New England Patriots fullback Jakob Johnson of Germany reaches NFL IPP milestone

In the endangered world of fullbacks, Germany’s Jakob Johnson reaches an unlikely NFL milestone continuing to make history one play at a time.

The bruising blocker was honored last week for reaching the 1,000-snap threshold in his NFL career, becoming only the third player in the history of the International Pathway Player Program to do so.

New England Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft spoke on the value that international talent like Johnson can bring to the NFL.

“For years, the NFL has been trying to expand to international markets, and we try to recruit international talent.” 

Kraft and Patriots have a long history of signing international players as German offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and Danish guard Hjalte Froholdt have also been part of recent New England teams. Owner Robert Kraft commented on his fondness for international talent and the NFL’s growing global efforts:

“I love this program, especially over in Europe because since we’ve gone outside the U.S., we’re 3-0. So, I want to keep that happening. In our history, dating back to the 70s we’ve had John Smith at kicker, then, of course, Sebastian Vollmer joined us and spent eight years, and now Jakob Johnson.”

For Johnson, the NFL once seemed like a far-fetched fantasy as the Stuttgart native was back in his hometown playing for Scorpions of the German Football League in 2018. The Scorpions tight end had just finished his playing days at the University of Tennesse suiting up at linebacker and tight end for the Volunteers. After playing mostly special teams and battling injuries in his final season, Johnson received minimal NFL interest following his time in Knoxville.

“In my mind clearly, I thought this chapter in my life was over” said Johnson back in 2019.

However, in late 2018, Johnson received a second chance. The German was selected to be part of the International Pathway Player Program training with other global long shots at IMG Academy in Florida. Johnson’s physicality and talent stood out as he was allocated to the New England Patriots in the spring of 2019.  Later that year, Johnson got another break and was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster becoming the team’s starting fullback. Since arriving in Foxborough, the former Volunteer has been a force in Bill Belichick’s offense starting a total of 34 games. Last season, Johnson scored a touchdown during a Sunday night game, becoming the first International Pathway Player to reach the endzone.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Johnson’s work ethic and how far he has come in his development.

“A number of these players have gone through this program that we call the International Pathway Program. … A couple of years ago I remember a couple of coaches here talking about Jakob and saying he’s not very good, and look where he is today. Look what he has done. He’s worked hard, he’s really gotten the respect of everyone, he’s had such progress.”

Read more about Johnson’s football journey here.

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