There’s only two more rounds left in the NFL season and we’ve already seen terrific performances from some of the Aussies abroad, but this Monday (all times AEDT) all eyes will be on two blockbuster Conference Championship games that feature two of our Aussie expats going head-to-head for the NFC crown.
Whether it’s bulldozing opposition defender’s while also providing terrific protection for your MVP candidate quarterback, producing hyper-athletic highlight-reel plays that save your team from giving up two certain touchdowns to the opposition or an undeveloped rookie finding a way to turn things around after a less than ideal start, there’s been plenty of positives to come out of the 2022/23 season.
Catch up on all of the performances in our NFL Aussies Abroad wrap!
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JORDAN MAILATA – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Jordan Mailata is without doubt the biggest name Aussie currently playing in the NFL.
Mailata was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh-round of the 2018 NFL draft and despite multiple injury setbacks early in his career, the 25-year-old offensive lineman signed a mammoth four-year extension with Philly in 2021, which was worth up to $80 million ($118m) and included $40.85 million ($A60m) guaranteed – marking the richest contract ever for an Australian in the NFL.
He took over for an injured starter in 2020, earning the full-time job in 2021 and is now widely considered among the best tackles in the league.
The 6-foot-8, 165-kilogram left tackle is just one win away from playing in the Super Bowl this season.
When he steps out onto Lincoln Financial Field for Monday morning’s home NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, he will not only be the biggest player in the game but he will also have the most important role.
Mailata is in his fifth full season in the league and his rapid development has earned him plenty of plaudits from around the NFL, but on Monday morning he’ll face one of the toughest tests of his career to date.
When the Eagles take on the San Francisco 49ers, it will be his job to protect star quarterback Jalen Hurts’ blind side and try to contain San Francisco’s menacing defensive front including edge rusher Nick Bosa, who led the league in sacks this season and is the favourite to take out the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
That’s why his performance will go a long way toward determining whether or not Philly advance to their fourth Super Bowl.
Despite drawing some criticism earlier in the season after a uncharacteristically poor performances against both the Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans – including giving up two sacks in three plays to Texans’ star Jerry Hughes – the Bankstown native showed his ability to handle adversity by bouncing back to have a terrific season, only allowing six sacks and conceding a measly seven penalties for the year as he formed part of the best offensive line in the NFL.
His performance in Philly’s 24-8 win over the Washington Commanders back in Week 3 was particularly impressive.
During the game Eagles’ QB Jalen Hurts dropped back into the pocket and the Commanders brought pressure to try and sack the league MVP candidate.
One of the players trying to blitz Hurts was Washington CB Rachad Wildgoose, who attempted to get around Mailata, a task much easier said than done.
Wildgoose learned the hard way just how strong and powerful Mailata is as the Aussie flattened the corner with ease.
Mailata is coming off one of his best games of the season as he was graded as the Eagles third-highest rated offensive players during his team’s 38-7 beat down of the New York Giants in their Divisional Playoff matchup.
The hulking lineman earned a 76.0 offensive grade and an 83.5 pass blocking mark as Philly’s big men bullied New York’s defensive line from start to finish.
If Mailata can back up that performance again this week and help limit the damage from San Francisco’s scary front seven, then it will go a long way towards his team securing their place in Arizona for Super Bowl LVII on Monday 13 February.
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ARRYN SIPOSS – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Former St Kilda man Arryn Siposs is also signed to the NFC East division champion Philadelphia Eagles team, but as a punter.
The 30-year-old had been the Eagles’ starting punter for the majority of the season before unfortunately being placed on the injured reserve list following a nasty lower leg injury suffered in the team’s Week 14 win over the New York Giants.
Siposs was carted off the field during the 48-22 win on December 12th after making a brilliant play before being hit late by the swarming Giants defence, injuring his ankle in the process. He was later seen in the locker room on crutches and wearing a moon boot.
The second-year punter was placed on IR, meaning he would be required to miss a minimum of four games, and so Philidelphia signed veteran Brett Kern to replace him.
