Africans in the NFL: Will Alvin Kamara dominate again?

Rodgers, Brady, Donald all deserve top player recognition (1:10)

Suzy Kolber, Dan Graziano, Tim Hasselbeck and Victor Cruz weigh in on the NFL's top player, including Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Aaron Donald. (1:10)

Last NFL season saw the African conversation dominated by New Orleans Saints rookie Alvin Kamara, with a bit of Nelson Agholor of the Eagles thrown in, but what will 2018 hold?

With kickoff right around the corner, on Thursday 6 September, here are the African players to keep tabs on this season.

Don't sleep on these rookies

Duke Ejiofor (Outside linebacker, Houston Texans)

Houstonian Duke Ejiofor finds himself suiting up for his hometown Houston Texans. The Wake Forest University graduate slipped in the 2018 NFL draft due to injury concerns as he recovered from labrum surgery.

Up stepped the Texans to add Ejiofor to an extremely talented group of pass rushers (J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus) and it didn't take long for the rookie to impress during pre-season.

With his smoothness and various pass rush moves, watch for Ejiofor to get after opposing quarterbacks when he does see the field this season.

Chuks Okorafor (Offensive tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers)

Left tackle Chuks Okorafor finds himself further up the depth chart than expected when he was drafted in April. After swing tackle Chris Hubbard departed for Cleveland in the off-season, the plan was for Jerald Hawkins to step into the role, but a quadriceps injury ended Hawkins season before training camp.

Nigeria-born, Botswana-raised Okorafor has impressed distinguished Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak with the ability to play both left and right tackle when need be. The former Western Michigan University player has both a great line coach and veteran offensive line to learn from as he deputizes when called upon this season.

No second fiddles

Chidobe Awuzie (Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys)

High expectations are being placed on the shoulders of Dallas Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie this season. The 2017 second round pick impressed when healthy last season (a hamstring injury early on led to him playing just 10 games) and has brought his good form into training camp and pre-season.

Playing the left cornerback position for the Cowboys, Awuzie had one of the highlights of pre-season with this interception.

With a number change from 33 to 24, Awuzie will hope to live up to the number, formerly worn in the 80s by Cowboys great and one of two players to ever lead the NFL in interceptions thrice, Everson Walls.

Larry Ogunjobi (Defensive Tackle, Cleveland Browns)

Last season, Ogunjobi had to work his way into the mix at defensive tackle for the Browns but by the end of the season was a favourite of coaches and Pro Football Focus graders. PFF ranked Ogunjobi in the top 20 of run defenders and in the top 30 of interior defensive linemen.

This season, much will be expected of Ogunjobi, and for him to build on his play during the latter part of the 2017 season, especially on pass rushing downs. He will also be expected to play the nose tackle position and the three-technique defensive tackle spot.

Ogunjobi can be absolutely disruptive and the Browns defense should be impressive when he lines up alongside fellow Nigerian-American Emmanuel Ogbah and last year's number one pick Myles Garrett.

Show me the money!

Jay Ajayi (Running back, Philadelphia Eagles) and Tevin Coleman (Running back Atlanta Falcons)

Preparing for their fourth NFL season, Philadelphia Eagles running back Jay Ajayi and Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman are playing out the final year of their rookie contracts.

Coleman is a bet to get a hefty contract in 2019 as he is coming off his most productive season in terms of carries, and is primed to shine when placed in a backfield that features his ability.

Meanwhile Ajayi, who had a solid 408 yards on 70 rushing attempts last season, averaged 5.8 yards per carry in a crowded backfield for the Super Bowl champion Eagles. Realising the battle ahead when contract negotiations begin in 2019 [as teams will most likely devalue his worth based on the knee injury suffered while in college at Boise State], Ajayi changed agents and is now represented by one of the most dogged agents available in Drew Rosenhaus.

Big seasons for Nigerian-Briton Ajayi and the Liberian-American Coleman will go a long way towards being shown the money next year.

Ezekiel Ansah (Defensive End, Detroit Lions)

Ghana's Ziggy Ansah rebounded last year with a 12 sack and 44 tackle season as he made fans and teams forget about his injury-riddled 2017. Ansah played through injury again last season but was able to overcome it en route to the second double digit sack season in his five-year NFL career.

The 29-year-old was franchise tagged again during the offseason and will be playing out this season for $17.1 million. Next season the Lions will be faced with the decision to extend a long term contract offer or let Ansah out as an unrestricted free agent.

The wise bet is that this will be Ansah's final season in Detroit as the Lions will be wary of the injuries that he has battled through and tagging him again for a $20.6 million dollar salary is unlikely.

This season, Ansah will get to play under former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who has already indicated Ansah will see action all along the defensive line. A healthy and productive season will make Ziggy one of the more enticing defensive ends in free agency next year.

