2024 NFL Draft: “Uncle Roger” & The Best International Moments

2024 NFL Draft: “Uncle Roger” & The Best International Moments

“The NFL has gone global.” The words uttered by Roger Goodell during the first-round of the 2024 NFL Draft would ring true throughout – with the 3-day event seeing extensive representation from across the globe as the NFL’s next wave of talent was ceremoniously welcomed into the league. From two International Player Pathway program (IPP) athletes being drafted, to picks being announced from various countries, we bring you the five very best international moments from this year’s NFL Draft.

1 – From Basingstoke to Buffalo: Travis Clayton

Born and raised in Basingstoke, Travis Clayton developed his elite athleticism from an early age – becoming an integral part of his local rugby union team, Basingstoke RFC. After a stint with the NFL Academy in 2019, the 6’7”, 301 lbs offensive tackle restarted his pursuit of a career in the NFL when he joined the IPP class of 2024. A class which also boasted Welsh rugby sensation Louis Rees-Zammit, who recently put pen to paper on a three-year deal with reigning Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.

As explained by NFL Football Operations, “the IPP program aims to provide elite international athletes with the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills and ultimately work to earn a spot on an NFL roster.”

After a 10-week intensive introduction to American football, all 16 of this year’s athletes had the opportunity to try out for the league’s 32 teams, in an attempt to prove their worth. As the seventh round of the 2024 NFL Draft began on Saturday afternoon, Clayton’s quick feet, fluidity and elite 40 time of 4.81 seconds – faster than any offensive lineman some teams had recorded over the last 10 years at the NFL Combine – remained at the forefront of multiple general managers’ minds.

One of said GMs, Brandon Beane of the Buffalo Bills, was quoted saying: “Man, this guy’s athletic. Obviously, raw. But I know he was a rugby player… and by all accounts a great young man – and his measurables are wow – off the page.”

And as a result, with the 221st pick, the Bills selected Clayton – making him only the second IPP player to be drafted since 2018. Despite having never officially played a down of American football, the Brit now looks to follow in the footsteps of fellow rugby star, IPP alum and seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata – who has formed a reputation as one of the league’s best offensive tackles.

2 – NFL Down Under: Jordan Mailata

Earlier this month, Mailata agreed to terms on a three-year contract extension with the Philadelphia Eagles worth $66 million – easily the largest contract given to a product of the IPP. Consequently, the star left tackle assumed the role of the face of the NFL in his native Australia. It therefore comes as no surprise, that when looking to exemplify their unprecedented international growth, the NFL and “Uncle Roger” turned to Mailata – asking him to announce the Eagles’ first round pick, live from the Gold Coast.

While, over the last few years in particular, the number of people selected to announce a draft pick has increased massively, it remains a relatively uncommon occurrence for someone aside from the Commissioner to announce a first round pick. Not only does Mailata making the announcement therefore demonstrate his undoubted ability to inspire aspiring international NFL prospects, but also substantiates the league’s desire to showcase their burgeoning global presence.

In the build up to the 2024 NFL Draft, the league unveiled the opening of a second NFL Academy – this time in Queensland, Australia. The first NFL Academy – based in Loughborough for elite young athletes aspiring to play in the NFL – boasts more than 40 alumni to have secured U.S. college football scholarships, with 19 of those set to play Division I college football later this year, as per NFL Football Operations. The Australian academy opens in September 2024 with the aim of replicating the success seen by their predecessor – boosting not only their chances of finding the next Jordan Mailata, but also amplifying NFL fandom in Oceania.

3 – “Da Bears”: Chicago Bears’ International Fan of the Year

As the NFL’s popularity has increased, so has the number of highly-passionate fans from overseas. In an active attempt to encourage this level of international fandom, each of the NFL’s 32 teams annually crowns an “International Fan of the Year”.

With every recipient appearing on stage in Detroit to announce a day-three pick for their respective teams at this year’s draft, all in attendance witnessed just how uniquely enthusiastic fans from other countries can be – proudly exhibiting their culture on the biggest stage. No one exemplified British NFL fandom more quintessentially than Chicago Bears fan, James Gowers.

For many, taking to the stage in your team’s jersey to an eruption of boos from the thousands of rival fans would be a nightmare. But not for Gowers. With all the confidence of a Sunday League football player, Gowers not only welcomed but encouraged the boos – responding with “Hey Bears fans, can you hear anything? ‘Cos I can’t!”

Despite Rich Eisen’s infamous “Oh boy”, Gowers made an overnight sensation of himself as he proudly prefaced his announcement of punter Tory Taylor joining the Bears, with: “The best team in the NFC North, the best team in the NFC and the best team in the NFL: Da Bears!”

While he may have gone “full Guy Ritchie” according to Eisen, James Gowers has undoubtedly written his name in UK Bears fans folklore.

4 – SKOL in 3100BC: The UK Vikings

While Guy Ritchie, Sunday League football and now James Gowers are undeniable cornerstones of British culture, the history of this country cannot be overlooked – particularly for the UK’s six Global Markets Program (GMP) teams.

In an attempt to capitalise on the marketing and commercialisation rights granted to them via the GMP, the Minnesota Vikings took to one of the country’s most historic landmarks – announcing a draft pick from Stonehenge. Dating back as far as 3100BC, the Wiltshire-based site is one of Britain’s most iconic locations outside of London and therefore an ideal suitor for the Minnesota Vikings to announce their selection, whilst paying homage to the historical prominence of the site.

Later this year, the Vikings return to London for their fourth game this side of the pond. While it is not yet known who Minnesota will face, the inevitably deafening SKOL claps from their rapidly-growing UK fan base will light up Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Vikings are the NFL’s one-and-only unbeaten team in the UK – a record they’ll look to fiercely guard. They are also the only team to win at Wembley, Twickenham and the aforementioned Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – undoubtedly making them the most successful team on this side of the Atlantic.

Acting as an appetiser for the 2024 NFL London Games, members of the UK & Ireland Vikings Fan Club demonstrated their unwavering support live from Stonehenge as Walter Rouse (No. 177), became the very-first draft pick in the 5000-year history of the prehistoric megalith.

5 – Heard around the World: International Draft Picks

At this year’s draft, the NFL made every effort to guarantee their global presence was centre stage – with 20 picks being announced remotely from eight international markets on behalf of 19 teams.

This comes in the wake of the NFL announcing a huge addition to their GMP – adding four new teams and five new countries to take the tally up to a staggering 25 teams across 19 international markets. Now boasting three GMP teams, Ireland shone through at the draft – hosting pick announcements from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets. Other global markets to host picks, included Germany, Mexico, Nigeria and Spain – where former Liverpool and Chelsea striker and 2010 World Cup winner Fernando Torres announced the Miami Dolphins’ selection of wide receiver Malik Washington in the sixth-round.

At peak times, the 2024 NFL Draft saw audiences of nearly 54 million people around the world, while 775,000 people personally attended the event in Detroit – a new NFL Draft attendance record. Be it via the Commissioner’s speech, the International Fan of the Year recipients or the numerous picks made overseas, the NFL’s international intentions were made abundantly obvious to all who tuned in for the marque event of the 2024 offseason.

Latest News: