It’s probably not that surprising that British athletes carving out a solid career in the NFL have been few and far between. Obviously, there have been a few: London-born running back Jay Ajayi played for the Dolphins before winning Super Bowl LII with the Eagles, while Osi Umenyiora, now a pundit on The NFL Show, is another Londoner with a ring, thanks to the Giants’ surprise win over the Patriots a decade earlier. Before him, Hertfordshire’s finest, Mick Luckhurst, played his entire career as a kicker with the Falcons before becoming the face of Channel 4’s NFL coverage in the Eighties.
But what about now? Who are the guys born or bred on this side of the pond that we should be rooting for in 2020? Here’s the low-down…
THE EIGHT-YEAR PRO
Jack Crawford – Defensive Tackle, Tennessee Titans
You gotta love Jack. Raised in Kilburn, the early claim for this 6’5”, 20-stone bald guy (due to alopecia) was being at school with Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe. He then moved to the States as a teenager with dreams of becoming an NBA star but due to international transfer rules, that didn’t pan out. Undaunted, he took up football in high school and after four years at Penn State, was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Not a bad plan B…
Crawford featured as a backup in his rookie season and appeared in 15 games the following year before being waived. He then enjoyed three-year spells with the Cowboys (you may have seen him at Wembley against the Jaguars in 2015) and the Falcons. Arguably not a starting-calibre lineman, Crawford, who has played at both defensive end and defensive tackle, has registered 136 tackles and 16 sacks to date.
A couple of months ago, Crawford signed a one-year deal with the Tennessee Titans. It’s hard to say how it’ll pan out for Jack as he enters his ninth year in the league, but he’s certainly able to fill in should Mike Vrabel need him to. With Austin Johnson signing with the Giants and five-time Pro-Bowler Jurrell Casey packing himself off to Denver during the off-season, there may even be a decent chance we might see him as a starting DT in 2020…
THE WORK IN PROGRESS
Jermaine Eluemunor – Offensive Guard, New England Patriots
Now 25, Eluemunor was born in Chalk Farm, London, to a Nigerian/English family and grew up in Camden. He played rugby and cricket as a youngster – preferring the former – but got into football because of the other football, and in particular, his beloved Arsenal (check out @TheMainShow_ on Twitter).
The story goes that in 2007, he was skipping through the channels looking for the Arsenal match when he stumbled on the NFL International Series game between the Giants and Dolphins at Wembley. His interest piqued, he started down a path that would lead him to play high school football in New Jersey before attending Texas A&M. He and his father briefly came back to England but Eluemunor was allowed to return Stateside, as long as he graduated and put everything into pursuing a career in football.
On the eve of the 2017 Draft, in which he was picked by the Ravens in the fifth round, Jermaine told The Independent“Wherever I get picked, I’m gonna work as hard as I’ve ever worked to make this happen and my dream come true. This is just the start.”
And that he did. Eluemunor made the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) All-Rookie Team in his first year, and played 27 regular-season games and one postseason contest in Baltimore before being traded to the Patriots. The 335-pound offensive lineman played 10 times in New England last year and has been retained for the 2020 campaign. Sitting behind left guard Joe Thuney in the depth charts, he isn’t a starter but provides depth in the middle of the line and we should see him get a decent number of snaps this season.
THE INTERNATIONAL PATHWAY PROSPECT
Efe Obada – Defensive End, Carolina Panthers
Obada had a tough start in life. Born in Nigeria before moving to the Netherlands, Obada and his sister got moved to London, where they slept rough and ended up in foster care. He fell into football when he saw how a college friend transformed himself playing for the London Warriors.
Looking for some cameraderie, Obada joined him and was taken under the wing of Aden Durde, who told his Dallas Cowboys contacts about Efe. Obada had only played five games for the Warriors when he was offered the chance to work out for Dallas, ahead of their Wembley game against the Jaguars. Despite his lack of experience, Efe was signed as an undrafted free agent a year later. It didn’t work out, nor did it with the Chiefs and Falcons, so his last hope was the NFL’s inaugural International Player Pathway Program, which placed him with the Panthers’ practice squad.
The following year, Obada become the first player from the program to make a 53-man roster, and played his first regular season game in Week 3 against the Bengals, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. Last October, Obada posted a career-best 24 tackles and played in all 16 of Carolina’s games, including the Buccaneers game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Obada was named an honorary team captain for the 37-26 victory that day, a fitting tribute in front of a ‘home’ London crowd.
Having signed a one-year contract extension in January 2020, Obada is heading into his third season with the Panthers. He’s shown promise so far but has yet to start in any of his 26 appearances to date and hasn’t recorded any sacks. By his own admission, he hasn’t established himself yet and, with a new HC Matt Rhule – let alone 2020 NFL Draft pick Yetur Gross-Matos jumping the queue at DE – he has his work cut out this season. It could be the most important of Obada’s career; he’s set to enter free agency in 2021 so let’s hope he can do enough to earn a longer contract.
THE FIRST-YEAR SUCCESS STORY
Jamie Gillan – Punter, Cleveland Browns
Growing up in Inverness, Scotland, Jamie’s all-consuming passion for rugby took him to Merchiston Castle, a boarding school in Edinburgh with a reputation for fast-tracking players into the Scottish national squad. As a promising fly-half, he developed a talent for kicking – one that would eventually stand him in good stead.
When his RAF dad was posted to Maryland, the Gillan family, including a 16-year-old Jamie, moved too. He had never watched football and initially, had no intention of playing it, but he asked to join the high school team, purely to keep fit during the rugby off-season. With a few tweaks to his technique, Gillan soon became an accomplished kicker and offers began to trickle in.
“All my mates were telling me you could get scholarships for kicking a ball and I didn’t believe them at first,” he told the BBC sport website last year, “but I thought I’d give it a try after I saw the guy missing field goals.”
Well, the punt – if you’ll excuse the pun – was worth it. A year ago, the undrafted rookie was brought in by the Cleveland Browns as a back-up to Britton Colquitt. And whaddya know, after some impressive pre-season turnouts – including a 74-yard punt and some robust, rugby-style tackles on punt returners – he took the starting job from the 10-year veteran.