The "prove last season was for real" players

Nelson Agholor (Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles)

After an underwhelming first two seasons in the league, Agholor had a brilliant 2017 in which he had 62 receptions for 768 yards and eight touchdowns while playing in the slot receiver position. Playing a major role in the Eagles' run to the Super Bowl, Agholor had nine catches for 84 yards in the big game en route to hoisting the Lombardi trophy.

The Nigerian has been dealing with a lower body injury which isn't expected to keep him out of the season opener on Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons. He will be out to prove last season was no fluke and that he is a reliable option for quarterbacks Nick Foles and Carson Wentz, once the latter returns from injury.

Alvin Kamara (Running back, New Orleans Saints)

The NFL offensive rookie of the year last season, Kamara became the first New Orleans player to record 700 yards rushing and receiving in a season. With 728 yards on 120 carries and 826 receiving yards on 81 receptions, along with backfield mate Mark Ingram, the pair became the first running back duo to each have over 1,500 scrimmage yards in the same season.

Now the Liberian-American will seek to show that last season was merely the start as he evades defenders en route to the end zone again this season.

The "prove last season was a fluke" players

Eli Apple (Cornerback, New York Giants)

Coming off a disastrous second year in the league, 2017 Giants first round pick Eli Apple was expected to be on the chopping block this pre-season under new coach Pat Shurmur. But a thin and inexperienced cornerback group has given Apple a new lease under defensive coordinator James Bettcher.

The 23-year-old Ghanaian-American will need to show more output on and off the field and start creating turnovers in order to ease his way back into the good graces of Giants fans.

Bene Benwikere (Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals)

Former Carolina Panthers fifth round pick Benwikere was building up a solid body of work heading into his third season when in the fifth game of the 2016 season the Panthers played the Atlanta Falcons.

That game saw 12 catches and 300 yards for Falcons All-Pro receiver Julio Jones while matched up against Benwikere and other Panthers cornerbacks (with non-existent safety help for the corners), which made the Nigerian-American an easy scapegoat and he soon saw his release from the Panthers.

Floating around with the Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and then the Dallas Cowboys last season, Benwikere made changes in his approach to the game. Now reunited in Arizona with new Cardinals coach Steve Wilks (formerly the Panthers defensive backs coach), Benwikere is a versatile swiss army knife in Wilks' secondary.

Able to play as the third cornerback, a nickelback and a safety while also helping Cardinals defensive backs understand the nuances of Wilks defensive philosophy, Benwikere is looking to show that 2016 was an aberration as he plays a part in the Cardinals return to winning ways.

Guess who's back, back again?

Quincy Enunwa (Wide Receiver, New York Jets)

Entering a 2017 season in which he was primed to be a key feature in the New York Jets offense, wide receiver Enunwa suffered a neck injury during a non-contact drill during training camp.

The Injured Reserve list beckoned as his season ended before it began. Now healthy, Enunwa and his ability to run the various lines in a receiver's route tree will be a key weapon for rookie quarterback Sam Darnold this season.

Alex Okafor (Defensive End, New Orleans Saints)

Last season, Okafor found a great match for his skill set with the Saints. The defensive end spent the first four years of his NFL career playing outside linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals. In the first 10 weeks of the 2017 NFL season, Okafor provided the perfect complement to fellow defensive end Cameron Jordan on the other end of the defensive line.

Okafor tallied up 43 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and five tackles for a loss when he went down with a torn Achilles in week 11 against Washington.

Back in action just eight months later, surpassing the recovery projections for his injury, Okafor is set to pay the Saints back on the two-year $10 million dollar contract he signed during the off-season. If he returns to anything close to the level he played at prior to injury, Saints fans will be delighted.


Rodgers, Brady, Donald all deserve top player recognition

Suzy Kolber, Dan Graziano, Tim Hasselbeck and Victor Cruz weigh in on the NFL's top player, including Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Aaron Donald.

New team who dis?

Ndamukong Suh (Defensive Tackle, L.A. Rams)

Making the move from east coast to the west coast, Ndamukong Suh is set to play alongside Aaron Donald, possibly the most talented defensive lineman Suh has ever lined up with in his eight years in the league. The fear is palpable from offensive line coaches all over the NFC West.

Suh was a dominant force during his five years with the Detroit Lions after being drafted by the NFC North team in 2010. After making a move to Miami during free agency in 2015, Suh saw his stats decline slightly as he drew constant double teams on most snaps.

Now paired with Donald in Los Angeles, Suh is expected to move over to the nose tackle position but will get a chance to show more than the ability to eat space while playing the position under legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

With Donald and Suh on the defensive line, the Rams will be worth watching to see how opposing teams plan to handle two of the best defensive linemen in the league.