Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi is not only new to the Broncos - allocated through the International Pathways Program - but he’s also pretty new to football in general.
The 6-foot-7 defensive lineman started playing football in 2017 after being noticed by American coaches at a basketball all-star game in Lagos, Nigeria.
The 22-year-old Nigerian had grown up playing soccer and basketball before seeing American football on YouTube. He practiced on his own before going to the UpRise Academy in 2021. The academy - which was founded by former Super Bowl winner and two-time Pro Bowler Osi Umenyiora and former professional basketball player Ejike Ugboaja - aims to help the NFL discover more talent in Africa.
‘’We know that Africa has probably the best athletes in the world,” Umenyiora, who was born in London to Nigerian parents, told BBC Sport. “For the NFL you have to be big, strong, fast, aggressive and intelligent. We went to Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria. And then we found the best guys that we could, and we brought them all to Accra, Ghana.”
Ndubuisi then got an invite to the NFL’s International Player Pathway program. Established in 2017, IPP aims to provide elite athletes from around the world with the opportunity to earn a spot on an NFL roster and increase the number of international players in the league.
Ndubuisi was an undrafted free agent for the Arizona Cardinals last spring but was cut after training camp and did not make an NFL practice squad.
The Nigerian is hoping for a different outcome this year at a different position with a different team.
Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi | Defensive Line | Broncos
Weight: 323 pounds
Experience: 2nd year
Age: 22 years old
How rookie DL Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi fits with the Denver Broncos
Ndubuisi’s odds are long for making the roster given he has been playing football for just a short time and playing defense even shorter.
But the athletic giant could be a real asset for depth in the trenches - something that is always a plus.
Ndubuisi is likely fourth on the depth chart behind D.J. Jones, Mike Purcell and PJ Mustipher. But if his size and strength can be coached into game-ready talent, even on reserve, it will be a huge benefit to the defense.
Darren Mougey, Broncos’ assistant general manager, told Ndubuisi in his welcome video call that the Broncos are excited about his potential.
“We’ve seen your film and we’re excited to get you here and tap into that potential and watch you grow,” Mougey said.
Marcus Dixon, Broncos’ defensive line coach, complimented the young Nigerian for staying with American football.
“We’re definitely excited to work with you, man. It’s a credit to you, what you’re doing, man - staying faithful, staying with it. It’s a testament to you already.”
Ndubuisi called it a dream come true.
“This is a sign of hope that the best is yet to come,” Ndubuisi told denverbroncos.com.
I’ll leave this one to Joe Mahoney who noted that Ndubuisi has a better chance on the defensive line than the offensive line.
“Playing defensive line is more about physical traits (strength, quickness and flexibility) than playing OT, which requires much more technique than most people realize. It also requires somewhat unnatural movements that take thousands of hours of repetition to become muscle memory (can I get an amen from the tackle Bros?). In other words, it’s much easier to turn an elite athlete who has never played football into a defensive tackle than it is to turn him into an offensive tackle.”