Known as “The Scottish Hammer” for his solid physique, the long-haired Scotsman soon got the fans and the pundits onside. Gillan was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in September, and his debut campaign – 63 punts for 2913 yards, including a 71-yard season’s best – earned him a place on the PFWA All-Rookie team.
I have to hold my hand up to this one: before researching this article, I had no idea that Gano was born in Arbroath, Scotland. But his dad, a US Navy man, was stationed there when Graham was born.
Apparently, young Graham was a decent goalkeeper, and supported Bayern Munich and Scotland. Prior to attending high school in Florida, he was approached by a scout at the end of a summer tournament in which he’d excelled but he rejected the chance to move back to the UK… and join a little outfit called Manchester United.
Gano broke all sorts of Florida State records in his senior year, prompting a pick-up as an undrafted free agent in 2009 by the Ravens (they do like a Brit!). Alas, he was soon released and flirted with the inaugural United Football League, scoring the Las Vegas Locomotives’ championship-winning kick and leading the league in scoring and field goals.
Finally breaking into the NFL in 2009, Gano experienced an up-and-down three years at the Washington Redskins, where he earned a reputation for nailing game-winning field goals in overtime, yet had to compete for his job more than once.
Since 2012, Graham has been a Panther. In his time, he hit the upright in Super Bowl L in the loss to the Broncos, and was named to a Pro Bowl in 2017, having made 96.7% of his FG attempts that year. Having sealed yet another OT win, against the Giants, in early October 2018 with a career-best 63-yard kick, he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury and missed the entire 2019 campaign, prompting the 32-year-old to have surgery.
Speaking to Panthers.com last August, he said “Whatever my future holds, I’m excited about it. I’m always going to keep a positive attitude, no matter what’s going on.” Gano’s a decent kicker – he only missed three FG attempts during 2017 and 2018 – so if he can battle back and compete for his old job again, there’s a chance he’ll be a rock-solid leg again in 2020.
THE PRACTICE SQUAD HOPEFUL
Christian Wade – Running Back, Buffalo Bills
Christian Wade is currently on the Buffalo Bills practice squad, with hopes of another year of development ahead of him, but he’s already had an impressive career in rugby.
The lad from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, played for Wasps since his school days and went on to score 82 tries for them, which puts him fourth on the Premiership’s all-time list. He also represented England at all levels (alas, only the one national appearance though), and was also called up to the British and Irish Lions squad.
Frustrated with the lack of England opportunities, he decided to switch codes, clubs and countries and try out as an NFL running back, despite having zero experience. He came through the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, and spent last season in upstate New York on the Bills’ practice squad. Almost immediately, he made headlines, with a 65-yard TD run with his first-ever touch in a preseason game against the Colts, and a 48-yard run with his first catch.
Despite his undoubted speed and athletic ability, Wade failed to make the active roster last year and is yet to appear in a regular-season game. But he’s undaunted, telling The Telegraph“It has been a success to come across, learn the game, participate in practice at full speed and to play in preseason. I just want to keep improving. I’m going to give it the same energy as I did this year and see where that gets me.”
THE 2020 ROOKIE
Julian Okwara –Defensive End, Detroit Lions
Okwara was born in London, when his mother was visiting family, but grew up near Lagos in Nigeria. He moved to North Carolina aged eight and eventually took up football, following his older brother Romeo through Ardrey Kell High School and Notre Dame on his way to the NFL. Romeo (also a defensive end) signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and was claimed off waivers by the Lions in 2018.
Julian was a standout at Notre Dame, making 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks over his last two seasons. And now, he finally catches up with Romeo, having been selected by Detroit in the third round of the 2020 Draft. According to Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus, Okwara could prove to be the steal of this year’s class, after a broken leg toward the end of last season impacted his Combine and quelled any first-round chatter.
Helping to address one of the Lions’ biggest weaknesses last year, their pass rush (tied for second-last with just 28 sacks), Okwara – also considered an outside linebacker – may end up competing with Trey Flowers and Austin Bryant, as well as his big brother, for starting snaps.
Matt Patricia is getting a versatile player who can drop back into coverage or rush the passer. On signing with the Lions, he told Detroit Free Press reporters “They’re getting a pass rusher, great defensive end, someone who wreaks havoc in the backfield.” So look out for Okwara to come out from his brother’s shadow and make a name for himself in the NFC North next season.
THE FREE AGENT
Josh Mauro – Defensive End (No current team)
Mauro began his journey to the NFL in that hotbed of American football, St Albans, but started to play football at Stanford after he moved to the US.
The lad impressed the Steelers enough for them to sign him up as an undrafted free agent but he was released, kickstarting a tour of the league in subsequent seasons that took in the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants (where he got caught up in some controversy over the use of a banned substance) and, finally, Los Angeles. With his one-year deal with the Raiders now at an end, the 6’6”, 290-pound run stuffer is currently looking for his next landing spot.
He’s made 30 starts in five seasons but now aged 28, the clock is ticking and I’m not sure we’ll see him take the field in the season ahead. Fingers crossed.
Looking back at last season, there were some great games and some awful ones. Amazing throws, catches and runs. Incredible touchdowns. Last-ditch tackles. But that’s the case every year. So what were the events that really defined the campaign? Here’s the @Full10Yards take on what 2019 should be remembered for.
1. Luck finally runs out as Colts’ QB retires
The first headline of the 2019 season was written during Indianapolis’ preseason game with the Chicago Bears, when 29-year-old franchise quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly announced his retirement. Sadly, he was booed off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the news leaked out.
The reasons cited at an emotional press conference in August centred on the mental and physical toll of the injuries sustained during his career. Referring to the seemingly endless cycle of injury and rehab, he said “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game… and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. It’s the hardest decision of my life but it is the right one.”
Touted as a generational talent, the Stanford QB was selected as the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft as the successor to Peyton Manning. He immediately delivered, leading the Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons without missing a start. His best season, 2014, saw him throw an NFL-leading 40 touchdowns as Indy reached the AFC Championship game.
