By Dave-Te Thomas, NFL Draft Report
Moritz Böhringer, the talented German wide receiver, is one of those “feel-good stories” of the 2016 NFL Draft. In the scouting industry, you are expected to analyze top-level talent, but one of the greatest pleasures you get from that daunting job is when you come across that “once in a blue moon” type of talent. Not since Eric Swann emerged from the semi-pro ranks, has there been such an opportunity for the most unusual path a player could take to an NFL uniform.
Swann played high school football at Western Harnett High School and graduated in 1989. During his high school years, he was state runner-up in shot-put and discus throwing, recording distances of 54-foot-2 and 152-foot-6, respectively. He was bound for North Carolina State University, but was ruled academically ineligible. Rather than enrolling at North Carolina State as a Proposition 48 student, Swann instead opted to attend Wake Technical Community College. In 1990, he left Wake Technical to join the semi-pro Bay State Titans in Lynn, Mass., with a $5-an-hour salary.
On April 24, 1991, Swann signed a five-year contract with the Phoenix Cardinals; the team became the Arizona Cardinals in 1994. In 1995 and 1996, Swann was named an NFL All Pro and to those years’ Pro Bowl teams. In 1998, Swann re-signed with the Cardinals for a five-year, $25 million contract with a $7.5 million signing bonus. At that point in time, it was the richest contract ever signed by a Cardinals player in the history of the franchise. He was later inducted into the American Football Association’s Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame 1998.
Böhringer’s path to the NFL might not be as exciting, but it all began when he was introduced to football in 2012 after watching YouTube highlights of Adrian Peterson. He began to devour anything football, practicing with anyone he could get to throw him the football. He was a mechanical engineering student in Aalen, Germany, but would tirelessly drive more than 30 miles to practice the game of American football once a week.
Böhringer would become the first German player drafted by an NFL team, going to the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of the 2016 phase. The New York Giants were so impressed with what they saw from his pre-draft workout in Florida, that they had tried to sign him on the spot, only to find out that he had applied for entry into the draft instead.
Böhringer might be the first player from European football to be drafted, but he might find some company in NFL training camps that have come from “across the pond.”
Lawrence Okoye is a British track and field athlete and an aspiring offensive tackle for the New York Jets. He is the British record holder in the discus event and had a promising career in junior rugby union.
In March 2013, Okoye announced his intentions to play in the National Football League, despite having never played American football in high school or college. Five NFL teams expressed interest in him, and he planned to sign after the 2013 NFL Draft. At the NFL Super Regional Combine, Okoye ran the 40-yard dash in 4.78 seconds, while scoring 36 inches on the vertical jump. He was later signed on April 27 by the San Francisco 49ers and also performed on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad as a defensive lineman before the Jets converted him to the other side of the ball.
Efe Obada, a former London warehouse worker, spent 2015 on the Cowboys’ practice squad and is now signed with the Chiefs. The Nigerian linebacker did not play college football. At the age of 10, Obada and his sister were trafficked from the Netherlands into England and left homeless as soon as they arrived in London. They lived with a family friend for five years, but because she already had five children of her own, they were sent to social services, who would move them from one family to another.
Obada eventually worked as a security guard at Grace Foods in Welwyn Garden City In 2014 and began practicing American football for the London Warriors in the British American Football Association National Leagues, where he appeared in five games, while playing tight end and defensive end.
In February 2016, a French player, Anthony Dable, signed a contract with the New York Giants. It came 24 years after Richard Tardits — born in Bayonne, France, and the only French player to have played in the NFL — suited up as linebacker for the New England Patriots. Now, there might finally be another to follow in his footsteps.
After a career in France with the Grenoble Centaurs and in Germany, where he won two national titles and the European championship last year with Brunswick’s New Yorker Lions, Dable is now closer to his American dream. The 27-year-old wide receiver, who dubbed himself “Dablatron,” will have to try to navigate on a training camp field that will see first-round (Eli Apple) and third-round (Darian Thompson) selections try to convince him that he needs more than his blazing speed in order to convince his coaches for a roster spot.
Prior to playing for the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns in the German Football League Division I ranks, Böhringer spent the 2013 season Crailsheim Titans youth team before continuing to hone his skills with the men’s football program in 2014.
Last season, Böhringer appeared in 17 games for the Unicorns, starting all but one contest. He finished second on the team with 59 receptions that included 13 touchdowns, averaging 20.88 yards per catch. He also scored twice and averaged 29.64 yards on 14 kickoff returns during his lone season in the organization. He was named the German Football League Rookie of the Year for that performance.
So, while Böhringer, is an oddity with his German roots and being drafted, he isn’t alone in overseas players trying to make the conversion to the NFL. Only time will tell how good of a chance he has to stick.