Monday, June 17, 2024

Inside the Growth of the NFL IPP: Interview with European Scout Mark Dulgerian

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The International Player Pathway Program (IPP) is an initiative set up by the NFL that aims to find athletes from outside the US who can make it in the NFL. Since it was established in 2017, it’s helped increase the number of international players in the league, highlighted by producing success stories such as Efe Obada, Jordan Mailata, and Jakob Johnson.

The relatively new program has recently been attracting more and more attention as the NFL’s initiative to expand beyond the US grows stronger every season. As millions of new fans join the NFL community from abroad, many countries will have a player or two to cheer for thanks to the NFL’s IPP program.

Last year, the program had their most successful year to date as eight players were allocated to NFL teams across the league as every team in the AFC West and NFC North were able to add an international talent to their roster. Mark Dulgerian, the NFL’s IPP European scout gave his thoughts on last year’s record-breaking accomplishment.

“Last year was the first year we allocated players to eight teams, spanning two divisions. As more NFL teams have international players on their roster, they will see what they can bring. Not only from a physical standpoint, but from a locker room standpoint.”

Watch the full interview here

Last August, Mark Dulgerian entered the program to head up European scouting. The LA native came to the league’s global program following fifteen years of working various player personnel roles for the NFL, NCAA DI programs, as well as being the Pro Scouting Director for the XFL in 2020. However, it has always been a passion for Dulergian to search for talent beyond the US border.

“I just started thinking about how many phenomenal athletes there are out there in the world. It’s a numbers game. How many great athletes are out there that haven’t been discovered or don’t have the means to play sports.”

This year, Dulgerian enters his second year with the IPP as they look to build on 2023’s momentum. Following last year, the IPP has become more popular than ever among NFL team decision makers.

“There is a ton of interest in the program growing from NFL circles and general managers. We have close connections with them and receive a lot of feedback. As a team we went to the NFL combine in February, and there was a lot of interest. Teams were asking us about certain types of athletes and giving us tons of feedback and suggestions.”

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This year as the program continues to develop, Dulgerian has embarked on a European tour where he’ll be hosting several athletes across the continent on an invite-only workout.

“This is really a pre-qualifier tour. It’s a way for me to get eyes on guys before the combine in October. We will be verifying measurables and just watching them move around. It’s a lot like what we would do in the states, where NFL scouts would go to watch a college practice or game. It’s really checking off boxes and verifying what we’ve seen on film. I also want to meet with these players and coaches and build the connection between overseas leagues and the IPP.”

When scouting international athletes, Dulgerian isn’t necessarily looking for the best players in the European leagues but rather the NFL traits that can’t be taught. Those athletic characteristics that separate the elite athletes of the NFL  from high school or even college standouts.

“We are looking for traits, we put an emphasis on athletic and size outliners. Usually if we get a recommendation or film on a prospect, we have to make sure they meet the NFL baselines. As far as traits go, we are looking for length, coordination, movement skills, explosiveness, and twitchiness. 

“We tend to lean towards looking at the bigger guys, the lineman and edge rusher types. But that’s not to say we ignore others. If we see a guy who could be a great tight end or even a skill guy who we think has elite athletic traits. For example, Marcel Dabo a few years ago. A guy like that who checked a lot of NFL boxes.”

When it comes to the daunting task of scouting the entire world, Mark and the NFL IPP team continue to narrow in on an effective and efficient process of scouring the globe for hidden gridiron diamonds.

“We are constantly evolving in how we scout and evaluate players more efficiently. Especially with the big region we have…… which it the entire world. We are just always learning new ways to target what we are looking for. Part of that is is really being picky with the traits we are looking for.”

One obstacle that has faced the IPP is the fact that American Football is still a niche sport abroad. Keeping this in mind, Dulgerian and the IPP have started looking beyond the football field searching for basketball, track, and athletes from other sports to find the next NFL international gem.

“It quickly became apparent that many of the top athletes in the countries we were scouting were playing other sports. We have to look at crossover athletes. The program has had success there with basketball, rugby, and even handball players. It comes down to being more relative and expanding our scouting net.There is a big future in looking at these types of athletes.”

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Looking forward, the NFL’s International player search continues to ramp up as more and more international athletes are playing football, both at home and in the US. Dulgerian encourages dialog between coaches and the program as he wants to find the best of the best across the world and bring them to the game he loves.

“It’s really as easy as if you know a kid in your town and he’s an athletic freak. Send us his information so we can get the wheels turning and see what’s there.”

For Dulgerian, the chance to scout beyond the US has not only been satisfying career change, but also a truly rewarding experience growing the game and changing lives through his passion.

“This time last year, the IPP players had no idea they would be in the NFL training camp. Many were just playing club basketball in their hometowns. Now they are in an NFL training camp alongside Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in less than a year. This is a gateway for life changing opportunities, not only for them but for the families and for generations to come.”

Following the IPP’s European Tour and other activities around the globe this summer, the league is likely to host another group of athletes for an NFL International Combine again this fall. Last year, a large group of Nigerian athletes caught the eyes of coaches and scouts at the combine which ended in six African athletes being allocated to NFL teams through the program last spring. Look for this year’s group to build on last year’s momentum as there are currently still 16 NFL teams looking to add an NFL IPP player to their team.

Watch the full interview below

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