Will Jordan Mailata be a rare success or just the latest failure in cross-code NFL transfers

Alex Broun 29/04/2018
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Jordan Mailata - will he succeed in the NFL?

The name on everyone’s lips in the NFL and NRL universe today is Jordan Mailata.

But if you didn’t pick up the news yesterday, you could be excused for asking: “Jordan who?”

Gigantic 20-year-old Mailata is the latest cross-code experiment in the NFL after the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, selected the South Sydney Rabbitoh as No233 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, as a projected offensive lineman.

The super-sized Samoan, who hails from Sydney, now follows in the footsteps of other Aussies in the NFL – Jarryd Hayne, Darren Bent, Mat McBriar, Ben Graham, Sav Rocca and current Broncos star Adam Gotsis.

The difference being from those listed above only Gotsis and Hayne were not punters.

Aussie Rules of course has a similar skill-set to a NFL punter so Rocca (112 games), Graham (91), McBriar (141) and Bennett (159, the most successful Australian in NFL history) had a fairly easy transition – only having to get use to a slightly different shaped ball to kick.

For those hoping to transition to other positions – Hayne (Running Back) and Gotsis (Defensive End) – the challenges are much greater and to date only Gotsis (32 games), is the only non-special team player to make the transition successfully.

And Gotsis actually played American Football growing up in Melbourne.

Mailata, who EPSN described as the Eagles’ “most interesting pick”, has never played gridiron but what he does have is size and, more importantly, speed.

His physical attributes are impressive: height 6’8’’ (2.03m), weight 345lbs (155kgs), as well as long arms (36in), and big hands (11in), perfect for keeping would-be sackers away from your quarterback.

But the stat that really made the NFL scouts stand up and take notice was time over 40-yards – 5.12 secs.

That kind of reaction time and explosive speed in NFL is priceless.

Watch Mailata in junior Rugby League (below) and it looks like boys against men – a charging bull swatting away mice. He reminds a lot of a young Jonah Lomu.

It was all on show in the NRL where to be honest – despite his speed and size – Mailata was club less. Souths had let him go.

And that’s how he ended up in the NFL.

With his days numbered at the Rabbitohs his agent decided to create a highlight reel to try to entice other league clubs.

Just on the off chance he also sent it to a connection with the NFL’s International Player Pathway program, who was intrigued.

Mailata was summoned to the US and a workout in Los Angeles in November last year led to Mailata being selected to train at the IMG Academy in Florida.

There he worked hard for three months – four-and-a-half hours a day training and three more on board and film work, fast-tracking his knowledge of the game.

As Mailata admits, he knew “little as peanuts” about NFL, although he (and his agent) were no doubt aware of the riches on offer.

“The last three or four months have not been easy at all,” he said.

“Mentally challenging as well as physically. Trying to understand the basics and the fundamentals of football has been a great task.

“Little knowledge before I came in, but I can happily say now that I can understand concepts and a beginning to have a step in the right direction.”

Mailata was clearly confident, inviting scouts to watch him work out, under the guidance of Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.

“He gave me the thumbs up at the end of the session and said I had an outstanding session, an outstanding workout,” Mailata said.

Most importantly he earned Stoutland’s respect, a key element in the Eagles finally stepping in for him – although another seven franchises had expressed interest.

The reason – Stoutland (below) decided that the eager young giant was “coachable”.

This is the key because no matter what physical skills you have – and Hayne for example had many – if you cannot learn the complexities of the game, you will not succeed.

For a punter the challenge is not so high – run on, kick the ball, run off. Not for an OT (offensive tackle), where Mailata has been chosen to play, who is involved in many of the most complex phases of the game.

The huge publicity around Hayne’s initial success, and then failure, in the NFL also means that the weight of expectation around Mailata has been reduced.

He will be expected to fail, with his drafting seen as not much more than a novelty, or “luxury pick”, for the strong Eagles roster.

Even the NFL website only gives him a 50% chance of success. But Mailata know the risk.

“Walking away from something I knew that well to go into something that was very foreign was a big risk to take,” he explains.

“So I was definitely all-in when I made my decision.”

Getting drafted was the easy part – the hard work starts now.

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Philadelphia Eagles swoop for Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata in NFL draft

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Jordan Mailata has been signed by the Philadelphia Eagles

The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles made Australian Jordan Mailata the 233rd overall pick in the NFL draft on Saturday, hoping the towering 20-year-old can successfully transition from rugby league to American football.

“It’s been an absolute brainstorm of an experience,” Mailata told NFL Draft Live after being selected in the seventh round of the annual intake of new talent.

