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List of NFL players born outside the United States

Compared to other major professional sports leagues in North America, the National Football League has the lowest share of players born outside the United States.[1] In 2017, roughly 3% of active players were born outside the US.[2] In recent drafts, teams have made efforts to search for prospects internationally.[3][4] A record 12 international players were drafted in 2015. As of the 2020 NFL season, Canada was the most represented non-US country in the NFL with 12 players, followed by Nigeria with 8 and Australia with 6.[5]

International athletes have played in the NFL since the league's founding in 1920. There have been 9 foreign-born players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Many international players have found success on special teams; two of the three highest scorers in NFL history were foreign born: kickers Morten Andersen of Denmark and Gary Anderson of South Africa.[6] Canada is the all-time most represented foreign country, with 107 players, followed by Germany with 80 players and Jamaica with 40.[5]

History

Beginnings

At least nine foreign-born players played in the inaugural 1920 NFL season.[5] These included:

Latin America

The first Latino to play in the NFL was Ignacio Saturnino "Lou" Molinet, a Cuban who signed with the Frankford Yellow Jackets in 1927. His contract was donated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame by his daughter in 2000. Following Molinet were brothers Jess Rodriguez and Kelly Rodriguez of Spain: Jess was a tailback for the Buffalo Bisons in 1929, while Kelly played for the Yellow Jackets and Minneapolis Red Jackets in 1930.[12]

In 1944, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Steve Van Buren, a halfback born in La Ceiba, Honduras, to an American father and a Spanish mother. He played eight seasons for the Eagles, and retired as the NFL's career leader in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. In 1965, Van Buren became the first Latino inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[13]

In 1948, the Los Angeles Rams drafted Tom Fears. Fears was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, to an American father and a Mexican mother. He led the Rams' receiving game as a split end from 1948 to 1956, winning an NFL championship with the team in 1951. He later became the first Latino head coach in the history of the league, heading the New Orleans Saints staff from their inauguration in 1967, through the 1970 season. Fears was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970.[14][15]

The first Colombian player in the NFL was Jairo Peñaranda, born in 1958 in Barranquilla. He played for the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles. He would be followed by Fuad Reveiz, born in 1963 in Bogotá. Reveiz played for the Miami Dolphins during the 1985 season, and later for the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. During his 11 years as a professional, he scored 188 field goals and 367 extra points.

Martín Gramática, an Argentinian, was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a placekicker in the 1999 NFL Draft. He later played for the Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys, and New Orleans Saints.

Cairo Santos, a Brazilian kicker, is the first NFL player born in Brazil. He currently plays for the Chicago Bears, holding three franchise records. He also holds nine Kansas City Chiefs franchise records. After him, Durval Queiroz spent time with the Miami Dolphins.

Sammis Reyes was the first Chilean to play in the NFL. He signed with the Washington Commanders in 2021 after playing basketball in Chile and played primarily on special teams.[16]

Europe

Several native Europeans played in the NFL's inaugural 1920 season, including fullback John Barsha of Russia, tackle John Kvist of Sweden, end Bob Nash of Ireland, and brothers John and Phil Nesser from Germany.[5] Later, Bronko Nagurski signed with the Chicago Bears—although born in Canada, he was the son of Ukrainian immigrants and well known for his Ukrainian heritage. Born Bronislau Nagurski, he became renowned for his extraordinary strength and power as a fullback and linebacker for the Bears in the 1930s.[17]

Fullback Ace Gutowsky from Russia played for the Detroit Lions from 1932 to 1938, and became the franchise's career leader in rushing yards. Contemporary sources credit Gutowsky with setting the NFL's career rushing yards record with 3,399 in 1939 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.[18][19]

In 1950, the San Francisco 49ers used their first draft pick as an NFL franchise on Leo Nomellini, a defensive tackle from the University of Minnesota who was born in Lucca, Italy, and moved to Chicago at a young age. Nomellini played with the 49ers until he retired in 1963 after 10 Pro Bowl invitations and nine All-Pro selections. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969 and the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1979.[20]

Garo Yepremian, born in Larnaca, Cyprus, was a placekicker for the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a career from 1966 to 1981. He won two Super Bowls and was a two-time Pro Bowl selection with the Dolphins, and is a member of the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team. But Yepremian may best be remembered for a blunder during the Dolphins' victory in Super Bowl VII, in which his attempt to pass the ball after a blocked field goal attempt resulted in a fumble returned 49 yards for the Washington Redskins' only touchdown of the game.[21][22]