But during his final four years, he missed 26 games and played in pain most of the time. He tore abdominal muscles, rib cartilage and a labrum, lacerated a kidney, suffered concussion and, in what was probably the final straw, endured a mystery ankle issue that was never resolved.
Despite an injury-blighted 2015, he signed a $140m extension to become the highest-paid player in the NFL, but then missed all of 2017. The four-time Pro-Bowler came back with a career-high 4,593 yards in 2018, and finished his career with 23,761 yards (third on the Colts’ all-time list) and 171 touchdowns.
2. Player holdouts become a thing
The 2019 season saw more NFL holdouts than ever before. Skipping training camp seemed to be an increasingly common and effective tactic as players tried following in the footsteps of Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack.
There are several reasons why players hold back their services and demand a trade: it’s usually about money so each franchise needed to weight up whether keeping the player active benefits either party in the long run. And in 2019, the results were mixed.
Take Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon from the LA Chargers. With two years left on his rookie deal, Zeke held out through August and got a six-year, $90m contract extension for his troubles. Gordon didn’t. He was looking to prove his value though his absence but the Chargers dug their heels in and leaned on Austin Ekeler instead. Gordon, in the fifth year of his rookie deal, caved after a few weeks of cat and mouse, and slinked back into the fold in late September when his request fell on deaf ears.
Despite being set to make a paltry $1.1 million in 2019, Saints star wideout Michael Thomas was adamant that he wouldn’t hold out, but he did. But boy, did it pay off. Negotiations led to a $100m, five-year deal – a new record for a receiver.
The Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney also had a deal below market value so he sat out all of preseason, prompting a trade to the Seahawks days before the start of the campaign, while the Jaguars’ defensive end Yannick Ngakoue refused to attend minicamp and preseason workouts until his contract was resolved.
There were also two holdouts not driven by the dollar: Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey demanded a trade after a touchline bust-up with head coach Doug Marrone during their Week 2 game against Houston, and Washington tackle Trent Williams sat out the entire year due to the way he believed the Redskins medical staff handled a health scare.
To me, saying you won’t play till you get what you want feels like a spoilt child sulking and stamping their feet. Then again, it might be worth a try if you’re gonna get paid $100 million to zip it.
3. Antonio Brown quits the NFL
The former Pittsburgh wide receiver had a difficult 2019 to say the least. Having bounced around three different teams in under a year, he tried to claim back around $40 million in unpaid wages, fines, guarantees and bonuses from the Raiders and the Patriots.
Oakland acquired him from the Steelers but cut him before Week 1, creating a flurry of complaints concerning fines, lost guaranteed money and a $1m signing bonus voided because he was axed prior to playing a regular season game. Picked up by the Patriots just hours later, Brown is also attempting to salvage his unpaid Week 1 salary plus another $9m signing bonus, accusing the franchise of breach of contract. Then there’s the two (unsuccessful) grievances he filed against the NFL while disputing the ban on his preferred style of helmet.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Brown was also accused of sexual assault by his former trainer, Britney Taylor, while another woman accused him of sexual misconduct and sending intimidating text messages. Brown strenuously denies the charges but that final claim tipped the scales for the Pats. He was released after just 11 days and one game.
Soon after, AB84 hit social media saying he wasn’t going to play in the NFL any more, as team owners can obviously cancel whatever deals they liked. He also took pot-shots at Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Steelers teammate Ben Roethlisberger, who had both been linked with scandals in the past without much fall-out.
The investigations rumble on but whatever the eventual outcome, the league has lost a star. The 31-year-old was one of football’s most prolific offensive players with the Steelers, where his 686 catches and 9,145 receiving yards were the highest totals for a receiver over a six-year span. But it has also lost a troubled soul. Let’s hope he gets the support and professional help he needs.
4. Kaepernick holds a weird workout
Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly a divisive figure. At his peak, the quarterback led the 49ers to consecutive NFC championship games but in his last season, the Niners went 2-14. He has been out of the league since 2016 after kneeling during the national anthem – a protest against police brutality on people of colour. Since then, there has been no love lost between the player and the NFL.
Having settled a lawsuit with the NFL in February after claiming teams blanked him in retaliation for his protests, the league organised an out-of-the-blue, take-it-or-leave-it tryout for Kaepernick in mid-November. He was given just two hours to accept. A work-out for 25 teams was scheduled to start at the Atlanta Falcons’ training complex but amid bickering over terms and conditions, Kap pulled out and held his own private workout at a high school in Georgia, 60 miles away. About six representatives made it to the new location in time.
The workout was clearly a PR stunt by the NFL – probably in an attempt to deflect criticism of their treatment of Kaepernick – but it was his only shot to get in front of scouts. As a free agent, he is eligible to sign with any team and at the time, several potential suitors were being mooted.
Regardless of the motivations behind it, one guy did something out of it but it wasn’t Kaepernick. Jordan Veasy, one of the receivers used in the workout, was subsequently signed to the Redskins’ practice squad, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
5. A new position is invented: the quarterback-up
How many quarterbacks saw game time in 2019? Would you believe 57? Most teams had to rely on at least one stand-in and in a few cases, more than one. Every week or two, it seemed like a franchise QB was replaced by a stand-in for one reason or another, and with varying degrees of success.
Injuries were obviously the main reason for a swap and for some, there was hardly a blip. 41-years-young Drew Brees lost five weeks but the Saints’ stand-in Teddy Bridgewater held the fort admirably, going a perfect 5-0 in his stead. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes also missed game time when he dislocated his kneecap against Denver, but veteran Matt Moore ably took over.
Alas, it didn’t always work out so well. Jets back-up Trevor Siemian – pressed into action when Sam Darnold contracted mono – didn’t even complete two quarters before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Luke Falk’s two subsequent starts produced 0 TDs, 3 INTs and 14 sacks. Likewise, after Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow surgery, Pittsburgh were forced to call upon Mason Rudolph and then Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges (both underdelivered) while Matthew Stafford’s deputies were Jeff Driskel (0-3) and then David Blough. The undrafted rookie had a blinding first few minutes, throwing TD passes against the Bears on his first two possessions, but the rest of his five-game run was ‘sub-optimal’.