Mailata, who previously suited up for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the National rugby League, had admitted earlier to NFL.com that he wasn’t expecting to be drafted.

But his imposing physical attributes likely convinced the Eagles to take a chance that Mailata, listed as an offensive tackle, could earn a place on their roster.

He’s six feet, eight inches tall (2.03 metres) and 346 pounds (157 kilograms) – and wowed scouts at his pro day demonstration by running the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds.

Jordan Mailata draft stats

Jordan Mailata draft stats

In recent months, Mailata has been training and studying the intricacies of the game at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, trying to fast-track his pursuit of his NFL dream.

The Eagles traded up from their 250th pick to the number 233 spot to take Mailata with their final selection of the proceedings.

“I’ll never forget this day for the rest of my life,” said Mailata, who arrived on Saturday in Dallas – where the draft began amid massive fanfare at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium on Thursday.

“There were a lot of emotions today … especially when it came down to the last 30 picks, but it’s been a great experience as a whole,” he said.

Mailata said he first began mulling an attempt to break into the NFL in November.

“Definitely wasn’t something I took lightly,” he said. “It took me about two months to make my mind up. The fans here are very passionate and very outspoken here, and hopefully I can earn their respect.”

Jarryd Hayne left a lucrative NRL contract to pursue a career in the NFL in 2015, but experienced only fleeting success in his lone campaign with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Eagles have taken a look at rugby talent before, signing Canadian Sevens player Adam Zaruba as an undrafted free agent in July of 2017.

He was waived in September, but the Eagles have since re-signed him to a reserve/futures contract – a move that indicates they still feel he has NFL potential.

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Cleveland Browns choose Baker Mayfield as first pick of 2018 NFL draft

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Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield was the first pick Thursday in the 2018 NFL draft, the annual selection of college players that helps teams in America’s most popular sport replenish their rosters.

The Cleveland Browns chose Mayfield to kick off the first round of the draft which is considered one of the deepest in recent history for quarterbacks as four of the top 10 players taken were QBs.

The 23-year-old Mayfield is expected to eventually become the playmaking cornerstone for the Browns who also have Tyrod Taylor and Drew Stanton at the quarterback spot.

“With Baker Mayfield, we have a guy who loves the game of football, who is an ultra-competitor, is revered by his teammates and anybody who has ever been around him,” Browns GM John Dorsey said.

“He’s a guy that has earned everything he has ever had since high school to college and now up here. He is a winner, he’s competitive.”

The US colleges are the biggest supplier of players to the NFL and the entry draft is the most common player recruitment tool for the league.

The Browns had been expected to take a quarterback with the top pick but heading into the draft there was no consensus on who the No. 1 pick should be.

Cleveland also had the fourth pick in the draft and chose to take cornerback Denzel Ward of Ohio State.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley went second overall to the New York Giants and University of Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold was selected third by the New York Jets.

North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb rounded out the top five picks, going to the Denver Broncos.

The Buffalo Bills traded up from the 12th spot to No. 7 to select embattled quarterback Josh Allen who got in hot water earlier Thursday for some racially charged social media tweets he made as a teenaged high school student. Allen apologized on Thursday.

The confident and charismatic Mayfield did not attend the draft at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington, Texas, choosing instead to watch it on TV at his family home in Austin, Texas.

Mayfield will be tasked with turning around the Browns team that finished 0-16 last season.

He had a superb college career at the University of Oklahoma but also got some unwanted attention off the field, including being arrested in 2017 in Arkansas on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. He reached a plea deal in June and paid a series of fines.

He threw for 14,607 career yards and had 131 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions. Last season he passed for 4,627 yards and 43 touchdowns.

Cleveland holds the longest active post-season drought, dating back to 2002. The Browns are known for having a revolving door on their quarterback position. Since 1999 they have had a league-leading 28 different starting quarterbacks.

Complete package

Saquon Barkley of Penn State poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #2

The Giants wasted no time picking Barkley in the No. 2 position.

Barkley is considered the complete running back package, possessing a combination of speed, strength and solid character.

“This kid makes our quarterback better,” New York GM Dave Gettleman said. “He makes our wide receivers better. He makes our O-line better.

He makes our defence better because we’ll have a much stronger ability to hold the ball. He is a great kid.”
The Jets like to think they got a steal with quarterback Darnold in the third spot.

Several scouts had Darnold listed as the top pick overall so when Cleveland and the Giants passed on him the Jets pounced.

“I’m taking it head on,” Darnold said. “I’m a pretty confident guy and I’m really comfortable in my own skin, so I’m going to go in there, do my thing and do what the coaches ask me to do – and do that at the highest level.”

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