New York (AFP) - German running back Jakob Johnson was signed by the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Saturday, becoming the first player to enter the NFL through the International Pathway Program.
The 24-year-old fullback from Stuttgart had been on the Patriots' practice squad and will serve as a replacement for injured James Develin in Sunday's game against the New York Jets. Develin has a neck injury.
The NFL's pathway program began in 2017 to help boost opportunities to reach the NFL for players from other nations who might not have grown up playing American football.
Nigerian defensive end Efe Obada played for Carolina last year after taking part in the program, but he had signed with Dallas as a free agent in 2015 and spent time with Atlanta and Kansas City in 2016 before the advent of the pathway program, which he joined to bolster his developmental time with Carolina.
The program allows clubs to carry an international player as an extra 11th practice squad player to develop and work with the team, but not eligible to promote to the main squad.
The Patriots, however, used Johnson among their regular 10 practice squad players, giving them the option of promoting him.
Johnson moved to Florida as a high school senior and played as a linebacker and tight end for the University of Tennessee before returning to his hometown last year, playing for an American football squad there, the Stuttgart Scorpions.
He was assigned to the Patriots in April as part of the pathway program and was among the final cuts to the main roster three weeks ago.
Johnson made 43 catches for 474 yards and four touchdowns as a tight end for the Scorpions last year.