Scandinavia has produced the two lone exclusive placekickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jan Stenerud came from Fetsund, Norway, to the U.S. by way of a skiing scholarship to Montana State University. There he picked up placekicking, and was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1966 AFL draft. He played 19 seasons in the AFL and NFL with the Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, and Minnesota Vikings and kicked a then-record 373 field goals.[23] Morten Andersen, born in Copenhagen, Denmark, played 25 seasons in the NFL for five different teams. Nicknamed the "Great Dane", he is the NFL's career leader in field goals made and attempted, games played, and points scored. He retired as the career franchise leader in points scored for both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.[24]

English-born placekicker John Smith played for the New England Patriots from 1974 to 1983. Although he led the league in scoring twice and was invited to the Pro Bowl in 1980, he is best known for kicking a game-winning field goal against the Miami Dolphins in 1982 in the famous Snowplow Game.[25] Other notable Englishmen include Atlanta Falcons placekicker Mick Luckhurst, who went on to present Channel 4's NFL coverage on UK television from 1987 to 1991, two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora and former Eagles running back Jay Ajayi. While with the Miami Dolphins in 2016, the London-born Ajayi became the fourth player in NFL history to rush for 200 or more yards three times in a season.[26] He also became the first London-born skill position player to play in his hometown, when the Dolphins faced the Saints in the NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium in 2017.[27]

Oceania

In recent decades, Polynesians—in particular Samoans—have found great success in the NFL,[28][29] so much so that the island of American Samoa has been referred to as "Football Island" by outsiders.[30][28][31] According to Forbes in 2015, a Samoan male was 56 times more likely to play in the NFL than a non-Samoan male.[28]

Al Lolotai was the first Polynesian to play professionally, playing for the Washington Redskins in 1945, and the AAFC Los Angeles Dons from 1946 to 1949. Samoans began to make their mark in the NFL in the 1970s with players such as Jack "The Throwin' Samoan" Thompson and Pago Pago native Mosi Tatupu. Thompson was the first Polynesian quarterback in the NFL,[29] and Tatupu was invited to the Pro Bowl in 1986 as a special teams player.[32]

Vai Sikahema was the first Tonga native in the NFL. He led the league in punt return yards in 1986 and 1987 while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.[33] Sikahema's cousin, Deuce Lutui, also from Tonga, later played seven seasons in the NFL as an offensive guard. Super Bowl XLIII featured two Tongan offensive guards in Lutui for the Cardinals and Chris Kemoeatu for the Steelers.[34]

The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame was established in 2013 to honor the greatest players, coaches, and contributors of Polynesian descent in football history.[35] Native Polynesian NFL players that have been inducted include Thompson, Tatupu, Sikahema, New Zealander Riki Ellison, and Samoans Jesse Sapolu and Maa Tanuvasa. Tongan Ma'ake Kemoeatu, cousin of Chris, was announced as an inductee for the 2018 class.[36]

Seoul native Hines Ward

Asia

Placekicker John Lee was the first Asian drafted in the NFL.[37] He was born in Seoul, South Korea. The four-year, $900,000 contract he signed with the Cardinals in 1986 was the richest in NFL history for a kicker.[38] Although highly successful in college for the UCLA Bruins, he lasted only one season in the NFL.[39]

One of the most popular Asian-born players in NFL history is Hines Ward. Born in Seoul to a Korean mother and African-American serviceman, Ward played 14 seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1998 to 2011 and previously coached in the NFL. During his career he won two Super Bowls, was invited to four Pro Bowls, and set numerous Steelers franchise receiving records.[40][39]

Africa

In 1984, Obed Ariri of Owerri, Nigeria, set Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise single-season records for field goals (19 of 26) and points (95).[41] Ariri also encouraged fellow Nigeria native Donald Igwebuike to tryout as kicker for the Clemson Tigers football team. The Buccaneers cut Ariri after the 1984 season and signed Igwebuike, who went on to become Tampa Bay's career leader in field goals and scoring.[42][43] A later representative of Nigeria was fullback Christian Okoye of Enugu, who became famous as the "Nigerian Nightmare" due to his powerful running style and ability to break tackles.[44]

Players representing Africa as of the 2017 season include Kenya native Daniel Adongo for the Indianapolis Colts as an outside linebacker, Liberia native Tamba Hali, a five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs,[45] and Ghana native Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, a defensive end for the Detroit Lions. Despite his young career, Ansah has been called one of the most influential and greatest Africans to play in the NFL.[46][6] Ansah was invited to the Pro Bowl in 2015 after recording 14.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles.[47]

