A couple years ago, when the Eagles drafted Jordan Mailata in the 7th round of the NFL draft, I asked him a question and he gave an answer that has followed him.
How much did you know about American football just a few months before the Eagles drafted you?
“Mate, as little as peanuts.”
By the end of his first training camp, Mailata said he had reached a quarter of a bag of peanuts. And it’s clear he has made progress. But now, entering Year 3 in the NFL, it’s time to start asking if Mailata has finally filled that bag.
In other words, is this the year Mailata goes from a project to a real NFL player?
“Look, I’m always as honest as I can be. I don’t want to lead you down a garden path, OK,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said last week on a Zoom call with reporters. “So I always try to tell you that absolute truth; you guys know that. … I can’t answer that question right now.”
Hopefully, we get our answer soon enough.
Stoutland said the reason he couldn’t answer that question is because he needs to see Mailata do it on the field. That might have hit a snag last week, when Mailata was one of three Eagles placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning he either tested positive for COVID-19 or was exposed to somebody who did. Lane Johnson said publicly that he tested positive.
So, obviously, everyone is hoping Mailata is healthy; that’s more important. But he also can’t afford to miss any grass time, especially in a training camp that won’t have preseason games. With such limited game experience in his life, those preseason games were more important for Mailata than any other player on the roster. And now he’ll have only training camp practices and that will only happen once he’s off the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
The good news is that Stoutland is very optimistic.
“I can say this: In the meetings that we have, the virtual meetings, he was a completely different guy in the meetings,” Stoutland said. “And, you’re going to say, ‘What do you mean by that?’ His confidence level. Because we require these guys to know a lot and to be able to convert blocking schemes and calls. Completely, completely different in the meeting.
“Now, will that carry over to the field? Every morning when I come here I pray that’s what will happen. Do I think that will happen? Absolutely. But I can’t guarantee that. We’re going to find out, though. That’s what this is all about. And if it does carry over then we got action. We’re going to be in good shape.”
This offseason, Halapoulivaati Vaitai left in free agency and got a big contract with the Detroit Lions, which means the Eagles’ depth at offensive tackle took a big hit. But then they drafted two players with tackle experience and brought back Jason Peters to play guard and also be insurance at tackle.
So the Eagles have options if Mailata doesn’t work out or if he isn’t ready. But in Year 3, it’s probably time to get past the project phase.
Mailata is still just 23 but in his first two NFL seasons he still hasn’t played in a single regular-season game. And he has ended both years on Injured Reserve with back injuries.
But all the traits the Eagles saw in Mailata when they drafted for former rugby player to play offensive tackle are still there.
Mailata is 6-foot-8, 346 pounds, incredibly strong, athletic and willing to learn. And in last year’s preseason, he looked good. We saw progress. Really, we’ve seen progress every time Mailata steps foot on a football field.
But is he ready to be an NFL player and not just the guy trying to become an NFL player?
We’ll find out soon enough.
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