From the moment the Eagles drafted Jordan Mailata in the 7th round back in 2018, the giant Australian has rarely been seen without a smile on his face. Every time I’d see him in the locker room and ask how things were going, he’d respond in an upbeat tone, “Getting better every day!”
Publicly, Mailata exuded confidence as he learned the game.
Behind the scenes, when he was left along with his thoughts, there were times he doubted.
“Oh, 100 percent,” Mailata said. “I had moments, you know, maybe not this year but like previous years where it's like man like 'Is this really what I want to do?’”
“And Hell yeah, come back this year, this is what I want to do. This is where I want to be. Anything I can do for this team, I will do it. I will do anything for this team. They've given me an opportunity of a lifetime to be here where I am and given the platform that I have today, so definitely confident this year.”
From the beginning, Mailata faced an uphill climb. Coming from rugby, Mailata wasn’t just learning how how to play offensive tackle, he was learning about the sport from the ground level and attempting to play with and against players who had been in the game for their entire lives. It was a daunting challenge.
But it’s a good thing Mailata’s confidence is peaking as he enters his third NFL season. Because there’s no time for him to be a project anymore, especially after the injury to Andre Dillard.
Because no matter if Matt Pryor or Jason Peters starts at left tackle, Mailata could be one injury away from playing in his first real NFL game in 2020. Heck, he’s one injury away from playing in his first real football game, at least one that counts.
“I am very confident and very prepared to do whatever it takes to be on this team and perform at a high level that the coaches expect of me,” Mailata said. “I mean, it's my third year going into league and I'm feeling very confident this year in my playbook and my skills, and my ability. So, I feel like I have very well prepared to take on the task ahead.”
There were those lows, though, like when the Eagles asked him to switch from the left side of the line to the right. Or when he ended up on Injured Reserve last season with another back injury.
But Mailata, 23, found peace through believing that everything happens for a reason. And while both of those circumstances felt like setbacks at the time, they’ve helped him get to where he’s at today.
Switching from left to right gave him a better understanding of the Eagles’ offense as a whole. And when he was put on IR last year, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland challenged him to take more mental reps and to learn how to be more instinctive when making calls and reacting to defenses.
Earlier this summer, Stoutland said Mailata was a “completely different guy” in the Eagles’ virtual meetings. Not only did Mailata have a better understanding of his position and the offense, but he was more confident.
“I think he’s ready,” said Matt Pryor, who was drafted by the Eagles the round before Mailata in 2018. “When he first came in it was just raw talent. The dude is athletic, physical. It just comes down to getting to know football as a whole. Over the last two years, I think he’s gotten the hang of it, gotten to know the sport, knowing the position and getting into the playbook and understanding the schemes.”
This summer, Mailata missed some time when he was on the Reserve/COVID-19 and he’s still had some rough stretches in practice. But then there are the flashes. He always has the flashes. It’s like playing golf; you hit that one shot that keeps you coming back.
We’ll eventually find out if Mailata can become a successful NFL player. But the project always made sense. He’s a 6-foot-8, 346-pound man who moves exceptionally well; it’s a rarity. And the Eagles always thought if anyone could help him become an NFL player, it would be Stoutland.
Now, entering Year 3, the Eagles are ready for the project phase to end. And Mailata is confident he’s ready for that too.