Australia

Recent seasons have seen a surge of Australians in the NFL primarily at the punter position.[48][49] As punting is a vital aspect of Australian rules football, many players develop a skill set suited for American football. The first Australian in the NFL was Melbourne native Colin Ridgeway, a punter who played a single season with the Dallas Cowboys in 1965.[50] The first punter to spend significant time in the league was Darren Bennett, who was a punter for the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings from 1995 to 2005. He is credited with having paved the way for the upsurge of recent Australian punters in the NFL, which includes Ben Graham, Matt McBriar, Brad Wing, Saverio Rocca, Jordan Berry, and Lac Edwards.[48]

Defensive tackle Colin Scotts was the first Australian to be drafted into the NFL, selected by the Cardinals in the third round of the 1987 draft.[51] In 2015, rugby league footballer Jarryd Hayne of Sydney signed with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent. He played a limited role in eight games for the 49ers as a running back and punt returner before returning to Australia to resume his rugby league career.[52] Despite Hayne's brief NFL career, Scotts credited him with spurring the popularity of American football in Australia.[51]

Canada

Canadians make the most significant single source of foreign-born NFL players, due to the close geographical, linguistic, economic, and cultural ties between Canada and the United States. Most importantly, Canadians play their own domestic gridiron football code known as Canadian football and have their own professional equivalent to the NFL, the Canadian Football League (CFL). Because the two sports are very similar, American and Canadian players regularly transition between the two leagues. Canadians have played in the NFL since its inaugural season in 1920 with players such as Perce Wilson and Tommy Hughitt.

Active players

This list includes players active as of the 2022 NFL season who were:

