Lawrence Okoye has been tipped to be an American National Football League star if he is picked in this week’s NFL draft in New York City.
The 21-year-old, who represented Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympics Games discus final, has impressed coaches at trials in the United States despite not having played a minute of the game.
But he goes into the draft, which sees the best University and College players traded to professional football teams, with a strong chance of being picked, most likely as a project player. After the first draft round on Thursday, there is a second and third round on Friday, with the fourth to seventh rounds on Saturday.
And he has been given the green light as an exciting prospect by Tony Allen, head coach at London Warriors and former director of player and football development for NFL International and the NFL Europe league.
“No-one has done it,” he said in answer to whether a player who has never played one down of American football could be picked to play for a NFL team in the draft.
“It is risky, but as a coach he is an exciting prospect and I would love to take him on as a project – he’s a pure crossover athlete.
“We’ve all got to remember the NFL is a business so when a coach stands up and says ‘this is the man I want’, they will study him look at his measurables and will have to sell the potential of the player to the team owners and the general manager.
“Coaches will look at the players they already have and say that Okoye has got more of an upside but tell their owner that they’ve just got to invest in him.
“If they can sell that – and their job is on the line – and give him time then he can do it, but that’s the challenge.”
At two trial dates in Atlanta and Dallas, Okoye’s results for his size and position – on the defensive line – were some of the best posted at 4.88 and 4.78 seconds in a 40-yard sprint, a 35-inch vertical jump and a ten-foot-five broad jump.
“He gives coaches the physical stuff, but he’s a very smart lad and that is going to help him,” added Allen.
“A lot of the players I used to see in NFL Europe had the ability from an athletics standpoint but their understanding and knowledge of the game, combined with mental errors, was why they were playing in that league and not the NFL – they were being assessed and evaluated again.
“With the level of athleticism and money invested in these athletes if you aren’t smart then there is no place for them on the field, but it’s the game experience they need as well – you can have all the attributes, but if you haven’t played the game yet then it will be difficult.”
Despite the early success in America, Okoye has a long way to go before he even steps on a field in a competitive match.
“The pathway to the NFL is through the collegiate system in the United States,” said Allen.
“Coaches in the NFL will take a look at Lawrence and all his abilities and think ‘is he worth investing in over the next couple of years?’, because he will take that long. Not many guys who even come through the draft get on to the field straight away, some of them take two years.
“We can all talk about potential, but Lawrence will have to get through days on end with his body banged up and sore, maybe wishing he was at home. And then going to practice in the morning followed by the classroom where he has got to try and stay awake sitting in the dark watching a film and then going back out on the field again and then back in to study film again – it’s going to be tough.”