Tuesday, May 28, 2024

NFL contracts anticipated for couple of Irish kickers

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A couple of the Irish kickers who exhibited their skills in Indianapolis on Sunday have put themselves in line for contract offers from NFL teams, according to ex-Connacht rugby player Tadhg Leader, founder of the Leader Kicking initiative.

GAA goalkeeping trio Rory Beggan (Monaghan), Mark Jackson (Wicklow) and Charlie Smyth (Down) competed in the NFL international combine at the Lucas Oil Stadium as part of the international player pathway (IPP), taking 16 kicks each in front of watching NFL scouts, while Tadhg’s brother Darragh, a fellow former Connacht player, was due to participate in punting drills on Monday but has delayed his trials until later in the month due to a slight niggle.

The kickers, who were scattered amongst a range of high-prospect college kickers looking to be included in April’s NFL draft, can be approached at any time by clubs as they are free agents, and as IPP players would be the 17th man in practice squads otherwise limited to 16. Sunday night’s showing – although not perfect – didn’t hurt their chances.

Galway native Tadhg Leader, who launched Leader Kicking in 2022 with the aim of bringing through and developing a wave of Irish kicking talent that could potentially make it in American football, told RTÉ Sport’s Darren Frehill that he is confident offers will be winging their way towards some members of the Irish quartet.

“This is an event that every single kicker and punter in America wanted to be at. Only seven and five (of each position) got invited and we were part of that group, so the boys held their own which was what I expected but I also hadn’t done this before in that competitive environment,” he said.

“So it was a huge amount of nerves. We actually got off to shaky enough start. We missed a kick, three lads, earlier than we would have expected to inside very kickable range.

“But then we found a huge sense of rhythm where each of them went through and banked six out of six between 30 and 50 yards.”

All 32 NFL teams had scouts and representatives present and from the feedback Leader received, the Irish, who had used a February training camp at Florida’s IMG Academy as preparation, made an impression and that has forced a change of travel plans.

“The general consensus was ‘Wow, you guys are competing against the best of the best, you didn’t look out of place on that field,'” he said.

“A couple of NFL teams came over to me pretty quickly afterwards and said ‘We’re quite interested in your guys’.

“So initially the plan was to fly them back to Ireland tomorrow but as a result of all the interest we got, we decided we’re going to keep them down in Florida for another three weeks because the expectation is teams are going to fly them into their facilities for medicals, for interviews, for workouts.

“So, pretty mad thing to say, but I think a couple of the lads are going to be getting signed to contracts in the next two to six weeks. Potentially sooner but that’s the usual timeline for these things. Very real, it’s gotten very real.

“Talking about lads from Monaghan, Down, Wicklow and Galway dealing directly with NFL teams is mad.

“Rory Beggan looked extremely composed, Charlie Smyth and Mark took a kick or two to find their rhythm but once they found it, they hit really impressive kicks, which again was articulated by the NFL staff to me.”

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