NFL International Player Pathway scout Mark Dulgerian talks 2024 NFL IPP Class & Program expansion

The NFL International Player Pathway Program (NFL IPP) is an initiative set up by the NFL that aims to find athletes from outside the US who can make it in the NFL. Since it was established in 2017, it’s helped increase the number of international players in the league, highlighted by producing success stories such as Efe Obada (Washington Commanders/UK),  Jordan Mailata (Philadelphia Eagles/Australia), and Jakob Johnson.

This past September the program was changed forever as the NFL announced the IPP would expand to every NFL team. This meant that every NFL team would have the opportunity to have an international player on their roster.

Players who qualify as international would be given an exemption on the practice squad, allowing teams to carry a 17th player on a previously 16-man practice squad. 

In prior years, An NFL division or two was chosen at random and teams were given the chance to sign an NFL IPP player. Now the gates have opened, and every NFL team is looking to fill their newest spot with a talented international player.

NFL IPP scout Mark Dulgerian touched on the growth of the program with its expansion this year:

“This program has grown and just continued to develop and there’s always something new that’s different and more and more interesting every year. There’s just a lot of intrigue with this class for different reasons. Now with the added element of international kickers, and the new special teams’ rules, it has kind of forced NFL special teams’ coaches to rethink maybe what they’re looking for.”

“It’s really going to be an interesting offseason to what the appetite is. From our types of athletes and how they’re utilised and other how they’re developed.”

Rugby Star turned NFL player Louis Rees-Zammit

The headliner of this year’s NFL IPP class of 16 international athletes is of course Welsh rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit. The 23-year-old recently signed a three-year contract with the Superbowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs after taking part in the NFL IPP’s training program and pro-day. Dulgerian walked us through how the rugby star made the decision to come to the NFL.

“He’d heard about the program, and he reached out to us about the opportunity a little bit later in the process. He’s such a premier athlete and we decided let’s give him a shot. He’s exactly the type of athlete that we’re looking for in this program. So, I’ve been speaking with him and speaking with James Cook (NFL IPP Director) it’s just one of those things that he’d always wanted do, to test out his abilities in the NFL, and so this opportunity was perfect for that.”

Dulgerian peers ahead to the future and foresees more rugby players looking to make the change to American football following in the footsteps of Louis Rees-Zammit and others.

“I think there’s more to come but yeah, there’s definitely been more outreach from the athlete side as far as, hey you know I heard about LRZ. I get more emails and messages on Instagram and social media from Rugby players.”

International Kickers and Punters

Another new wrinkle to the 2024 NFL International Player Pathway Program (NFL IPP) class this year is the addition of specialists as four kickers have joined the program for the first time in its history. Dulgerian says they have already garnered some serious attention from NFL special teams’ coaches.

“They bring a really unique skill set, just being at the combine in front of tenured NFL special teams’ coaches. You could see the excitement of like, who are these guys? They’ve only been kicking since November. They’re performing just as well as the college guys who’ve been kicking the ball since they were kids in high school. So, there’s just a lot of intrigue with this class for different reasons”.

The intrigue has already been proven as former Gaelic Football player and 2024 NFL IPP player Charlie Smyth recently signed with the New Orleans Saints. He’s one of four former Gaelic football players who hope to make the jump to the NFL this year as part of the NFL IPP’s first ever kicking group.

With the addition of kicking specialists, it’s interesting to think about how teams may approach the 17th spot on their practice squad. Some teams could prefer to have a more NFL ready kicker or punter. While others could look to develop a talented international position player, as we’ve seen teams do with NFL stars like Jordan Mailata or Efe Obada. Dulgerian speculates on how NFL teams will approach this new rule.

“Every team has a different strategy. I know, for certain teams they are looking specifically for a special teamer. But maybe, you know, they change their mind. Once they get more familiar with this year’s class.

How does one scout the globe for NFL talent?

Dulgerian along with the other NFL IPP scouts are tasked with the daunting assignment of scouting the globe. While They are looking at other American football leagues being played across the world such as the European League of Football and others, they are often simply looking for elite athletes rather than experienced American football players.

“I look to check boxes for NFL traits such as height, weight, and length. I also look for body fluidity. There’s a lot of big, quote unquote, athletes out there, but not all of them are very flexible or fluid. One of the first things I look for is, how well do they have control over the body? How well are they able to bend and play and operate with balance?”

Often these elite athletes are already playing at a high level in another sport. Such as this year’s class, which includes athletes with backgrounds in Rugby, Gaelic Football, Basketball, Track, and Australian Football.

Dulgerian touched on how he finds elite athletes from other sports who show NFL potential.

“It’s a lot of creative research. Just a lot of investigating in a lot of different leagues. I’ll give you an example. France is known to have a lot of elite athletes, especially in rugby or basketball.”

“In these sports we’ve seen athletes’ transition pretty well into football at particular positions such as Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzales. So, I’ll just learn about the different basketball and Rugby leagues out there, and look into which athletes might be between contracts, and, you know, reach out to agents in those sports.”

2024 NFL IPP Draft Day and recent Signings – “A Scouts Dream”

As the 2024 NFL Draft approaches, Dulgerian and the rest of the NFL IPP are hopeful that one or more of the three athletes they have that are NFL Draft eligible could be picked up in the later rounds.

“It’s probably the most attention the program has received since its inception. I think that it’s going to reflect on draft weekend.

“In talking with scouts stopping by the NFL IPP training grounds at IMG Academy, there’s just a lot of excitement. They’ve said It’s like “a scouts dream”.

The NFL IPP athletes that are draft eligible this year are Australian defensive lineman Jotham Russell, Dominican offensive lineman Bayron Matos, and English Offensive lineman Travis Clayton.

Previously only two NFL International Player Pathway athletes have ever been drafted as the Philadelphia Eagles took Jordan Mailata in the seventh round of the 2018 draft most recently. German wide receiver Mortiz Bohringer was selected in  sixthe

So far the class already features three athletes that have signed with NFL teams, Welsh rugby star  Louis Rees-Zammit signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, Irish kicker Charlie Smyth signed with the New Orleans Saints, and Australian tight end Patrick Murtaugh recently signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Read about the entire 2024 NFL IPP class below!

Player Position Home Country
Jotham Russell (Draft Eligible) DL Australia
Bayron Matos (Draft Eligible) OL Dominican Republic
Travis Clayton (Draft Eligible) OL England
Patrick Murtaugh (Jaguars) TE Australia
Charlie Smyth (Saints) Kicker Ireland
Louis Rees-Zammit (Chiefs) RB Wales
Isaac Ajanah Edge Nigeria
Sam Orji OL Nigeria
Praise Olaoke WR Scottland/Nigeria
George Smith OL England
Florian Bierbaumer TE Austria
Harry Mallinder Punter England
Mark Jackson K/P Ireland
Rory Beggan K/P Ireland
Darragh Leader K/P Ireland

What exactly is the NFL International Pathway Player program?

Alex is a former NCAA and semi-pro American football player who is now located in London, where he works in digital marketing. His goal in writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and