On Thursday the NFL announced it’s International Player Pathway Pro Day will take place on April 1. For seven elite athletes it marks the next step to an NFL career. The athletes, from five countries, will showcase their talents in front of scouts from all 32 clubs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers training facility will host the workouts.
The NFL International Player Pathway Program was set up in 2017. Its aim is to provide elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level. One of the programmes successes is Jordan Mailata. This time last year, he was unknown to all but the most ardent of NFL scouts. Mailata played professional rugby league for Australia’s South Sydney Rabbitohs. He moved to the US to pursue a career as an American footballer. Mailata admitted he knew “as little as peanuts” about the sport when he arrived.
Mailata is a statuesque 6-8. He weighs in the 350-pound range. He certainly passed the eyeball test for NFL scouts. When he joined the International Player Pathway Program class of 2018 and was tutored intensively in football. During these sessions, his strength, footwork and athleticism impressed the scouts. His impact was such that he featured on a segment of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football.
Intrigued by his football potential, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the seventh round. Mailata looked lost in his first pre-season game. Astonishingly it was also his first ever football game. However, his phenomenal progress saw him move from practice squad candidate to a member of the 53 man roster. He did this in just four pre-season games. The Australian spent the 2018 season as the youngest player on their roster at just 21.
Who’s Who in 2019?
One of the International Player Pathway recruits for 2019 may be familiar to English fans. Christian Wade was an accomplished rugby player. He represented London Wasps, England and the British and Irish Lions squad. His 82 Premiership Rugby tries are the third highest total of all-time. Still only 27, he will turn his hand to American Football. Wade will begin his career as a kick returner and running back. His athleticism, skill set and rugby experience lend themselves perfectly to this. Take a look at his footwork in the link below.
— In The Loose (@InTheLoose) January 13, 2017
Although Wade is not the first English rugby union player to take advantage of the pathway, he is by far the most successful. Another rugby convert is also among those joining the program. Valentine Holmes was one of Australia’s top young rugby league players. He had played at both professional club level and international level. Like Wade, he retired from the sport to join the International Player Pathway Program.
The complete list of players includes David Bada (Germany), Moubarak Djeri (Germany), Valentine Holmes (Australia), Jakob Johnson (Germany), Dural Neto (Brazil), Maximo Sanchez (Mexico) and Christian Wade (United Kingdom).
Where Can We Expect To See Them
First, players will be put through workouts to showcase their physical talents. After that teams will be given an opportunity to conduct informal interviews with all participating players. Ultimately the hope is for them to be drafted like Mailata or signed as a free agent. Alternatively, the players may be selected for a 2019 practice squad position as part of the program.
Each year, one division is chosen at random. That division will receive international players if they are not drafted. In 2019 the International Player Development Program will see players joining AFC East teams. This means that, at the conclusion of training camp, players will be eligible for an international player practice squad exemption. Essentially this gives each AFC East team an eleventh practice squad member. However, it’s important to note that these players will be ineligible to be activated during the season. Previous recipients include the NFC South (2017) and AFC North (2018).
Look out for our more 2019 programs participants later today. We’ll also visit some success stories from previous years.
Enjoy this article? Feel free to leave a comment or follow more of my writing on Twitter @Cumbleton. I write about the AFC North for Ninety Nine Yards, covering the Ravens, Bengals, Browns, and Steelers and also cover the AAF.