The last weekend in April means one thing for NFL fans, the arrival of the NFL draft. The yearly selection of collegiate players by NFL teams took place from Thursday to Saturday, and all seven rounds of the draft saw at least one player with African roots selected by a NFL team.
Here are the players selected in the draft and the players who signed with teams as undrafted free agents.
There aren't a lot of African tight-ends in NFL history, but recently a few have made the grade from college to the pros (CJ Uzomah of the Cincinnati Bengals is one that comes to mind). Njoku went in the first round of the draft to the perpetually rebuilding Cleveland Browns as the second tight-end selected. He has been compared favourably to another University of Miami tight-end and current Carolina Panthers player Greg Olsen. Njoku, the son of Nigerian parents, has a ton of upside, and some analysts believe he has barely even scratched the surface of his potential. Njoku will get plenty of first team reps for a Browns team that released Gary Barnidge (their No 1 tight-end over the last three seasons) and will be given the opportunity to be the No 1 tight-end on the Browns depth chart by the beginning of the season in September.
Melifonwu is a rangy safety who has been compared to current Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka, as well as Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. Melifonwu, born in London to Nigerian parents, is considered a good tackler with the ability to match up well against tight-ends. The Raiders selected Melifonwu in the second round, a year after selecting another safety, Karl Joseph, in the first round. The Silver and Black have no depth at the safety position and made this pick for two reasons - immediate depth and to have a future starter within the next two seasons. Melifonwu won't start over Joseph or veteran Reggie Nelson, but he will still get opportunities to be on the field this season with or without injuries to either. In time, Melifonwu will be expected to succeed Nelson as the starter and pair up with Joseph to give the Raiders as dynamic, rangy, physical and athletic a safety pairing as there is in the league.
Awuzie is a man-cover cornerback possessing good size and speed for the position. Comparisons have been made to Logan Ryan of the New England Patriots, as well as Prince Amukamara of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Awuzie was picked by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2nd round as "America's team" tries to shore up their secondary. The Cowboys lost two starters from the secondary - Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne - during the free agency period and the selection of Awuzie will help plug the hole. The California-born son of Nigerian immigrants expects to be played all over the secondary, and his flexibility and understanding of the various cornerback positions, as well as ability to come in at safety, will be a boost to the Cowboys and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The son of Ivorian and Ugandan parents, Kpassagnon possesses freakish athleticism to go with his size at the defensive end position. Kpassagnon compares favourably to a player like Jason-Pierre Paul of the New York Giants, as well as Carlos Dunlap of the Cincinnati Bengals. He is still raw and considered a project, but has immense upside. Selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round, Kpassagnon - with the right coaching to combine with his ability - could make an impression on the Chiefs defensive line at some point this season, but in reality more will be expected of him from the 2018 season onward. Kpassagnon will help with depth on the defensive line during the 2017 season while improving and learning on the NFL level.
Larry Ogunjobi: Defensive Tackle - Charlotte - Cleveland Browns - first overall pick of third round/65th pick overall
Compared by analysts to Sheldon Rankins of the New Orleans Saints, Ogunjobi is a big-time player from a small school on the college football scene. Born in New Jersey, a year after his parents emigrated from Nigeria, Ogunjobi is considered a quick and disruptive defensive tackle and his showing was enough for the Cleveland Browns to pick him in the third round. Ogunjobi will pair with the No 1 overall draft pick, defensive end Myles Garrett, to provide the Browns some youthful verve on the defensive line as the they continue the rebuilding process. Ogunjobi won't be first on the depth chart this season, but he will provide depth at defensive tackle.
The London-born Eluemunor, whose father is Nigerian, was a late arrival on the American Football scene, but after giving up Rugby for Gridiron Football, he has taken to the game like a fish to water. Compared by some analysts to former Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Alvin Bailey, Eluemunor was picked by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round. Possessing the versatility to play at tackle or guard on the offensive line, he will get a chance to compete for the right tackle position along with one of the Ravens' undrafted rookies from last year, Cameroonian Stephane Nembot.
Alvin Kamara: Running Back - Tennessee - New Orleans Saints - third overall pick of third round, 67th pick overall
Kamara made an impression on NFL scouts during the 2016 NCAA season, and the son of Liberian immigrants was selected in the third round of the draft after his impressive junior season at Tennessee. Picked by the New Orleans Saints, Kamara will be expected to learn from and complement veteran All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who signed with the Saints as a free agent a couple of weeks ago. Comparisons have been made to former Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, as both have fantastic speed and excellent balance to go with great catching ability. Kamara's talent should help him see the field, despite a crowded backfield in New Orleans that will have Peterson and Mark Ingram ahead of him on the depth chart.
