The New England Patriots and their AFC East cohorts were chosen by the NFL to continue the International Player Pathway Program for the 2019 season. This will give the team the opportunity to host an international player on their roster throughout next season to help expand the game's worldwide reach.
According to the Associated Press, the International Player Pathway Program "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". This program has helped the league bring in elite international talent, opening up the game to new audiences and players.
This program has had some notable players since it's inception in 2017. For example, some of these names include:
- Moritz Bohringer (drafted by the Vikings in 2016, spent 2018 with the Bengals as part of the International Player Pathway Program)
- Jordan Mailata (Samoan rugby player who made the Eagles roster in 2018)
- Efe Obada (first player from the International Player Pathway Program to make a 53-man NFL roster)
New England will carry one international player on their roster until the end of training camp. If the player does not receive a contract to make the 53-man roster, then the Patriots will receive an international player practice squad exemption. This will allow them to carry 11 practice squad members instead of the traditional 10. While the international player would be ineligible to be activated during the 2019 season once on the practice squad, it would give them an opportunity to train and learn with an NFL franchise.
The Patriots international player will be German-born Jakob Johnson. He played one season of high school football before being recruited to the University of Tennessee. Johnson attended Tennessee for four seasons, spending time as a tight end, offensive lineman, and defensive lineman.
In 2018 Johnson played professionally for the Stuttgart Scorpions in the German Football League. As a tight end, he caught 43 passes for 474 yards and four touchdowns. He also managed to make 12 tackles on the season. At 6'5, 284 pounds, Johnson has good size for a tight end/fullback hybrid.
Johnson's chances of making the Patriots roster may be slim off the bat. He has limited experience at the collegiate level and has not had a shot in the NFL yet. However, nothing is off the table with Bill Belichick. The Patriots are thin at tight end and defensive line, Johnson's two main positions. The German could find a way to carve out a roster spot as a depth piece or a special teams player.
Johnson's place on the Patriot's will be important for both the player and the team itself. It will give Johnson a chance to learn from a high-class organization that will value his versatility. The team will be able to learn from a player who has spent time in an international league. Together, they will help expand the program and continue the NFL's journey to expansion.