Retirement also played it part, with the Colts forced to start Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck retired, while the Giants hastened the changing of the guards just two weeks into the season, subbing in Daniel Jones at the expense of the outgoing Eli Manning.
But for many teams, starting QBs were benched left, right and centre purely due to their performance. After a mediocre stretch in Miami, Ryan Tannehill took the Titans’ starting job from an underwhelming Marcus Mariota in mid-season and promptly went 9-4, including two on-the-road playoff victories at New England and Baltimore. With 22 TDs and 6 INTs, Tannehill went from ‘work in progress’ for the Dolphins to Comeback Player of the Year in Tennessee.
Back in Miami, Josh Rosen floundered for six games, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick to pick up the pieces and win five games (despite the team being in full rebuild mode) while in Washington, journeyman Case Keenum paved the way for young buck Dwayne Haskins, the possible future of the franchise. In contrast, Ryan Finley really isn’t the future in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton was benched with the Bengals at 0-8 but the rookie was beyond terrible. After three more painful losses, Dalton was restored.
Likewise for the Panthers, Cam Newton’s injury gave Kyle Allen his chance. After four wins in four starts, he was sacked seven times by the 49ers (with a painful 28.9 passer rating) in Week 8, and was replaced by Will Grier. But he was even worse in his two starts: amid a flurry of interceptions, fumbles and sacks, Carolina lost both by 32 points.
There was one other guy I deliberately haven’t mentioned, as he deserves an entry of his own, so let’s move on…
6. Minshew Mania
Having signed a $88m deal to become Jacksonville’s QB1, Nick Foles went down with a shoulder injury in Week 1. The Jaguars needed a new hero. Step forward sixth-round draft pick Gardner Minshew II.
The rookie put the Jags’ first W on the board in his second start, a Thursday night win over the Titans, and by the end of September, he’d been named Offensive Rookie of the Month, having thrown for 905 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in four games. The Jags were 4-5 when he handed the reins back to Foles but not before “Minshew Mania” had taken hold.
Not all heroes wear capes; some wear helmets and cleats. And on their days off, they wear aviators, headbands and cut-off denim ‘jorts’. Aided by giveaways of fake moustaches at home games, fans dressed themselves and their kids as Minshew. His distinctive look even became the Halloween costume of choice. With plans for his own fashion range, Minshew has since filed trademark applications for several terms, including Minshew Mania.
Somewhat appropriately for our moustachioed maverick, the mania ended in November (see the UK men’s health campaign Movember to see why), when Nick Foles returned. However, Minshew wasn’t quite done, replacing the former Eagle halfway through a 28-11 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 13.
Looking beyond the hype and hysteria, Minshew racked up 3,217 yards, 21 TDs and six INTs in 14 appearances, and oversaw all six of Jacksonville’s wins. Solid enough production to reassure fans, should he be called upon again.
7. Myles Garrett loses his head
As we all know (*cough*), Rule 12, Article 17 of the NFL rulebook states: “A player may not use a helmet … as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at an opponent.”
Well, eight seconds from the end of Cleveland’s fractious 21-7 victory over Pittsburgh in November, that’s exactly what occurred. Steelers QB Mason Rudolph had just completed a pass when he was engulfed by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. The players shoved each other, then wrestled and grabbed each other’s face masks. The top draft pick from 2017 pulled Rudolph’s helmet off and clobbered him over the head with it.
The ensuing melee led to three immediate ejections, followed by fines for both teams and suspensions for the main protagonists. Garrett’s indefinite ban for his actions – termed “totally unacceptable and inexcusable” by coaches, players and pundits alike – was only rescinded after the season ended. And he had previous: Garrett had already been handed a $50,000 fine for punching a Titans player and two roughing-the-passer penalties against the Jets, one of which ended Trevor Siemian’s season.
At the time, Garret said: “I lost my cool and I regret it. I hurt my whole team.” He later stated: “A win’s a win. I don’t think it’s overshadowed by what happened.” Yeah right, fella – we’re only going to remember the result.
Contrite at the time, Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens added: “I’m embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed. It’s not good. He understands it’s totally unacceptable.” But just a couple of weeks later, Kitchens was pictured wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt, reigniting tensions just 48 hours before the teams’ rematch. Smart.
8. The Patriots play i-spy (again)
There’s a well-known saying: “To get caught spying on your opponents once is unfortunate; to get caught twice is foolish.” OK, there isn’t, but given New England’s track record, there should be.
In early December, the Patriots acknowledged that a video crew working for them filmed the Bengals’ sideline during their game with the Browns, violating league rules in much the same way they did in 2007 during the original Spygate scandal. The Patriots admitted that a crew, making an online series titled “Do Your Job”, inappropriately filmed the field from the press box, and failed to inform the Bengals and the league of their intentions. They did, however, hand over all footage. In a statement, the Patriots accepted full responsibility for the incident (blamed on an error with credentials) but Bill Belichick distanced himself and the team from the shenanigans.
When confronted by security, the video guy reportedly said he was an employee of Robert Kraft, not the team itself. That’s very interesting, as a key witness 12 years ago told investigators that was exactly what he’d been told to say if caught.
The seized tape apparently showed eight minutes of footage focusing on Bengals coaches signalling during the game. Sounds incriminating enough to me, especially with a game with Cincy coming up. Yet according to the NFL investigation, there was no clear evidence of the Patriots trying to gain a competitive advantage.
Maybe it was just a communication breakdown but with the Pats also at the centre of the 2015 Deflategate scandal, I can’t help thinking “there’s no smoke without fire” – and that is a well-known saying.
9. Tough Mudder comes to the NFL
In October, the Super Bowl-bound 49ers faced the Redskins at FedEx Field, holding them to 154 total yards and zero points in a 9-0 win. The game was played in appalling conditions: driving wind and rain turned the already substandard field into a quagmire, with many players struggling to keep their feet in the pooling surface water.
Not surprisingly, literally nothing of any note happened during the regulation 60 minutes (check out the box score if you like). ‘Skins QB Case Keenum made nine throws for 77 yards and Washington had -7 net yards in the fourth quarter. On the other side, Jimmy G only made 12 of 21 attempts and the game’s only points came courtesy of Robbie Gould’s boot.