Amara Darboh: Wide Receiver - Michigan- Seattle Seahawks - 42nd pick of third round, 106th pick overall
Darboh was Michigan's leading receiver last season and the young man who left Sierra Leone as an orphan ended up selected in the third round of the draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Compared to fellow Sierra-Leonean immigrant Mohamed Sanu of the Atlanta Falcons, Darboh is a similar receiver in that he blocks well and is a good route runner. He will get reps at receiver this season, but has all the potential to make the jump to a No. 2 receiver on the Seahawks by the 2018 season.
Compared to former Houston Texans linebacker Bryan Braman, Nigerian-born Ebukam is an outside linebacker and had a productive college career for Eastern Washington. A strong performance at his pro day helped get Ebukam picked in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Rams due to his excellent motor as well as his intelligence.
Ukeme Eligwe: Linebacker - Georgia Southern - Kansas City Chiefs - 40th pick of fifth round,183rd pick overall
The one-time Florida State University player, who is of Nigerian descent, had a great year at Georgia Southern, and his strong showing at his pro day helped to convince Kansas City Chiefs to select Eligwe in the fifth round. Expect him to spend most of the season on the practice squad, but with the right coaching and potential injuries to other linebackers on the depth chart, Eligwe will have a chance to get on the field for the Chiefs on defence this season.
The Green Bay Packers picked up Amichia in the sixth round and the college left tackle can expect to see reps at the guard position on the NFL level for the Packers. Amichia, the son of Ghanaian immigrants, is versatile enough to see the field for the Packers at various positions throughout the season, and has the potential to make the right guard spot his own by his second year in the league.
Odenigbo had a great senior season at Northwestern and performed well enough at his pro day to rise up draft boards. Projected to go in the fifth or sixth round, Odenigbo ended up being selected in the seventh round and will most likely be on a mission to show all the teams that passed on him what they missed out on. Odenigbo, whose parents are Nigerian, is not considered a skilled pass rusher, but is a strong bull rusher who needs to show more run stopping ability, as well as the pass rushing skills to get around veteran offensive tackles.
Following Michigan teammate Amara Darboh, Chesson was the next player with African roots selected in the draft as the Monrovia, Liberia-born player was picked by the Kansas City Chiefs. Chesson's had solid seasons in his first three years playing at Ann Arbor, but a breakout season in his junior year put him on the NFL radar. Considered a hard-working and smart receiver, Chesson is also fond of playing special teams and for a rookie, there is no quicker way to get on the field than by also being willing and able to play on special teams. Chesson will find himself on the field for the Chiefs this season; not just at special teams, but as the season goes along and he gets adjusted to the Chiefs playbook, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the rookie getting reps alongside the Chiefs more established receivers.
Undrafted Free agent signings
Carlton Agudosi (Nigerian father)-Wide Receiver- Rutgers-Arizona Cardinals
Kenneth Ekanem (Nigerian father) - Defensive End - Virginia Tech - Denver Broncos
Amba Etta-Tawo (Nigerian parents) - Wide Receiver - Syracuse-Jacksonville Jaguars
Francis Kallon (Sierra-Leonean parents) - Defensive Tackle - Georgia Tech - Pittsburgh Steelers
Praise Martin-Oguike (Born in Nigeria) - Defensive End - Temple - Miami Dolphins
Dare Ogunbowale (Nigerian parents) - Running back - Wisconsin - Houston Texans
James Onwualu (Nigerian father) - Linebacker - Notre Dame - Los Angeles Chargers
Quincy Adeboyejo (Nigerian parents) - Wide Receiver - Mississippi - Baltimore Ravens
Kenneth Olugbode (Nigerian parents) - Linebacker - Colorado - Cleveland Browns
Folarin Orimolade (Nigerian parents) - Outside Linebacker - Dartmouth - Los Angeles Rams
Francis Owusu (Ghanaian father) - Wide Receiver - Stanford - Miami Dolphins
Noble Nwachukwu (Nigerian parents) - Defensive End - West Virginia - San Francisco 49ers
Jerry Ugokwe (Nigerian parents) - Offensive Tackle - William & Mary - Indianapolis Colts