  • born outside the United States, or
  • born within the U.S., but holding nationality in another country from birth.
Birthplace Nationality Player Position Debut Current team
 American Samoa  United States Daniel Ekuale DT 2018 New England Patriots
 American Samoa  United States Frankie Luvu LB 2018 Carolina Panthers
 American Samoa  United States Nephi Sewell LB 2022 New Orleans Saints
 American Samoa  United States Noah Sewell LB 2023 Chicago Bears
 American Samoa  United States Penei Sewell OT 2021 Detroit Lions
 Australia  Australia Michael Dickson P 2018 Seattle Seahawks
 Australia  Australia Jordan Berry P 2015 Minnesota Vikings
 Australia  Australia Daniel Faalele OT 2022 Baltimore Ravens
 Australia  Australia Adam Gotsis DE 2016 Jacksonville Jaguars
 Australia  Australia Lou Hedley P 2023 New Orleans Saints
 Australia  Australia Cameron Johnston P 2017 Houston Texans
 Australia  Australia Arryn Siposs P 2020 Philadelphia Eagles
 Australia  Australia Mitch Wishnowsky P 2019 San Francisco 49ers
 Australia  Australia Matt Leo DE 2020 Philadelphia Eagles
 Australia  Australia Jordan Mailata OT 2018 Philadelphia Eagles
 Austria  Austria Sandro Platzgummer RB 2021 New York Giants
 Austria  Austria Bernhard Raimann OT 2022 Indianapolis Colts
 Austria  Austria Bernhard Seikovits TE 2021 Arizona Cardinals
 Bahamas  Bahamas Michael Strachan WR 2021 Indianapolis Colts
 Belgium  United States Corliss Waitman P 2020 Denver Broncos
 Belize  Belize Rakeem Nuñez-Roches DE 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
 Brazil  Brazil Cairo Santos K 2014 Chicago Bears
 Cameroon  Cameroon William Kwenkeu LB 2022 Minnesota Vikings
 Cameroon  Cameroon /  France Arnold Ebiketie DE 2022 Atlanta Falcons
 Canada  Canada Eli Ankou DT 2017 Buffalo Bills
 Canada  Canada Matthew Bergeron OG 2023 Atlanta Falcons
 Canada  Canada Sydney Brown S 2023 Philadelphia Eagles
 Canada  Canada Tevaughn Campbell CB 2019 Los Angeles Chargers
 Canada  Canada Chase Claypool WR 2020 Miami Dolphins
 Canada  Canada Christian Covington DT 2015 Los Angeles Chargers
 Canada  Canada Drew Desjarlais G 2022 New England Patriots
 Canada  Canada Neville Gallimore DE 2020 Dallas Cowboys
 Canada  Canada Michael Hoecht DE 2020 Los Angeles Rams
 Canada  Canada Jevon Holland FS 2021 Miami Dolphins
 Canada  Canada Chuba Hubbard RB 2021 Carolina Panthers
 Canada  Canada Ryan Hunter G 2018 Los Angeles Chargers
 Canada  Canada Nikola Kalinic TE 2022 Indianapolis Colts
 Canada  Canada Brayden Lenius WR 2022 Atlanta Falcons
 Canada  Canada Deane Leonard CB 2022 Los Angeles Chargers
 Canada  Canada Jesse Luketa OLB 2022 Arizona Cardinals
 Canada  Canada Carter O'Donnell OT 2020 Arizona Cardinals
 Canada  Canada Josh Palmer WR 2021 Los Angeles Chargers
 Canada  Canada Nathan Shepherd DE 2018 New York Jets
 Canada  Canada Benjamin St-Juste CB 2021 Washington Commanders
 Canada  Canada Luiji Vilain LB 2022 Minnesota Vikings
 Canada  Saint Vincent N'Keal Harry WR 2019 New England Patriots
 Canada  Taiwan John Metchie III WR 2022 Houston Texans
 Canada  United States Alaric Jackson OT 2021 Los Angeles Rams
 DR Congo  Canada /  DR Congo /  France Jonathan Kongbo DE 2022 Denver Broncos
 Denmark  Denmark Hjalte Froholdt OG 2019 Cleveland Browns
 England  Nigeria Julian Okwara DE 2020 Detroit Lions
 Germany  Germany /  France David Bada DT 2020 Washington Commanders
 Germany  Germany /  France Marcel Dabo DB 2022 Indianapolis Colts
 Germany  Germany /  France Aaron Donkor OLB 2021 Seattle Seahawks
 Germany  Germany /  France Dominik Eberle K 2020 Green Bay Packers
 Germany  Germany /  France Jakob Johnson FB 2019 Las Vegas Raiders
 Germany  United States Vyncint Smith WR 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
 Ghana  United States Brian Asamoah LB 2022 Minnesota Vikings
 Greece  Greece George Karlaftis DE 2022 Kansas City Chiefs
 Greece[a]  United States Kyle Hamilton SS 2022 Baltimore Ravens
 Guinea[b]  Liberia /  United States Kwity Paye DE 2021 Indianapolis Colts
 Haiti  Haiti Lewis Cine S 2022 Minnesota Vikings
 Ireland  Ireland Daniel Whelan P 2023 Green Bay Packers
 Italy  Italy Habakkuk Baldonado OLB 2023 New York Giants
 Italy  Italy Max Pircher OT 2021 Los Angeles Rams
 Jamaica  Jamaica Corey Ballentine CB 2019 Atlanta Falcons
 Jamaica  Jamaica Danielle Hunter DE 2015 Minnesota Vikings
 Jamaica  Jamaica Matt Peart OT 2020 New York Giants
 Japan  United States DaeSean Hamilton WR 2018 Houston Texans
 Kosovo  Canada Lirim Hajrullahu K 2020 Carolina Panthers
 Lebanon  Lebanon Zein Obeid OG 2022 Detroit Lions
 Liberia  Liberia Gus Edwards RB 2018 Baltimore Ravens
 Mexico  Mexico Isaac Alarcón OT 2020 Dallas Cowboys
 Mexico  Mexico Alfredo Gutiérrez OT 2021 San Francisco 49ers
 Netherlands  Netherlands Thomas Odukoya TE 2022 Tennessee Titans
 Nigeria  Nigeria /  United States Nelson Agholor WR 2015 New England Patriots
 Nigeria  Nigeria /  United States Samson Ebukam DE 2017 Indianapolis Colts
 Nigeria  Nigeria Jeremiah Attaochu OLB 2014 Chicago Bears
 Nigeria  Nigeria Ben Banogu DE 2019 Indianapolis Colts
 Nigeria  Nigeria Kingsley Jonathan DE 2022 Buffalo Bills
 Nigeria  United Kingdom Efe Obada DE 2015 Washington Commanders
 Nigeria  Nigeria Emmanuel Ogbah OLB 2016 Miami Dolphins
 Nigeria  Canada Amen Ogbongbemiga OLB 2021 Los Angeles Chargers
 Nigeria  Nigeria /  United Kingdom David Ojabo OLB 2022 Baltimore Ravens
 Nigeria  Nigeria Moro Ojomo DT 2023 Philadelphia Eagles
 Nigeria  Nigeria Chukwuma Okorafor OT 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers
 Nigeria  Nigeria Romeo Okwara DE 2016 Detroit Lions
 Nigeria  Nigeria /  Canada David Onyemata DT 2016 New Orleans Saints
 Nigeria  Nigeria Joseph Ossai DE 2021 Cincinnati Bengals
 Nigeria  Nigeria Prince Tega Wanogho OT 2020 Kansas City Chiefs
 Scotland  United Kingdom /  United States Graham Gano K 2009 New York Giants
 Scotland  United Kingdom Jamie Gillan P 2019 New York Giants
 South Africa  South Africa Greg Joseph K 2018 Minnesota Vikings
 South Korea  South Korea Younghoe Koo K 2017 Atlanta Falcons
 Spain  Spain J. J. Arcega-Whiteside WR 2019 Philadelphia Eagles
 Tonga  Tonga Netane Muti OG 2020 Denver Broncos
 Tonga  United States Vita Vea DT 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
 Trinidad and Tobago  Trinidad and Tobago Javon Kinlaw DT 2020 San Francisco 49ers
 Turkey  Turkey /  United States Chris Conley WR 2015 Houston Texans
 United States  Canada /  United States Brett Rypien QB 2019 Denver Broncos
 United States  Germany /  United States /  France Amon-Ra St. Brown WR 2021 Detroit Lions
 United States  Germany /  United States Equanimeous St. Brown WR 2018 Chicago Bears
 United States  Nigeria /  United States Foyesade Oluokun LB 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars
 United States  South Sudan /  United States Kuony Deng LB 2022 Atlanta Falcons
 United States  Nigeria /  United States Ikem Ekwonu OT 2021 Carolina Panthers
 United States  Ghana /  United States Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah LB 2020 Cleveland Browns
 United States  Nigeria /  United States David Njoku TE 2017 Cleveland Browns
 Venezuela  Venezuela José Borregales K 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

