It’s time to find out if Jordan Mailata can actually play football.
The Eagles began this experiment back in 2018, when they used a 7th-round pick on the 6-8, 346-pound former rugby player from Australia. Mailata knew next to nothing about American football when he joined the NFL’s International Pathway program. But Eagles’ O-line coach Jeff Stoutland thought he saw something special in Mailata.
The experiment will be kicked into high gear on Sunday Night Football.
After Jason Peters went on Injured Reserve on Saturday, Mailata will make his first NFL start in front of a national audience, a league source told NBC Sports Philadelphia.
It’s time to see what he can do.
Mailata, 23, instantly became a fan favorite when the Eagles drafted him. The former rugby player from the South Sydney Rabbitohs had incredible athleticism, especially for someone his size, and he’s a likable guy. He was honest about how much he needed to improve and was willing to put the work in.
While Mailata has always been optimistic publicly, he had moments of doubt behind the scenes. He admitted as much heading into the 2020 season.
“Oh, 100 percent,” Mailata said. “I had moments, you know, maybe not this year but like previous years where it's like man like 'Is this really what I want to do?’
“And Hell yeah, come back this year, this is what I want to do. This is where I want to be. Anything I can do for this team, I will do it. I will do anything for this team. They've given me an opportunity of a lifetime to be here where I am and given the platform that I have today, so definitely confident this year.”
Back in 2018, minutes after he was drafted, I asked Mailata how much he knew about American football and he said, “Mate, as little as peanuts.”
That became a funny measuring stick for Mailata. Every time he spoke to reporters that summer, they would ask him how many peanuts he was up to. But that was three years ago. If the bag isn’t full yet, it might never get there.
In Year 3, the Eagles can’t afford for Mailata to be a project anymore. Coming into this season, he needed to be a viable backup. And with the injuries on the offensive line, we’ll find out on Sunday night if he is.
The good news for Mailata is that he has played 20 snaps in relief of Peters so far this season. He played 18 in the opener and two last week against the Bengals. They were the first 20 snaps in his career in a meaningful game. In those 20 snaps, he allowed just one hurry and pressure, according to ProFootballFocus. But it’s obviously a small sample size.
With Peters out and Mailata in, the Eagles will have a different starting offensive line for the fourth time in four games this season:
Week 1: Peters, Seumalo, Kelce, Herbig, Driscoll
Week 2: Peters, Seumalo, Kelce, Herbig, Johnson
Week 3: Peters, Herbig, Kelce, Pryor, Johnson
Week 4: Mailata, Herbig, Kelce, Pryor, Johnson
Some might wonder why rookie draft pick Jack Driscoll isn’t playing at left tackle over Mailata, but Driscoll hasn’t worked at left tackle. It would be a big ask to move him on short notice. And perhaps the Eagles could flip Johnson to left tackle and start Driscoll at right, but the Eagles don’t usually like flipping multiple spots and the Eagles like Johnson on the right side.
So, at least for now, the Eagles are going to go with Mailata.
Learning to play American football at the age of 21 was a huge challenge for Mailata, especially because he had to do it at the highest level in the world. But the Eagles remained committed to the experiment for three years.
On Sunday, we’ll start to see if it will pay off.