The International Player Pathway Program, which began in 2017, scours the globe looking well beyond the borders of North America for athletes who might have what it takes to become NFL players.
“With this program we’re not trying to find average athletes,” said Will Bryce, a UK-based talent evaluator. “We’re trying to find the best of the best who just happen to not grow up in America or Canada.”
With that intro, say hello to New York Giants running back Sandro Platzgummer. The 22-year-old Austrian will be one of four players from the Pathway Program participating in NFL training camps via roster exemptions later this summer.
Let’s take a closer look at Platzgummer.
Position: Running back
How he got here
Platzgummer played in Austria for a team called the Swarco Raiders Tirol. Platzgummer’s team won the Austrian Football League championship last season. The only statistical data is that he gained nearly 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. In how many games? Don’t know.
What I do know is that the highlight video above shows Platzgummer dominating players who have no chance against him in the open field. Pardon me for this, but he kind of looks like the Saquon Barkley of Austria.
“When you watch Sandro’s tape at that level he’s pulling away from everyone. He’s playing at a different speed,” Bryce said.
“Essentially at the top of the funnel in my role that’s what we’re looking for. If they’re not dominating their level of competition overseas and flashing to you on film then it’s going to be tough for them.”
Bryce compared the level of competition Platzgummer has faced to something roughly equivalent to the top tier of Division III football here in the United States.
Bryce told me that Platzgummer has more football experience than most Austrians he competed against, having begun playing flag football at the age of 9.
“Number one its the dedication and commitment to the game we’ve seen in him over time. Within that he’s been able to develop a lot of instincts when he’s got the ball in his hands. He’s developed a skill set that’s quite unique that we don’t always see at the skill position when we’re evaluating prospects outside of North America,” Bryce said.
“Then you look at him athletically. He used to run track and field, so he’s got good background there and you look at the measurables the numbers that he put up at our Combine in Germany were very comparable to running backs at the Combine of this past year.
“You really start to get excited that there might be something there.”
Platzgummer participated in the program’s International Combine, held last October in Germany. He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, had a 39.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. For comparison’s sake, those numbers are almost identical to ones posted at the 2018 NFL Combine by Nick Chubb, taken in Round 2 by the Cleveland Browns and currently considered by some the game’s best running back after gaining 1,494 yards rushing last season.
After the International Combine, Platzgummer was one of nine players brought by the Pathway Program to the U.S. for training that began in January and lasted 10-12 weeks. There, film was gathered and NFL teams were able to familiarize themselves with Platzgummer and the other players available.
Bryce said a “collaborative approach” between teams and Pathway Program representatives ends up determining which players teams are allocated.
Something else to know about Platzgummer is that he had been studying at the Medical University of Innsbruck in hopes of becoming a surgeon. He has put that on hold to pursue the NFL dream.
“That’s the kind of kid he is. Super intelligent, very engaged, very cerebral,” Bryce said. “That excites us.”
Platzgummer, incidentally, arrived in New York from Austria on Sunday. Thus, there won’t be any issues with travel restrictions once training camp begins.
It would seem highly unlikely that Platzgummer would crack the Giants’ 53-man roster. The leap from Austrian football to the NFL is gargantuan. His days of being the best athlete on the field are in the rearview mirror.
There have been at least two players directly from the Pathway Program to appear in regular-season NFL games. Efe Obada, a defensive end, played in 16 games over the past two seasons for the Carolina Panthers. Jakob Johnson, a fullback, played in four games last season for the New England Patriots. Moritz Bohringer, a tight end, has spent two seasons on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad.
In 2017, Jordan Mailata was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles after being discovered by the Pathway Program.
The Giants have Barkley, of course. Behind him, Dion Lewis would seem likely to be a lock for a roster spot. Wayne Gallman, Jon Hilliman, and undrafted free agent rookie Javon Leake could be in competition for one remaining spot on the active roster.
If Platzgummer is impressive enough during training camp, the Giants could choose to carry him as an additional 13th member of their (for now) 12-man practice squad once he clears waivers. He would stay there for the entire season but would be ineligible to be added to the 53-man roster.
If the Giants chose to keep him on the practice squad as one of the normal 12 players he could then be added to the active roster during the season.
Is he good enough? We’ll find out.