List of international players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame halfback Steve Van Buren was born in La Ceiba, Honduras.

Nine former players born outside the United States have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Player Birthplace Position Team(s) Inducted Source
Morten Andersen  Denmark Placekicker New Orleans Saints (1982–1994)
Atlanta Falcons (1995–2000)
New York Giants (2001)
Kansas City Chiefs (2002–2003)
Minnesota Vikings (2004)
Atlanta Falcons (2006–2007)
2017 [53]
Tom Fears  Mexico End Los Angeles Rams (1948–1956) 1970 [54]
Ted Hendricks  Guatemala Linebacker Baltimore Colts (1969–1973)
Green Bay Packers (1974)
Oakland / Los Angeles Raiders (1975–1983)
1990 [55]
Bronko Nagurski  Canada Fullback Chicago Bears (1930–1937, 1943) 1963 [56]
Leo Nomellini  Italy Defensive tackle San Francisco 49ers (1950–1963) 1969 [57]
Ernie Stautner  Germany Defensive tackle Pittsburgh Steelers (1950–1963) 1969 [58]
Jan Stenerud  Norway Placekicker Kansas City Chiefs (1967–1979)
Green Bay Packers (1980–1983)
Minnesota Vikings (1984–1985)
1991 [59]
Steve Van Buren  Honduras Halfback Philadelphia Eagles (1944–1951) 1965 [60]
Arnie Weinmeister  Canada Defensive tackle New York Giants (1950–1953) 1984 [61]
This sports-related list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (October 2021)

See also

References

  1. ^ Born to an American father while playing basketball in Europe
  2. ^ Born to a Liberian mother in a refugee camp in Guinea
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  2. ^ Borchers, Callum (October 13, 2017). "The NFL has the most protests. It is also the most American sports league". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  3. ^ Chester, Simon A. (February 20, 2016). "NFL teams looking overseas when searching for draft picks". USA Today. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
  4. ^ Clements, Ron (April 27, 2016). "NFL's international brand grows with foreign-born NFL Draft prospects". Sporting News. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d "Player Birthplaces". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Sports Reference. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
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List of NFL players born outside the United States
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Please click Open in the download dialog,
then click Install
Please click the "Downloads" icon in the Safari toolbar, open the first download in the list,
then click Install
{{::$root.activation.text}}

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Get ready for Wikiwand 2.0 🎉! the new version arrives on September 1st! Don't want to wait?