Jordan Mailata Goes from Project to Prospect in 15 Steps
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles have held 15 training-camp practices and rookie left tackle Jordan Mailata has managed to slowly morph from overmatched project to legitimate prospect in that time as Philadelphia speeds toward the Sept. 1 roster cutdown date.
The Eagles traded up in the seventh round back in April's draft to ensure they were able to select the 6-foot-8, 350-pound former Australian rugby player who had never played a down of organized American football at any level before wowing league talent evaluators thanks to some spectacular YouTube videos in which the massive Mailata mows through his undersized rugby competition.
From a size perspective, Mailata is a Vince McMahon wet dream and compares to Babatunde Aiyegbusi, the 6-9, 355-pound Polish expat who tried to make the Minnesota Vikings back in 2015 as an offensive lineman before moving toward, you guessed it, professional wrestling with the WWE's developmental territory NXT.
Of course, even Aiyegbusi has some experience, playing a number of years in the Polish American Football League before arriving in the States.
Mailata was literally starting from Ground Zero when Eagles assistant scouting director Brandon Brown noticed at him at a pro day of sorts for international prospects in Florida.
Of course, it's hard not to notice Mailata. Even after seeing him day in and day out at the NovaCare Complex, you never really get used to his impressive size, something that comes straight out of central casting when it comes to an NFL left tackle.
Add his natural strength and athleticism to the length and you have the best piece of clay you could ever ask for if you're Jeff Stoutland, the Eagles' offensive line coach.
“He’s got danger written all over him,” Stoutland said. “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.”
Perhaps even unique enough to carry on the 53-man roster while he continues to develop.
Understandably nervous Mailata was victimized on his first ever live NFL pass set by Pittsburgh edge rusher Olasunkanmi Adeniyi in the Eagles' preseason opener last week, allowing a strip sack of South Jersey native Joe Callahan.
"It was tough, especially the first play,” Mailata acknowledged. “It was really tough to wrap my head around. It was my worst nightmare, first play giving up a sack. Obviously, I had to learn from there and adopt that next play mentality. I just focused on the next play."
The short memory helped Mailata, who settled down from there. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Mailata finished his night against the Steelers allowing the sack but just two total pressures during his 32 reps at left tackle, hardly the worst debut in the world for the Eagles' greenest player.
“I knew I was going to play a half," Mailata said. “I tried to prepare mentally for that. I wrapped my head around the first snap. Then the jelly legs came in. But I learned from that. Now, the only place I can go is up. I tried to finish strong."
The Eagles could go a number of different ways with Mailata with the easiest being the practice squad. To do that, however, Mailata would have to pass through waivers putting Philadelphia at risk of losing the big man. It's unlikely another organization would use a 53-man roster spot on a project who can't help right away and hasn't been around all summer but even a risk of say 10 percent could give the Eagles pause.
There is also injured reserve because Mailata has been pressing through his first training camp with a knee injury from his rugby days. Doing that, however, means Mailata would not be able to practice, something that would certainly stunt his development.
Finally, there is keeping Mailata and carrying him on the 53, which is no longer the craziest thought. After the starters (Jason Peters, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson from left to right) the others who are safe are swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, rookie sixth-round pick Matt Pryor and the versatile Isaac Seumalo (barring a trade), leaving Mailata fighting with names like Chance Warmack and Taylor Hart for what is likely the final roster spot on the line.
"I know he was a little nervous there early and once he kind of settled in, I thought he did some good things," coach Doug Pederson said. "... It's a work in progress with him, and we knew that going into it. He's going to get a lot of time this preseason to play, and he'll just continue to get better."
The next test for Mailata is New England on Thursday.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen