese Johnson-Fisher, of the United Kingdom, during the International Player Combine Photo NFL UK

Tyrese Johnson-Fisher – RB – UK
At 5’10 215 pounds Johnson-Fisher is built like a NFL running back. In positional drills he continued to look the part showing off a great speed, agility, and good hands out the backfield. He also posted the combines second fasted 40-yard dash at a reported 4.47. The London native was once a viral rugby sensation amassing millions of views for his highlights.

Since then, the 22-year-old has transitioned to football playing in the Under Armour All-American game as its first-ever international player. He then spent one season at Coastal Carolina (NCAA D1) and another at Copiah Lincoln (Junior College). This summer he suited up for the Istanbul Rams of the ELF and his hometown London Warriors. Read more Johnson-Fisher here:

Jason ‘Chu’ Godrick running the 3-cone drill Photo: AP

Jason ‘Chu’ Godrick – OL – Nigeria
The Nigerian lineman turned heads as soon as he walked into the stadium. Standing at 6’5 and a lean 295 pounds, Jason is just at the beginning of his football journey, but already passes the eye test. The 21-year old comes from a basketball background but was encouraged to try football by his trainers at Educational Basketball.

Since then, the power forward turned offensive lineman, was scouted by former New York Giant Osi Umenyiora and promptly joined his Uprise Academy. Like many Nigerian football player ‘Chu’ has very limited on field experience never having played in an official game. However, confidence won’t be an issue.

Tight end John Levi Kruse, of Germany, during the International Player Combine Photo: NFL UK

John-Levi Kruse – TE/FB – Germany
One of the more intriguing prospects of the day was fullback and tight end JohnLevi Kruse from the Hamburg Sea Devils. After loosing the championship game just two weeks ago the 25-year old looked natural coming out of the backfield catching passes and blocking as a fullback.

This was the bruising blockers second time at the NFL International Combine. This time, he hopes to be selected to train in the US. Interestingly, the National team player turned down an offer from the Canadian Football League this spring to continue playing the European League of Football and to pursue the NFL’s IPP program through playing for his hometown.

He could bring value to a NFL team as the fullback position dwindles.  An extra player with those skills might come in handy on any given Sunday. Just look at fellow German and NFL International Pathway Program alum Jakob Johnson, who is now the starting fullback for the Las Vegas Raiders. Read more about John-Levi Kruse

Hector Zepada – OL – Mexico
Mexico’s Hector Zepada’s technique stood out in drills, as he brings excellent football experience from his country’s developed college football system. The 6’4″ lineman spent last season training with the NFL IPP program but was not allocated to a team.

The Mexican lineman is hoping for a second chance to join former college teammates Isaac Alarcon and Alfredo Guiterrez in the NFL. Luckily, Zepada should be better prepared this year after going through the process last spring.

Zepada has played for one of Mexico’s top college programs in powerhouse Monterrey Tech. In the Borregos program, he showed great versatility starting at guard and tackle for what many call “the Alabama” of Mexico’s college football system. At one point, Zepada played next to current Dallas Cowboy Isaac Alarcon early in his college career.

Many players have had success in their second go-round in the program as David BadaAdedayo Odeleye, Ayo Oyelola all were able to get into the NFL after going through the program for a second time.

Basil ‘CJ’ Chijioke Okoye (Nigeria) shows off his powerful punch Photo: NFL UK

Basil ‘CJ’ Okoye – OL – Nigeria
Nicknamed ‘CJ’ the 6’6″ 315 pound offensive lineman was one of the most highly anticipated prospects at this year’s combine. The 20-year old was recognised as the top offensive player of the Osi Umenyiora’s NFL Africa Camp in Ghana back in March.

Another former basketball player, ‘CJ’ showed a rare acceleration, quick feet, and surprisingly good technique for a player with little football experience. Like many of his countrymen, he has never played an official game of football before, however, his athletic ceiling was among the highest of any athlete at the combine.

Offensive lineman Leander Wiegand, of Germany, during the International Player Combine

Leander Weigand – OL – Germany:

The 6’5″, 300 pound tackle suited up last year for the Cologne Centurions of the ELF.  The German lineman has had his eyes set on the NFL IPP program for some time stating his intention to make it to the prestigious NFL development program last spring.

Wiegand first started playing football for the Aachen Vampires in Germany’s lower leagues, then signed a NCAA D1 scholarship to the University of Central Florida (NCAA D1). After one season there, Weigand returned home and started at left tackle for the Centurions. He has been training intensely with former NFL Europe player Chris Mohr for this opportunity and seemed to make the most of it, showing off good strength and explosion in both testing and positional drills.

Expect the NFL to choose 12-15 of these international prospects to train in Arizona this spring at Lecharles Bentleys training facility. From there, four lucky athletes will be allocated to NFL teams while the rest are able to sign as free agent. Fans can look for an announcement from the NFL in December as to which players have made the first cut.

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football