That’s why the game will be remembered for what happened after the last play. Nick Bosa sacked Keenum as the clock hit zero and celebrated with a headfirst slide 10 yards across the grass. Fully embracing the conditions and their inner child, several teammates joined in. Before you knew it, a pack of white jerseys (OK, brown) were skimming across the sodden field like body-boarders.
Niners defensive end Deforest Buckner said. “It was a lot of fun. It was definitely worth it. Everybody started sliding around. It was like a bunch of little kids out there. That’s part of the game, having fun. Right now, we’re having a lot of fun.” Cornerback Richard Sherman added: “It takes you back to being a kid: you’re sloshing around and your shoes are full of water and mud. Guys had a lot of fun slipping and sliding out there.”
10. A new UK venue earns its spurs
Coming to London for regular season games since 2007, the NFL continues to grow over here. British fans sport flags, foam fingers, face paint and the jerseys of all 32 teams. We hang out like old friends, then scrap like alley cats for the merchandise fired into the crowd by the ‘party patrol’. And then there’s the possibility of a London-based franchise.
In 2019, we got four games for the first time as the all-singing-and-dancing Tottenham Hotspur Stadium joined Wembley as a UK International Series venue. In early October, the Oakland Raiders saw off the Chicago Bears in front of 60,463 people. The Raiders led 17-0 at half-time, the Bears fought back with 21 unanswered points but Oakland eventually triumphed 24-21.
But it wasn’t Josh Jacobs’s late TD or Gareon Conley’s game-ending interception that will stand the test of time. It was the authentic experience created by an arena built to NFL specifications that went down so well with players, coaches and fans. The dual-purpose venue has a grass football pitch (used just five days earlier for Spurs’ 7-2 Champions league defeat to Bayern Munich) that retracts beneath the stand, revealing a synthetic, NFL-ready surface. Then there’s the bespoke, super-sized locker rooms and conference suites for both teams.
No wonder Raiders QB Derek Carr liked it so much. “Everything is first class, every little detail,” he said afterwards. “This is definitely one of, if not the best, stadiums I’ve ever been at.” Bears coach Matt Nagy concurred, adding: “It blows you away – it’s absolutely phenomenal.”
Rather than borrowing a ‘soccer’ stadium like Wembley, the NFL may just have found its spiritual home on these shores.
11. And one more for luck…
We started with a story about Luck so for a purr-fect finish, we should end with one too, even if it takes us over our designated 10 items.
During the second quarter of Dallas’ Monday night game at the Giants’ MetLife Stadium on 4 November, play was delayed for a few minutes when a black cat trotted onto the field. Displaying Amari Cooper-esque speed and agility, the elusive feline evaded players, officials, stewards and security with some neat route running and play-action before heading off under one of the stands.
Game caller Kevin Harlan had a ball, providing play-by-play commentary on the moggy’s progress: “Now he’s at the five… he’s walking to the three… he’s hit the two. A state trooper has come on to the field and the cat runs into the end zone! That. Is. A. Touchdown!”
The black cat seemed to give the Giants instant bad karma, as the home side threw away a 9-3 lead to eventually lose 37-18. And for weeks afterwards, superstitious fans clocked the fact that the ‘cat’ teams – the Lions, Panthers, Bengals and Jaguars – couldn’t buy a win for love nor money. In fact, it took almost a month, when Cincy beat the Jets on 1 December, for the hex to be lifted.
For the NFL fan March is the ultimate down-spot, we had the climax of the season with the Superbowl, a week or two to recoup, then for all the college nerds the excitement of the combine then the draft in April, but March, well we’ve got free agency opening at least which gives a bit of excitement for a few days but ultimately it’s all just killing time until peak off-season excitement on draft day.
For myself as the betting expert at F10Y towers there’s a few things to keep myself busy. There were markets available on the combine, there’s already odds on teams to win each division, their win totals, MVP and the likes. So a few bits to keep me busy, but my main aim for the summer, much to the delight of the bossman is to reacquaint myself to Excel. Some high-level nerding has been going on with a little help from Tim and his uber-dorklike abilities. All in with the aim of finding any slight edge to gambling when the season comes a-knocking.
So with it being a little quieter I thought it would be a good time to give a shout out to the community in the UK and give a little promoting to the many fan groups available this side of the pond.
Originally I saw these tables posted by @BaseballBrit on twitter and for the most part the handles haven’t changed since he last updated his 2 years ago but as he’s now travelling the world and excellently promoting Baseball to a UK audience I’m guessing he hasn’t got the time to update so I’ve decided to take the torch and have a follower numbers on twitter.
Of course it might not be an accurate reading of followers of teams in the UK, but as most of my time is spent on twitter it’s where I was looking for numbers. There are of course many many groups on facebook which may be larger than these, but, it is what it is. Oh, and if you know of any other team groups worth a mention then let us know!
So without further blabbed, the AFC teams first.
Obviously with the Jags being the designated UK team it’s no surprise to see them atop this list, and while I guess it’s still a fan group, I’m assuming here, but it’s probably the only one run by the team itself, it’s definitely the only one with a blue tick, so should we really count them?
The Superbowl champs are in second having topped 10,000 followers on the day of the game this last season, for a true fan-run account it’s an impressive achievement especially as unlike quite a few teams in the list they didn’t have the greatest success in the 80s/90s when football was taking off on this side of the pond, as teams like the Dolphins, Broncos, and to a lesser extent my Bengals did.
A little shameless plug here for the hard work that Paul and Nathan (mostly Paul) do over at WhoDey_UK. As a short-term ‘in-the-know’ participant I had the smallest peek of some of the things they organise on a weekly basis and it’s not just them, there’s a dedicated and eager group of folks who create great data whether it’s college analysis, mock drafts, game previews or predictions and in my humble opinion (having not listened to others) the best team-focused podcast in the UK featuring players, former coaches, beat writers and a whole lot of fun irreverent chat. Earlier in the season they “celebrated” 30 years since the ’89 Superbowl loss to the 49ers but putting together an amazing interview with the sadly late Sam Wyche. One that even neutrals would probably appreciate.
