For Moritz Boehringer, 'the feel-good story is over'

"In general football knowledge, I need to do some work," Moritz Boehringer, the German receiver the Vikings drafted in the sixth round, said after his first minicamp session. AP Photo/Jim Mone

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Let's get cynical for a moment. (It's easier for some than others, I know.)

Suppose a sports/entertainment corporation -- we'll call it the NFL -- wanted to make more money. What might it do? Like any business, it would search for undervalued markets and explore ways to capitalize on them. This profit-driven corporation -- I mean, the NFL -- might turn its attention to the 6.3 billion people on the planet who live outside the borders of the United States. That's a lot of people, and a whole lot of money, just waiting to be exposed to America's obsession.

That wasn't so bad, was it?

In reality, you'll need but a modest degree of cynicism to understand why German wide receiver Moritz Boehringer was a part of the Minnesota Vikings' rookie minicamp Friday. This is not the rags-to-riches story of a young man toiling deep in the Bavarian Alps. (It isn't even a story at all, if you ask Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. We'll get to that in a bit.)

Boehringer is an impressive athlete who has played what amounts to club football. Of more relevance, though, is that he is the product of a pilot program designed to raise interest in the NFL abroad, according to the coach who coordinated his offseason training. Boehringer's arrival is a mixture of marketing, opportunism and a team willing to use a draft pick that historically provides minimal returns, anyway.

Such is the true melting pot that deposited Moritz Boehringer in Minnesota on a 91-degree day for a non-padded practice that included a long detour to the sideline so that his stomach could, uh, purge its contents. He did not succumb, however, and returned in time to demonstrate that he has a long way to go before he can be considered a genuine NFL prospect.

If that doesn't kill your buzz, I'll let Zimmer finish it off.

"I want to kind of end the story, to be honest with you," Zimmer said. "I want him to be here playing football, not being a celebrity. I've given him a hard time already about being on TV shows and stuff like that. It's football now and it's time to work.

"The feel-good story is over."

There was little doubt about that after watching the Vikings' 90-minute afternoon workout. Clearly, Zimmer said, he "is a pretty good athlete." But Boehringer practiced just as you would expect -- as if he had never been through something like it in his life.

He dropped a go route down the right sideline during an early one-on-one session with defensive backs, and he allowed cornerback Keith Baxter to grab inside position on another. His best look? As a gunner on the punt team. He got down the field fast.

To be fair, it was only a few months ago that he was playing for a club team that practiced once a week and played on weekends. Boehringer said that Friday's team meetings were the first he has ever attended and was honest about his experience deficit.

"The offense is new to everyone, so that's kind of good for me," he said. "But in general, football knowledge, I need to do some work."

Boehringer could hardly be blamed for it. An international marketing whirlwind annexed him this winter before he knew what hit him.

I spoke this week to Aden Durde, a native of England and an NFL Europe alumnus who identified, pursued and ultimately trained Boehringer in the span of 12 weeks prior to the draft. Durde had two stints on NFL practice squads in the mid-2000s and has served as a coaching intern for the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys.

Now a member of the NFL's United Kingdom office, Durde was part of a brainstorming session over the winter that focused on growing football's international interest. Retired NFL defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora, who was also involved in the discussion, suggested the league should assimilate more international players to raise the game's profile abroad. Germans, the theory goes, are more likely to take an interest if they had some German players to root for. (Expect many more slick promotional videos like this one from the Vikings and/or NFL.)

A plan was hatched: Gather a group of four or so prospects from Europe's top club leagues, train them at a satellite camp in the United States and aggressively market them to NFL teams. That was around the time of the annual scouting combine, when most prospects are expected to be at their physical and mental peak -- not at the starting point of daily football training.

"It was a small project," Durde said, "that just kind of escalated. We had figured that at some point Moritz would be a free agent that teams might look at, but during the process we found out that he was draft-eligible. So we decided to put him into a pro day."

To be sure, Boehringer's size (6-foot-4, 229 pounds) and speed (4.4 in the 40-yard dash) at the Florida Atlantic University pro day helped draw more interest. And Durde deserves a heap of credit for the crash course during their months together at a camp in Florida.

But not even Durde, with his extensive experience projecting European players at an NFL level, can say with any confidence that Boehringer will make it. The Vikings' practice squad is probably a best-case scenario in 2016.

"He's basically what you see," Durde said. "An extremely talented athlete. He has a very good skill level, but what happens with these guys is that now they have to adapt to the speed of the NFL and the system, and that slows them back down before they can speed back up. He's a great kid and I do believe he can do that.

"That's what is meant by a developmental player. A lot of guys taken in the late rounds are."

Indeed, consider for context that since 2010, only 30 percent of sixth-round draft choices have gone on to play at least five games in the NFL, according to the Pro Football Reference database. There are always success stories, from Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown to Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, but math tells us that seven of every 10 fail.

Moritz Boehringer could well play a significant role in NFL history. But it's far more likely to be as a marketing gateway than as a substantial on-field contributor to an actual team. That's not too cynical, is it?