There had been hope that Siposs would be moved from IR back to the active roster ahead of Monday morning’s blockbuster clash against the 49ers after he emerged in the Eagles’ locker room a couple of weeks ago and said to reporters he believed he would be able to punt in the NFC Championship Game if the Eagles made it there.
Unfortunately for Siposs he remains on the team’s injured reserve list heading into the NFC championship game and the team appears to be sticking with Kern for now, who is coming off his best game in an Eagles’ uniform in their 38-7 Divisional Round demolition of the Giants.
“I’m just getting ready with the guys we’ve got right now,” special teams co-ordinator Michael Clay said on Wednesday.
“Anything injury-wise, Howie (Roseman) and Coach (Nick) Sirianni will take care of.
“But for right now, we’re game-planning that Brett’s our punter so we’ll go on with that.”
While this news comes as a devastating blow for Siposs – as well as Aussie NFL fans who are robbed of an all-Aussie punting duel between the former Auburn University punter and the San Francisco 49ers’ Mitch Wishnowsky – the positive is that he will still receive a championship ring should Philly go on to win the Super Bowl in a few weeks time.
Although the season may not end the way that Siposs would’ve hoped, he should be buoyed by the fact he had a terrific season prior to his untimely injury.
Despite only punting 44 times (ranked 30th in the league), thanks in large part to the Eagles’ outstanding offence this season, Siposs managed to pin the ball inside the 20 yard line on 19 occasions (36% of his punts). In a game that is often decided by mere inches, the ability to put opponents on the back foot by forcing them to start from inside their own 20 yard line can be invaluable.
Although it’s not just his punting skills that have impressed with many around the league raving about his outstanding athletic ability, in particular a couple of highlight reel plays.
Back in the Eagles’ Week 2 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, Siposs set tongues wagging after making an impressive touchdown-saving tackle that kept the Vikings at bay en route to Philly’s 24-7 victory.
The Eagles, who were up 24-7 with just over three minutes left on the clock in the third quarter, were attempting a 41-yard field goal.
The Vikings blocked the attempt and Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd ended up with the ball as a result and was on course for a touchdown with an open field to run in to.
Siposs, who was the placeholder for Eagles’ kicker Jake Elliott on the field goal try, showed terrific reaction time to make a mad dash to try and catch Boyd.
Drawing on his 28 games of experience playing for St Kilda in the AFL between 2011 and 2015, Siposs quickly reeled in Boyd before making a desperate lunge and managing to wrap his arms around the CB’s legs, bringing him down to the ground before he could score.
The play earned Siposs plenty of plaudits from NFL pundits and fans, as he prevented an easy touchdown for the Vikings.
PhillyVoice writer Shamus Clancy described the Aussie’s heroic act “as if he was a safety stopping a wide receiver from reaching pay dirt”.
ESPN NFL Draft Analyst & Insider Matt Miller even went so far as to label him the “fastest punter in NFL history”.
Meanwhile, in the Week 14 matchup with the Giants, Siposs was like a lightning rod, having been involved in so much of the action before getting injured.
Firstly, late in the second quarter and with the Eagles forced to punt from virtually their own end zone, Siposs had his attempted punt blocked.
While most punters’ immediate reaction would’ve been to drop their heads and concede a Giants’ touchdown, the Eagles’ punter instead got on his bike immediately and not only managed to get to the ball just prior to the nearest opponent but also scooped the ball up one handed AFL-style before then almost miraculously salvaging a first down for Philadelphia.
However, unfortunately once Siposs stepped out of bounds just short of the first down marker, after tightroping his way down the sideline, he received a late hit by an oncoming Giants’ defender which caused the ankle injury that may yet cost him the rest of his sophomore season.
Some New York fans though did not have too much sympathy for Siposs when he was carted off, which understandably rubbed the Australian the wrong way, and he let his emotions get the better of him.
“F*** you. F*** you, you piece of s***,” he reportedly said to a Giants’ fan.
The drama stemming from that Week 14 clash didn’t end there, with Siposs embroiled in a fresh controversy recently thanks to the Eagles being accused of cheating on extra points & field goals during that same Giants’ game.
Footage which circulated the internet last week showed placeholder Arryn Siposs picking up a white foreign object.