A little surprising to me to not see the Cowboys at the top of this list, not only are they “Americas team” they were THE team of the 90s with the triplets helping them dominate a large part of the decade. Mick McCarthy is now the coach of them, but he led to the Green Bay Packers to their last Superbowl success a decade ago, I’d guess that led to a lot of the Packers followers, Rodgers and Favre being under center for nearly 30 years now and the fact they’re fan owned probably adds to their appeal. Fair play to the UKPackers and their followers. I can only imagine how large this fan group would be should they ever come over here for a game!
So I’ve tried my best to not make this a ranking exercise as the fact these things exist at all is a great indictment of growth of the game in the UK and the passion that fans over here have towards the game.
Here’s a shout out to all the founders, the participants and readers of good old UK based content! Keep up the good work folks.
With a bit of free time available for a change, I thought it may be fun to create the most British team I could, without just cheating and saying the Cleveland Browns (since we like an underdog and never succeeding). There’s a lot of artistic licence and some imagination which at least makes me sound like a Russell Wilson scramble.
Anyway, here’s what I came up with:
QB- Matt Ryan
Goalkeeper for premier league side Brighton. We love our soccer and since there is only ever 1 QB on the field for each team at once (playing the position, I’m ignoring the Taysom Hill role) and there is only one goalkeeper on each team, it fits in some way. It’s still the backfield in some way.
RB- Bo Scarborough
Oh I do like the be beside the seaside. A favourite haunt of mine in my childhood was Scarborough Sea front. With attractions such as the Sea Life Centre and the North Bay Railway (a personal favourite) it’s a very British seaside town and to have a namesake in the NFL seem fair.
RB- Jay Ajayi
London’s own… although it could soon be Christian Wade in this spot. Ajayi is at least a Brit with a Superbowl ring, even if he didn’t do an awful lot with the Eagles in that run.
He moved to the US at the age of 7 so had the full school and college experience (Boise State), before being drafted to the NFL by Miami. He had some memorable 200yard games where he still is one of only 4 people to have two back to back. In 2017 he was traded mid-season to the Eagles and despite only playing 7 games, gaining 499 yards on 70 carries and 10 receptions, he did help them to a Superbowl ring.
After missing a long time through injury and being waived, he recently returned to the Eagles, although he is yet to see the ball. He can have the occasional mega day but has many days just tinged with disappointment. Sounds very British to me.
WR- Kenny Britt
Britt by name, and in being disappointing, an underdog that never succeeded and always last in the queue for targets, he’s even a Brit by nature.
There’s never been a British Wide Receiver even close to the NFL so this position was hard to club together. That being said, the old jokes about the England Cricket Team make me wonder if we are a nation that can’t catch more than a cold.
WR- Odell Beckham
Shame he doesn’t wear number 7 really. We definitely love our soccer and David Beckham is a name that the whole world knows. You thought there would only ever be one Beckham, but here we are, a different Football but a Beckham who is a high end celebrity with some skills. Not quite as much Posh when it comes to Odell though.
TE – Alex Grey
The former Rugby Union player is currently on injured reserve and on a futures contract with the Falcons but he’s still looking to forge a career in the NFL, although even making the field once in a regular season game looks like it will be an achievement. Apart from Mark Andrews sounding like he should be a London City banker, he’s all I have for this one.
With our sense of humour, the idea of a Tight End is amusing and with players like Ertz and Eifert providing amusing team names (My Ball Zach Ertz, My Tight End Ertz when Eifert and so on), there’s plenty of wit to be had here.
K- Graham Gano
He’s a Scot Gano, Ya know. He’s by no means the only Scot very good at kicking a ball a long way and high over the bar. He’s not too bad at getting it between the posts which is why he’s in the NFL.
P- Jamie Gillan
The Scottish Hammer even gets his home country into his nickname. #Proud. Like most proud Scots he would never have accepted the British Hammer and while he’s a Pro Bowl Calibre player, barely anyone has ever heard of him. In Scotland, the UK and even in Cleveland, not a lot of people know the absolute rarity which is happening on their doorstep.
Individual defensive players (IDP)
DB- Earl Thomas
No UK link, just sounds like a visitor to Downton Abbey. Other similar links can be found with Duke Johnson and Bishop Sankey (remember him?).
DL- Jack Crawford
One of the longest serving exports to the NFL. Currently in Atlanta, although limited on snaps. He’s not going to be on Fantasy teams where you play IDP but he’s still flying the flag and is one of the modern player who showed (and still show) the way.
He was a 5th round pick in 2012 for the Oakland Raiders and also had a spell at the Cowboys. He did move across to the USA in 2005 at the age of 17 and went through the college system at Penn State, but he was still born in London.
Interestingly, he shared a class in London with Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame.
DE/LB- Efe Obada
From Nigeria to Netherlands to the UK before the age of 10. Homeless in London, eventually fostered, played for the London Warriors in BAFA at DE and TE and now plies his trade in Carolina as a DE.
The Cowboys, Chiefs and Falcons all took a look at him but on when the Panthers swept him up in May 2017 did he finally stick thanks to the International Pathway program.
He became the first International Pathway player to make a 53 man roster and by week 3 in 2018 he was playing in a regular season game. That debut was memorable as he got a sack and an interception, was given the game ball and names defensive player of the week.
He’s been quieter since then but is still on the team and came over to play in London earlier this year.
Time to look at the London Jacksonville Jaguars, just a few seasons removed from being 5 minutes or so away from beating the Patriots in the AFC title game and appearing in a Super Bowl. Fair to say that since then, they’ve taken a nose dive quicker than the most theatrical of Soccer players. Are the good times ever going to come back to Jacksonville? Or are they destined for misery until a move overseas occurs?
ENTERING THE SEASON
2019, the post Blake Bortles era (or error). It was looked upon as a fresh new start with a fresh new Quarterback, breathing new life in to the team and the franchise. Opinions were split when Nick Foles signed a 4 year $88m deal to become the new face of the Jaguars, effectively choosing him over paying the defence or trying to get a QB in the 2019 draft. Mr Khan, Tom Coughlin and co. were seemingly under the impression their Super Bowl window was still open. High expectations for a team that have finished with a points differential of worse than -50 every year since 2008 except for that AFC conference visiting year of 2017.
