The Eagles moved up 17 spots in the seventh round and they didn’t even draft a football player.
Instead, they took rugby player Jordan Mailata from Australia, specifically from the South Sydney Rabbitohs. American football is almost completely new to him.
What did he know about it just a few months ago?
“Mate, as little as peanuts,” he said on a conference call Saturday night.
“The knowledge I came on board with before the program was little. I didn’t have much. I’m very thankful for the program I’m in because the last three or four months have not been easy at all. Mentally challenging as well as physically. Trying to understand the basics and fundamentals of football has been a difficult task.”
The Eagles drafted Mailata, 21, as an offensive tackle, although he had no say in his position. He certainly has the size at 6-foot-8, 346 pounds and 35 1/2-inch arms. He quickly becomes the biggest player on the roster — he was told he was too big for rugby — and based on his rugby highlights is a freak athlete.
Is there anything the Eagles can take away from his rugby video?
“Give him the ball on the goal line,” head coach Doug Pederson interjected with a smile before Joe Douglas gave his answer.
“What you saw on the YouTube (video), I’m sure you all have seen it,” Douglas said. “You’ve seen a big man that people are bouncing off of. We also brought in Adam Zaruba last year, so we weren’t averse to go into the rugby pool. That was impressive. It definitely was an eye-opener, watching the YouTube.”
In order to take the big rugby player, the Eagles gave one of their seventh-rounders in 2017 to the Patriots to move from 250 to 233.
While Mailata is a great athlete, he’s obviously a project. He’s never played American football and the idea of trying to play professionally didn’t come about until pretty late in this process. He said he compiled a highlight video toward the end of his last rugby season in August and his agent knew some NFL folks to get this whole thing started. He then joined a program at IMG Academy in Florida.
Mailata performed in a pro day in March for international players, where Eagles director of pro scouting Dwayne Joseph and assistant director of pro scouting Brandon Brown got a first glimpse. From there, the Eagles did a “ton of work” on Mailata, including at his private pro day, which was led by Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
“I feel like I earned a little bit of Coach Stoutland’s respect that day,” Mailata said. “Because he gave me a big challenge. I feel like he was challenging my manhood. But he gave me a thumbs up at the end of the session and said I had an outstanding session, outstanding workout.”
Mailata explained the challenge from Stoutland was to see if he’s coachable, because if he isn’t coachable, it didn’t matter how athletic he is.
With his family still back in Sydney, Mailata has been back in the states by himself for months as he throws himself into his new profession. He’s taking his new career very seriously.
“Of course — 100 percent, mate,” Mailata said. "I had to weight the pros and cons before I made this decision to come. I knew if I made the decision, it had to be all in. And that’s what I’ve been giving it. The last three or four months has not been a walk in the park. Walking away from something I knew well and going to something foreign was a big risk to take.”