National Football League (NFL)

National Football League (NFL) Image

Similar to other U.S. professional sports, the National Football League (NFL) is also a global sport. Since 1920, foreign-born NFL players have comprised two percent of all players. Over time, foreign-born NFL players have come from nearly every continent representing more than 80 countries, as well as U.S. Territories and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Players from Canada (20.1%) comprise the largest shares of NFL players born outside the contiguous United States followed by Jamaica (6.8%), American Samoa (6.5%), Germany (6.5%), United Kingdom (6.3%), Nigeria (5.3%), Australia (3.2%), Italy (2.8%), Tonga (2.4%), and Mexico (2.1%).

Over time, prior to being drafted, 98.2% of NFL players played football in 860+ universities or colleges across the United States or abroad. The top five colleges NFL players were drafted from include: Notre Dame, University of Southern California (USC), Ohio State, University of Michigan, and Penn State University.

During the 2023 NFL season, three percent of NFL players were foreign-born. More than half (59%) of foreign-born NFL players who played during the 2023 season were born in countries in Canada (32%), Nigeria (17%), or Australia (11%). 

It is expected that the share of foreign-born players in the NFL will increase in the coming years. In 2023, there were 303 international student-athletes (0.99%) playing college football at Division I schools*. Just ten years ago, in 2013, there were only 119 and in 2012 there were 109 foreign-born NCAA Division I football players. Currently it is estimated that each NCAA Division I football team has at least one foreign-born player who could eventually be part of the NFL draft pool. In addition, beginning in 2017 the NFL started its International Player Pathway Program and in 2018 the NFL began a series of international combine events in Europe and Mexico to assess and recruit international players.  

*Note: data comes from the NCAA Demographics Database

For a fact sheet on NFL players during the 2023 season, click on the below link:

2023 NFL Fact Sheet

For a fact sheet on NFL players during prior seasons, click on the below link:

2022 NFL Fact Sheet