Leonard Fournette, their 1st round running back from 2017 had yet to complete a full season (either through disciplinary consequences or injury) was under pressure to perform even before they selected Ryquell Armstead in the 2019 draft. The defence were branded as the type who quit on the fans and the team towards the end of last season and were labelled as a group who thought they were better than they were based on previous years’ performances whilst Doug Marrone, seemingly enters every year under pressure, somehow always manages to come out on the other side.
DURING THE SEASON
Jacksonville were handed one of the tougher draws right out of the gate, with a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, Nick Foles left off where he finished from the Super Bowl and led the Jaguars to a fine 2nd drive. Problem was, he would no longer participate in the game after going down on the touchdown throw to DJ Chark, breaking his clavicle.
Enter, Gardner Minshew (or Mr Moustache as he would later be known). The 6th round rookie draft pick out of Washington State would go on to lead the Jaguars for the next 8 games. He started off well, leading the team to wins over the Titans and away in Denver. “Minshew Mania” had struck. Close defeats to Carolina and New Orleans followed up by wins over the Bengals and the Jets meant that London were treated to Minshew Mania in week 9. Oh how it capitulated so horribly.
Mr Moustache’s exerts in London of 2 awful Interceptions, 2 gut wrenching fumbles lost and 3 sacks taken culminated with the hapless Jaguars mustering just the 3 Josh Lambo points at Wembley Stadium. Minshew Mania officially died.
The Jags entered their week 10 bye at 4-5, Doug Marrone had seen enough of the Minshew Mania and recalled Nick Foles, back from injury. Fortunes were not to be with the Jaguars though and Foles lost the next 3 games. The latter of those losses to Floridian neighbours, Tampa Bay where Foles “did a Minshew” of sorts, throwing an interception and losing 2 fumbles, achieving only 3 1st downs in his 27 snaps from the start of the game. Minshew came in for the other 41 snaps for the Jaguars’ offence but to no avail.
The Jaguars fell to 4-8 and rode with Minshew until the end of the season, going 2-2 in that stretch with wins against division rivals in week 17 in a dead rubber but they did manage to upset the Raiders in the final game in Oakland where Minshew led the team to a great final drive to win it. In the midst of all that, Mr Iron Fist and VP of football operations for the Jags, Tom Coughlin got the boot after allegations of excessive fines and player grievances.
One bright spot on the season was DJ Chark, who broke out for 73 receptions and over 1000 yards on the season, finding the endzone 8 times. Dede Westbrook, the guy we all thought would have that type of season, fell well short on 66 receptions with 660 yards and found pay dirt just 3 times. Leonard Fournette managed to compete in 15 out of the 16 games this season, but avoided the endzone like the plague, finding it just 3 times also.
Whilst the teams passing offence held up somewhat even after the Jaguars traded motor mouth Jalen Ramsey to the Rams after week 6 for 2 future 1st round picks, it was the rushing aspect of their defensive duties the jaguars defence failed particularly well on, giving up the 2nd most yards per attempt (5.1) and rushing touchdowns (23). Rookie first rounder from the 2019 draft Josh Allen made it to the Pro Bowl in his first season after his efforts saw him achieve a team high 10.5 sacks.
After the dust settled, it was yet another season finishing in the AFC South basement. A few more years and they’ll legally be able to claim squattage. Doug Marrone has been given yet another vote of confidence which could mean 1 of 2 things: 1) they think Marrone is the right man for the job or 2) he’s just keeping the seat warm until they move to London. With the Jaguars playing 25% of their “home” games at Wembley next year in back to back games, the overseas Franchise rumours linked with the Jaguars will never die and seemingly is only trending in one direction. Jaguars fans in Florida are angered by this latest move, mainly because of the lack of transparency given by owner Shahid Khan.
Jacksonville are trying to accommodate Khan’s requests for upgrades in the town, with Khan putting a small % of his money in too, with upgrades in and aorund the stadium, but a lot more investement is earmarked for overseas, flowing across the Atlantic in the hopes of far bigger returns. The potential new market size bringing with it an untapped brand growing and monetising opportunities seems to be staring us all in the face that it is now a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.
On the field, the offseason will be fuelled yet again by Quarterback talk and don’t even be surprised if they draft one in 2020 considering they have 2 1st round picks to have a dart throw at one of them.
They are not flush with cap space entering next season so will have to get creative in order to make any major moves but expect to see at least 1 big name head for the exit door which could include any of Marcell Dareus ($20m saving), AJ Bouye ($11.5m) or recent NFL Man of the Year award winner Calais Campbell ($15m). Expect WR Marqise Lee, LB Jake Ryan & TE Geoff Swaim be cap casualties, who collectively would save the Jaguars around $15m in cap room.
ALL ABOARD! Trains for week 11 are about to depart.
WARNING: Lineups may close up to 30 seconds prior to kickoff.
There are no trains for Tennessee, Green Bay, New York
(Giants) and Seattle this week so you may have a few different routes to take
on your way to points, but don’t worry. The departure board is here to guide
you where to go. Let’s take a look.
Falcons @ Panthers
Despite their victory against the Saints last week, I still feel the Falcons are a team to stream against.
The Saints are bitter rivals and the team played out of their skin defensively to beat them. The offence is still shaky and losing Austin Hooper hurts them, but it may be a spark for Julio and Calvin Ridley.
The Panthers as usually have CMC but Kyle Allen has been quietly improving and now DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel might also be playable in addition to Greg Olsen, who frankly has always been an option when you look at how sparse the TE position is now.
Cowboys @ Lions
Matt Stafford will miss another game, so Jeff Driskel takes on the mane role for the Lions. It limits how good Golladay and Marvin Jones are but from last week’s evidence they should be serviceable.
The Cowboys are strong against the run and with options limited JD McKissic is playable but not with a lot of confidence. The Cowboys DST looks a good play while the opposite is true for the Lions.