Philly kicker Jake Elliott later clarified that the object was simply used to mark the spot prior to the kick and offered no competitive advantage.
“We’ve always used something, that’s within the rules,” Elliott said
“Probably 30 teams do it around the league. It’s just a point of emphasis, and someone makes it bigger than it is. Everything we’ve done has been completely legal.”
MITCH WISHNOWSKY – SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Fresh from signing a four-year extension worth up to $13 million ($A20m) earlier this season, San Francisco 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky will be hoping his team can find a way to beat compatriot Jordan Mailata’s Philadelphia Eagles in Monday morning’s NFC Championship blockbuster and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl in Arizona next month.
The 30-year-old is one of the highest paid Australians to ever play in the NFL, after putting pen to paper on the multimillion-dollar deal, which ensures that Wishnowsky will remain in the Bay Area until 2026.
The contract will see Wishnowsky make nearly $3 million per year ($A4.4m) and $13 million ($A20m) overall.
Only two other Australian-born players, Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Jordan Mailata (four years, $65 million) and Seattle Seahawks punter Michael Dickson (four years, $14.7 million), have signed more lucrative contracts than the former Australian rules footballer.
Dickson is the highest-paid punter in the NFL, but Wishnowsky now sits in seventh spot on that list.
Wishnowsky, a product of the Prokick Australia kicking and punting Academy, was originally selected by the 49ers – from Utah University – in the fourth round (110th overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Often overlooked due to dominance of the 49ers defence as well as their multitude of offensive weapons, Wishnowsky has managed to put together one of the best seasons by a punter in recent franchise history.
The Perth native is validating the front office’s decision to select the Australian back in 2019, a move which received much criticism at the time.
Punters often don’t get the praise and accolades they deserve, no doubt due to the fact that they are only called upon when the team’s offence has failed to move the ball into scoring position.
However, as good as the 49ers vaunted defence has been this season, Wishnowsky’s ability to repeatedly pin the opposition deep in their own territory has made the defences job much easier, as the opposition’s offence is forced to have to march all the way down the field against a defence free to turn up the heat.
Wishnowsky has only allowed a league-best 26.9 per cent of his punts to be returned this season, in large part, thanks to his ability to consistently trap opponents inside their own twenty-yard line.
The man who was forced to give up playing Australian rules football at the age of 18 due to repeated shoulder injuries has also recorded the equal-fourth longest punt in the league this season (74 yards).
That 74-yard punt came during arguably Wishnowsky’s best game of the year, an 11-10 defeat to the Denver Broncos back in Week 3 where the Aussie was the star of the show.
Wishnowsky punted the ball a whopping seven times in the low-scoring affair, with three of those landing inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line, including that longest punt of 74 yards.
However, his best moment during the hard-fought slugfest occurred midway through the second quarter when Wishnowsky punted the ball from the 49ers’ 42-yard line and sent landed it perfectly on the Broncos’ one-yard line.
Thanks to a favourable bounce, teammate Samuel Womack was able to launch himself into the air and tap the ball backwards for a teammate to ground it inside the field of play.
It earned Wishnowsky a huge wrap from former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, who was stunned by what he had witnessed.
“Boom, boom boom,” McAfee said on the ‘Pat McAfee Show’.
“The most perfect punt of all time. The meat of the ball is in the field of play. The tip that has to touch the paint is in the paint. Literally couldn’t have hit it better or more perfect.”
Wishnowsky is now he just one win away from returning to the Super Bowl and having the chance to avenge his team’s heartbreaking 2019 loss to the Chiefs. The only positive of having two Aussies facing off in the NFC Championship game is that no matter who wins we are guaranteed to see an Australian playing off for a Super Bowl Ring in Arizona come Monday 13 February.
DANIEL FAALELE – BALTIMORE RAVENS
Daniel Faalele, the heaviest player in NFL history at a whopping 174kg, wasn’t expected to have much of an impact for the Ravens in his rookie season after being selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft last season.
The former college standout would begin the season as the team’s fourth-string right tackle and got off to a rocky start in the NFL following a 42-38 defeat to the Miami Dolphins in his debut game back in Week 2.
