5 Rugby players who crossed over to the NFL

The recent announcement that Wales rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit is leaving the sport to attempt to succeed in the NFL is definitely not the first time a high-level rugby player has switched over to American football.

Louis Rees-Zammit did end up signing a 3-year contract worth up to 2.85 millions dollors with 250k guaranteed with the Kansas City Chiefs in April 2024. This came after an impressive 2024 pro day and 10 weeks of training with the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program (NFL IPP) 

In 2018, English rugby star Christian Wade traded in his rugby ball for the bright lights of the NFL. After being released from his contract by Wasps, Wade begin a journey to the NFL. Wade joined the Buffalo Bills as a running back and made headlines by scampering 65 yards for a touchdown in his first-ever play.

Despite impressing in his first preseason game in 2019, Wade played on the Bills practice squad ever since. At the end of the 2021 season, Buffalo released Wade from his contract. Now, he has returned to rugby and is playing for French side Racing 92.

Wade isn’t the only former rugby star to make the switch to the gridiron. Here is a look at some other notable rugby players to move to American football.

Hayden Smith

Hayden Smith played NCAA basketball in America after moving from Sydney, Australia to the states. In his downtime, Smith began playing rugby for a local team in Denver, Colorado. He went on to play for Saracens just a few years later. At the age of 27, the sportsman was ready for a new challenge and began playing for the NFL’s New York Jets. Smith played just one season for the Jets, catching one pass for 16 yards.

Gavin Hastings

Gavin Hastings was a rock-hard Scottish rugby player. In 1996, he joined NFL Europe team, the Scottish Claymores, as a place kicker. Hastings played just one season, scoring 24 of 27 extra point attempts. Unfortunately, Hastings misses the only field goal attempt he tried.

David Tukatahi Dixon

Of all the ex-rugby players to play in the NFL, David Tukatahi Dixon can claim to have had the best career. Dixon started his NFL career in 1992 as an offensive guard for the New England Patriots practice team. In 1994, he made the Minnesota Vikings squad and played 152 games for the football team. Dixon played 13 seasons overall in the NFL and even earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. Dixon is just the second Māori to play in the NFL.

Jarryd Hayne

In 2011, Australian NRL player Jarryd Hayne traded in rugby for gridiron football. At the age of 23, Hayne had already become a top player down under. Unfortunately for Hayne, due to issues preventing him from playing NCAA football, he had to wait four more years for a shot at playing in the NFL. In 2015, he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers with a salary of over $1.6 million for three seasons. Hayne impressed in the 2015 preseason and made Week 1 roster. He was cut by the team in October, however. He later rejoined the team after playing on the practice squad. Hayne left the NFL in May 2016 after allegedly sexually assaulting a woman.

 Jordan Mailata

In 2018 the Philadephia Eagles selected the former Rugby player from New Zealand. A few years later, Mailata signed a 100 million dollar extension as he has been a cornerstone on the Eagles offensive line since his selection. Mailata was first scouted by the NFL International Player Pathway program and the 6’8 320-lb rugby player showed off elite explosiveness and athleticism as a prop.


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