It’s hard to play offensive tackle in the NFL.
That’s an obvious understatement but it’s important to remember when talking about Jordan Mailata. Because there are 130 Division I FBS football programs and 125 FCS programs in the country, which means there are roughly 510 starting offensive tackles every year at the top levels of college football. These are mostly guys who were all the stars of their high school football teams, have played the sport their whole lives and are really good at it.
And an overwhelming majority of those players will never start a game in the NFL.
That’s what makes what Jordan Mailata did on Sunday night so incredible.
Not only did Mailata make his first NFL start on short notice after the Eagles’ resident future Hall of Famer, Jason Peters, was put on IR. Mailata made his first meaningful football start at any level in the Eagles’ 25-20 win over the 49ers. And he played well, giving up just one pressure in 62 snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.
And I’m not sure everyone is really understanding how remarkable it is.
Because here’s a guy who five years ago didn’t know anything about American football. He was living in Australia, playing rugby and performing music with his family. To go from that to starting an NFL game three years after getting drafted is almost too remarkable for words.
“He's still a work-in-progress,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. “He's still like a ball of clay that we are shaping and molding and making into a left tackle.”
Based on what we saw Sunday night, he’s starting to take the correct form. Mailata is still just 23 and might have a real future.
Was it a perfect performance on Sunday night? Far from it.
Does it mean he’ll be the future left tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles? Hardly.
Will he even play well next week when the Eagles play in Pittsburgh? Dunno.
But watching the 6-foot-8, 346-pound behemoth start an NFL football game and play the way offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland envisioned way back in 2018 was really satisfying. In the summer of 2018, as the Eagles reveled in the afterglow of a world championship, Stoutland watched a rugby highlight tape of Mailata with the South Sydney Rabbitohs and then became enamored with the Aussie after he worked him out in Tampa at IMG Academy.
Stoutland liked him so much that the Eagles used a seventh-round pick on a giant ball of clay and made Stout the sculptor.
Low risk, incredibly high reward.
“He’s got danger written all over him,” Stoutland said in August of 2018. “He can run fast, he’s big. There’s a lot of things he has to learn, but how many people have those things? He’s unique.”
Right now, Mailata has been thrust into the starter’s role because Peters is on IR with a toe injury and Andre Dillard has been out for the season with a torn biceps.
After the left tackle spot was held down for two decades by Tra Thomas and Peters, its future is up in the air. The Eagles drafted Dillard to take that position and maybe he will. But maybe Mailata keeps getting better.
“I’m not trying to fill anyone’s boots,” Mailata said on Sunday night. “I’m trying to make my own boots. That’s the one thing I came here to do, try to put some respect on my name. And tell people that I ain’t a rugby player anymore. I’m a footballer."
OK, we still gotta work on the American lingo.