When starting left tackle Patrick Mekari departed early due to injury the next week against New England, Faalele was all of a sudden thrown in the deep end, with the 22-year-old project thrust into the limelight in the unfamiliar left tackle position and asked to protect Baltimore’s 2019 MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Faalele had 1500 college snaps at right tackle at the University of Minnesota, but never played left tackle once at collegiate level.
Life in the NFL couldn’t have begun much worse for the raw and still developing talent, with the challenge of stopping the Patriots’ Deatrich Wise truly a baptism of fire, as Wise recorded a pair of sacks while matched up against the Melbourne native.
The Aussie would soon begin to settle into his new position in the second half as the Ravens blew the Patriots away 37-26, thanks to five touchdowns from quarterback Lamar Jackson (four passing and one rushing).
Jackson was quick to lavish Faalele with praise post game.
“You know, (Daniel) Faalele is a rookie, so I knew that was kind of happen to see where he was, but I guess one sack happened after that, and he just started dominating like he did in college,” Jackson said of the Aussie.
“I didn’t doubt him at all. None of us did. It was for Pat (Mekari).
“Mekari left it out of the field for us, and the linemen said it, we was all dialled in, and shout out to Faalele because he stepped up major.
“He (Faalele) was just getting used to the game. He wasn’t expecting to just have to get in there and play left tackle for someone else. He got in and started executing, he got his feet wet, got out there and started doing what he was doing.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh also credited the Aussies ability to hang tough despite facing early adversity.
“Early on we needed to help the left tackle, and we did a couple times but then we didn’t need to,” Harbaugh said.
“Then he (Faalele) kind got his footing there, and then the run game started perking up.
As The Athletic’s Baltimore reporter Jeff Zrebiec pointed out, Faalele only got better as the game progressed.
“As the second half moved along, Faalele required less help,” Zrebiec wrote.
“He also had a few key blocks in the run game. On Jackson’s game-sealing 9-yard touchdown run, Faalele stoned linebacker Mack Wilson in the hole, while Andrews got a body on safety Adrian Phillips and Ben Powers pushed out Wise. It was an easy hole for Jackson to exploit.
“Faalele has a lot of developing to do. In a perfect world, the Ravens wouldn’t need to rely on him heavily this year.
“That was not the reality Sunday. Faalele stepped up in a tough environment and warmed to the task.”
While the 6-foot-8, 172-kilogram lineman would earn his one and only start of the season in the Week 4 loss to the Buffalo Bills, his playing time began to diminish when Mekari got healthy and Ronnie Stanley returned.
After playing a combined 123 snaps in the two games against the Patriots and Bills, the former Golden Gophers’ standout was only required to play 44 snaps across the final 13 games. Across his 16 games this season, the promising rookie only allowed two penalties, four sacks and one quarterback hit.
Faalele, who ended the season as the backup right tackle on the Baltimore depth chart, is one of the biggest players in the league and according to the Baltimore Sun’s Ryan Mcfadden “he is still raw and has a lot of developing to do”.
“The potential is there, and if he can tap into it, Faalele can provide more valuable depth at the tackle spot,” McFadden said.
MICHAEL DICKSON – SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Michael Dickson was taken in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft, out of Texas University, by the Seattle Seahawks and has been the team’s punter ever since.
The 27-year-old hit the ground running in the NFL being named in the Pro Bowl and even earning himself a first-team All-Pro selection in his rookie season.
The former Sydney Swans Academy product is in the first year of a four-year, $14.7-million ($A20.7m) contract signed in 2021 – making him the highest paid punter in the league. The deal, which includes $7.5 million ($A10.5m) in guaranteed money, will keep Dickson in the Pacific Northwest until the end of the 2025 season.
Despite narrowly missing out on his second Pro Bowl selection, the 26-year-old from Sydney has had another outstanding season for the Seahawks, ranking eighth league-wide for average yards per punt (48.5) and also recorded the second-highest net average yards per punt in the NFL (44.4) while registering a career low in touch back percentage (4.55%) across 66 punts.