Dak, Cooper, Gallup and Zeke should all feature and Zeke is going to be heavily owned in DFS. He is a guy to pay up for so it’s time to send Zeke to the buffet car so he can eat.
Jaguars @ Colts
This game is huge in the AFC South. If the Jags lose that’s the end of their hopes, if the Colts lose, they look shaky.
Brissett may well be back but not 100%, which against the Jags defence, is not what you want to hear. Hilton isn’t back and Pascal hasn’t been as good now people have put expectations on him. The Tight Ends for Indy may be the most fantasy relevant assets, along with Marlon Mack.
The Jags will again rely heavily on Fournette who has been good value this season when you consider how many busts there have been. Nick Foles returns and may well be a decent streaming option. Foles’ return also improves the prospects for Dede Westbrook and DJ Chark.
I was hoping to use Seth DeValve as a safety valve but now he’s ruled out I’ve had to reduce the pressure on that one.
Bills @ Dolphins
The Dolphins are on a resurgence and the Bills are maybe not the locking for the playoffs people thought they might be.
This game will probably return both teams to their usual scripts as the Buffalo defence is still strong.
It’s not a week to fish for points in Miami but it may be a big week for the Bills offence, especially Josh Allen who may be a decent options for DFS line ups looking to save money on QB.
Texans @ Ravens
This is a juicy matchup where quite simply, I want the offensive pieces on both teams and I’m not sure I’d want to risk either defence. Keep an eye on Will Fuller who is unlikely to play, which usually means goods things for DeAndre Hopkins.
Short and sweet.
Broncos @ Vikings
The Vikings again appear to be Thielin-less so it may be time to find Diggs again. Dalvin Cook will once again feature heavily on the menu and Kyle Rudolph might be a redzone reindeer once more.
The Broncos are still not looking great on offence and I wouldn’t want to play the defence against Minnesota.
Jets @ Redskins
No first class available here.
Two dire teams. Derrius Guice returns for Washington but the Jets did completely stuff Saquon last week. Haskins and McLaurin still haven’t really clicked while the defence isn’t quite what we expected it to be.
The Jets have some decent receivers, Sam Darnold seems to be the issue. Le’Veon Bell isn’t performing either, but this is maybe is his week.
Saints @ Bucs
The Saints need a bounce back game and the Bucs are not a bad opponent to have for this. Brees, Thomas, Kamara and even Jared Cook may be a sneaky play at TE.
Jameis Winston and the passing attack are also looking tempting this week. Ronald Jones has become playable so apart from the defences and the Bucs TE’s, it’s a game to play what you have.
Cardinals @ 49ers
The 49ers finally had their unbeaten record ended last week but this team is still “for real” (and I’m not just saying that to wind up Tim, honest…).
Losing Kittle is a huge blow to the offence and with Sanders looking limited if he plays at all, you want the running back who are fit and Deebo Samuel. The 49ers DST may be vital for them to succeed in this game but with the state of the Arizona running game and the passing attack still learning the system, it’s not a bad call.
Kyler should be solid this week, although the 49ers DST does make me scared to play Kirk and co. I’d avoid the backfield as the split between DJ and Drake feels very volatile.
Bengals @ Raiders
The Bengals are the only remaining team left who are able to put up a 100% record… of losing. Finley at QB and AJ Green still injured make them an offence to avoid apart from Mixon, Boyd may be a bit of a reach.
The Raiders are threatening to be a playoff team and Josh Jacobs is set to be a league winner for fantasy. He will be a heavily owned DST play again but be warned as it could be a Tyrell Williams game. The Raiders DST are an easy stream option too.
Patriots @ Eagles
After the Ravens derailed the Patriots shot at a perfect season, it’s time to see if the Eagles can continue to send them down the wrong track. This week they signed Jay Ajayi which suggests that Jordan Howard is questionable. Miles Sanders will get a lot of action but how much he will be able to do with it is uncertain. The receiver situation looks awkward as well with Jeffrey out and Agholor unable to catch a cold.
The Patriots will be back to trusting Brady, Edelman and co. You may want the Pats DST back in your line up if you have them.
Bears @ Rams
The final game of the day is the Bears and the Rams. Two strong defences with questionable offences. The Steelers shut down the Rams and the Bears do a good job of shutting themselves down. David Montgomery is questionable so Tarik Cohen may be more worth playing than usual, Allen Robinson is usually relevant but after that you’re only playing the defence.
The Rams seem to only perform when Cooper Kupp is open. The Steelers had his number and Goff didn’t know where else to turn. Expect Kupp and Gurley to be the main men, albeit without particularly high expectations.
Time to take a look in the Signal Box and pick out a few player who are on the right lines and who may be taking a wrong route.
QB – Josh Allen (BUF) – A rushing QB against the Dolphins… do I need to say more?
RB – Josh Jacobs (OAK) – One of the hottest RBs in the league against the worst team in the league…
WR – Michael Thomas (NO) – The Saints disappeared last week, but they are coming back this week.
TE – Mark Andrews (BAL) – The Texans may not have an answer to Andrews.
DST – Cowboys(DAL) – A somewhat tamed Lions team are going to get rounded up.
QB – Kirk Cousins (MIN) – He had no Thielin and Cook may leave him stewing.
RB – Phillip Lindsey (DEN) – The Vikings and Royce Freeman may halt Lindseys usefulness.
WR – Robert Woods (LAR) – Unless you’re called Kupp, it’s hard to score for the Rams.
TE – Zach Ertz (PHI) – Goedert’s production and the Patriots defence Ertz his value.
DST – Dolphins (MIA) – The Bills are usually a team to stream against but I think the Dolphin resurgence ends here.
QB – Carson Wentz (PHI) – The Patriots find Nick Foles harder to crack.
RB – David Johnson (ARI) – A fall from grace to the point where you can’t trust what he may do.
WR – Devante Parker (MIA) – The Bills may not even allow garbage time yards for him.
TE – OJ Howard (TB) – Godwin and Evans prevent TE from being a thing in TB.
DST – Lions (DET) – A weak run D against Zeke… Eeek.
That’s it for this week. Come back next week to see what is standing at the station and which Hype Trains will lead you to points.