(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
The first four members of the Eagles’ 2018 draft class played an average of 44 games in their collegiate careers. Taking then into account high school and junior varsity, that is well over 100 games of organized football they’ve partaken in since they were teenagers.
But on Thursday night in Philadelphia, there was one player on Lincoln Financial Field who was playing his very first.
Rookie OT Jordan Mailata, the Eagles’ 7th-round selection, made the rare distinction of making both his NFL and football debut in the first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Australian Mailata, listed at 6′ 8″ and 346 pounds, played rugby league for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the national under 20s competition. To put his size into perspective, the heaviest active player in the National Rugby League (NRL) competition in Australia is 288 pounds, and the tallest is 6′ 6″. Mailata was never given the chance to play first grade in the NRL because of his size, but it is looking like the Rabbitohs’ loss could be the Eagles’ gain.
Mailata did not exactly have a dream start at left tackle on Thursday, surrendering a sack on his third snap. Steelers’ rookie linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi easily beat Mailata on the outside en route to a strip sack on Eagles’ quarterback Joe Callahan:
But Mailata rebounded from his early mistake, playing the rest of the second half without letting Adeniyi touch Callahan again. The player who once described his football knowledge as ‘mate…as little as peanuts’, demonstrated his heads-up improvement when he drew offsides and neutral-zone infraction penalties against the Pittsburgh defensive line. Mailata’s pure strength was also on full display on a handful of key run blocks.
A steep learning curve is expected for any rookie, let alone one who just played the first 30 snaps of competitive football in his life. The former rugby league giant will only improve under the expertise of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and the tutelage of the members of the NFL’s Offensive Line of the Year.
With one of the most stacked and talented teams in the NFL, Mailata is unlikely to make the Eagles’ final 53-man roster when cuts are made. As he is carrying a Grade 2 tear of the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee which he sustained last year playing rugby league, Philadelphia has the option to place him on injured reserve after the preseason. Whilst he has demonstrated he is more than capable of playing through the injury, it makes sense for both Mailata and the team to stash him on IR where he can develop and hone his skills for at least one season.
In the meantime, enjoy a beautiful compilation of him destroying 18-20 year old rugby league players.
Do Australia proud, mate.