It's not like this with other sports. In hockey it's presumed the majority of rosters are Canadian with a smattering of Europeans and Americans. Baseball's long held representation among Latino and Asian players and basketball has transformed into a global sport. But American football remains a staunchly continental enterprise in the highest professional levels, a sport for Americans taught by Americans with a smattering of Canadians here and there. Once in a blood moon the football intelligentsia lets a rugby player try to convert to kicker in the preseason or whatever, but that's that.
So when Moritz Boehringer -- a wide receiver who has played his entire football career in the German federal state of Baden-Württenmberg -- became a name after blowing away a workout at Florida Atlantic University, it sent a glitch through a draft machine oft left confused and bewildered at the very idea of an international player. The interest does seem to be real as more teams line up to get a look at Boehringer and his draft stock, for whatever that's worth, continues to rise. Speculation is already placing him squarely in the mid- to late-rounds of the NFL draft, with NFL.com's profile grading him as an eventual starter.
But he's not something that is a complete outlier; in fact, it may be a fresh seed to grow out of Germany's swelling involvement with the American game. The American Football Association of Germany (AFVD) traces its roots back to the late 70s/early 80s, when football stopped being a sideshow rooted in the NATO occupation of West Germany and transformed into a legitimate attempt in Frankfurt to create sport. Today the AFVD oversees an ecosystem that features over 40,000 club members, from youth leagues to women's participation to the top flight German Football League, constituted of 12 clubs subject to relegation and promotion to and from lower leagues. It's certainly not the top sport in the nation, but it's held its own.
This is to say that Boehringer isn't coming from barren grounds, nor is this just a matter of a freak athlete blowing up FAU's pro day on a lark. Markus Kuhn is another former GFL athlete who currently resides on a NFL roster, although he played at North Carolina State in-between. It is possible for Boehringer to make an opening day roster, and the draft grades at present seem to reinforce this notion.
Moritz Boehringer has played football since 2013, when he joined the lower-tier Crailsheim Titans. His athletic abilities quickly got the attention of top GFL scouts and he was soon playing with the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, one of the top teams in the league. In 2015 he helped the team to a German Bowl title.
Where Boehringer exploded on draft radars was the pro day at Florida Atlantic University. Measuring in at 6-foot-4, 225 lbs., he put down a 4.43 seconds 40-yard dash on natural grass, a 39-inch vertical, 10'11" broad jump, ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4.10 seconds and caught everything that was thrown at him in drills.
Those numbers are good enough to put him in in the company of the top receivers that attended the NFL Scouting Combine.
On the other hand, there are two particular marks against Boehringer going into this draft.
The first is the belief that Boehringer's limited football career will be a hindrance to his potential. This is silly. The myth that American football is a sport that one must grow up with in order to understand its intricacies is flimsy at best and disingenuous at worst. There are multiple examples to discredit this, from Ezekiel Ansah's transformation to a standout edge rusher despite never seeing a football before arriving at BYU to Jimmy Graham playing a single year at Miami to the fact that Brett Favre didn't know what a goddamn nickel defense was well into his mid-20s. This does not dismiss development, but no player is ever exempt from that to begin with.
The second and more apropos critique of Boehringer coming from scouts is that the competition level he's faced is pretty low, if not abysmal. This much is true, to a degree. Although it's difficult to make any straight-up comparisons, it's safe to say, given relative competition and the fact that the IFAF United States squad made up of athletes with bizarre eligibility rules nevertheless bodies every team that plays them, including Germany, that the competition Boehringer has faced can best be described with the word "basura." There are caveats to this: Boehringer, barely in his 20s, was often playing against grown men and some American-born players in the GFL. Nevertheless, grading Boehringer is like grading a Division III or NAIA prospect. It makes extrapolating growth from tape difficult while placing a premium on measurables and a team's commitment to any necessary development.
What will put Boehringer over with front offices? It's going to take a combination of good place to land and a matter of necessity at the position. There will be someone enamored with his pro day numbers; this much is quite possible as teams plan individual meetings with him. With the peculiar state of receiver prospects this year there's a chance to see Boehringer go as early as the fourth round if someone really wants to test what he could be. Either way, whoever drafts Boehringer must do so with the intention that he's not a sideshow but a football player, and can develop as such.