Dickson’s brilliant performance in Seattle’s 21-16 loss to Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in particular stood out, with the punter kicking five times in the Week 10 matchup for an average of 50.6 yards, including a long punt of 68 yards.
Four of his five punts ended up inside the opposition’s own 20-yard line as well, the mark of a good punt.
The 68-yarder in the second quarter was a work of art, going out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 3-yard line.
NFL Network’s Rich Eisen was blown away by the kick, giving a shout-out to former punter turned media star Pat McAfee at the end of the call.
“Gosh, perfect spiral, and Dickson gets the roll, out of bounds at the three,” Eisen said. “That’s for you McAfee, all the way from Germany!”
A fired up McAfee thanked Eisen for the shout-out, adding a video of his own, saying: “Michael Dickson, an Australian, punting a f**king rocket. Perfection. Out at the three.”
ADAM GOTSIS – JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Adam Gotsis currently plays as a defensive end for the Jacksonville Jaguars, having been originally selected by the Denver Broncos with the 63rd pick in the 2016 NFL draft – making him the highest-drafted Australian-born player in NFL history.
Since re-signing with the Jags in April on a one year deal for the NFL minimum, the seven-year veteran drafted out of Georgia Tech has had a good year on the Atlantic coast of northeastern Florida – registering 1.5 sacks as well as logging 14 combined tackles and assists across 16 games (including playoffs) off the bench.
In fact the second-string DE only had two games where he failed to register a solo or assisted tackle, with Associated Press reporter Mark Long earlier this season praising Gotsis for his “impressive production off the bench”.
Unfortunately for the Melbourne native, Jacksonville were knocked out of the playoffs following a 27-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.
The 6-foot-4, 132-kilogram defensive end is now set to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season and only time will tell whether he will return to the AFC South champions next season.
CAMERON JOHNSTON – HOUSTON TEXANS
Former Philadelphia Eagles’ punter Cameron Johnston now plies his trade with the Houston Texans, having signed a three-year $8 million ($A11.3m) deal with the team in March 2020 – making him the fifth-highest paid punter in the NFL.
While Houston never saw any Playoff action thanks to owning the second worst record in the entire league (3-13-1), there is one silver lining for Johnston.
If you watched the Texans play this season, you may have noticed that they had one of the worst offences in the NFL and because of that, Johnston saw a lot of action.
The 30-year-old punted the ball a staggering 88 times in 2022, which was the third most of any punter in the league. When you’re punting that often, it’s safe to say that the former Melbourne Demons player is earning all of his $2.5 million ($A3.5m) contract this season.
The Geelong native made the most of his 88 opportunities this season, ranking third in total yards (4229), net yards (3748), and managed to place 37 (42%) of them inside the 20-yard line – second-best in the NFL. Johnston was one of the few bright spots for the Texans this season.
MATT LEO – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Matt Leo plays is a defensive end involved with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.
The 30-year-old originally joined the Eagles through the NFL International Player Pathway Program during the 2020 off-season.
The Adelaide native spent the first two years of his career as a member of Philadelphia’s practice squad before finally earning a reserve/futures contract with the team last January.
A futures contract, as explained by Bleacher Report, “is the same as a regular active-roster contract, with the regular rules for minimum veteran salaries, cap charges, signing bonuses”.
The only difference is that it doesn’t take effect until the start of the next league year, meaning the Eagles were able to sign Leo to a futures contract during last year’s playoffs, but the contract didn’t count against the 2021/22 salary cap or 53-man roster limit.
Instead, it counted against the salary cap for the 2022/23 season and towards the 90-man camp limit ahead of this season.
In the meantime, Leo was on the reserve/futures list and couldn’t be signed by any other team.
Unfortunately for the former Iowa State College defensive player, he was subsequently waived by the Eagles at the end of August and then re-signed to Philly’s practice squad the next day.
Although he is yet to take the field for a single play and certainly won’t be suiting up for Monday’s showdown with San Francisco, the former club rugby and Australian rules footballer is still eligible to receive a Super Bowl Ring should the franchise go on to be crowned NFL champions this season.
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