Welsh Rugby Star Rees-Zammit Ready To Make Mark On NFL

Wales rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit is seeking to play in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by stede64. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license).

On the rugby pitch, Louis Rees-Zammit is a dynamic presence. The Welsh winger’s combination of pace, explosiveness and shifty open-field moves make him a threat to score a try every time he puts his hands on the ball. It enabled him to be a sensational presence for Gloucester, Wales and the British Lions. 

Will these skills transfer to the football fields of the NFL? We’re about to find out. 

Over the winter, Rees-Zammit, 23, shocked the rugby world when he announced he was leaving behind the game to have a go at making the grade in American football. And Rees-Zammit is set to start out right at the top level. He signed a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs are the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, the best team in the entire league. In Super Bowl future book wagering at the best online sportsbooks, the Chiefs are currently the second betting choice to win next season’s NFL championship for what would be an unprecedented third successive year. Only the San Francisco 49ers, the team the Chiefs beat in the most recent Super Bowl game, are given shorter odds than Kansas City.

Could Rees-Zammit be a difference-maker in helping the Chiefs to be third-time lucky on Super Bowl Sunday? Certainly, the braintrust in Kansas City thinks this is a path worth investigating.

Rees-Zammit Part Of International Pathway Program

Philadelphia Eagles lineman Jordan Malaita is the most famous graduate of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program (IPPP) (Photo by All-Pro Reels. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license).

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Rees-Zammit will be given all the time he requires to make the transition from rugby player to NFLer. He is auditioning for his new role via the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program (IPPP).

The NFL instituted this program in an effort to increase the number of players from outside the United States or Canada who are playing in the NFL. The program was formed as part of the NFL’s strategy to grow the game globally, while also providing non-football playing athletes with the opportunity to play in the league. The NFL’s aim is to increase the pool of talent and ultimately drive global fan growth.

To be eligible to participate in the program, it’s necessary for athletes to meet a number of requirements. They can’t be older than 24 and must be at least four years beyond their high school days. As well, no one in the program can have played American football at a US college. They also need the ability to speak fluent English, cannot be a citizen of the US or Canada and must be available and eligible to travel to the US for two months from the first week in March.

The most famous graduate of the IPPP is Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Jordan Malaita. The Australian rugby league player entered the IPPP in 2018. After seeing him working in the program, the Eagles elected to select Malaita 233rd overall in the seventh and final round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

By 2021, Malaita was the starting left tackle for the Eagles. That’s the most important position along the offensive line, because they are protecting the quarterback’s blind side from a pass rushing assault. In 2024 Malaita signed a $68-million contract extension that will keep him with the Eagles through the 2028 season. He’s the third-highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. 

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Rees-Zammit Seen As Difference Maker

NFL scouts see Rees-Zammit ultimately filling a skill position role in Kansas City, taking advantage of the same speed that helped him play 31 test matches for Wales and to score five tries during the 2023 Rugby World Cup. He’s being eyed with the potential to play at running back or wide receiver, as well as utilizing his elusiveness and breakaway speed to be a game breaker as a kick return man.

He’s already gaining his first taste of NFL competition by participating in the Chiefs’ official Organized Team Activities, a prelude to the club’s training camp.

“OTA’s have been unbelievable for me because I get live reps on the field and that’s what I need,” Rees-Zammit told Starcade Media. “These past few weeks have been great for me, my learning and my development.

“Obviously, I’ve never played this sport before, so (it’s) being able to get the reps with the boys, being able to see how they play, how I can get myself involved in the game. The kickoff return, that’s going to be massive for me, being an option there. There’s a lot of similarities with rugby and kickoff return.”

Not Ruling Out Return To Rugby

While he’s pursuing his NFL dream, Rees-Zammit isn’t ruling out the possibility that one day, he’ll be back on a rugby pitch. 

“It could be quite soon (that he ends up going back to rugby) but I fully believe I can make this work,” Rees-Zammit told Sky Sports. “If I had any doubt in my head that I couldn’t do this then I wouldn’t be here, simple as that.

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“I believe in my ability, I believe in myself and I’m fully focused and raring to show people what I can do.”

He’s still just as passionate as always about rugby, but Rees-Zammit simply saw the NFL as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He’s excited by the challenge that is ahead for him.

“I definitely didn’t fall out of love with rugby,” Rees-Zammit said. “It was just a decision of when is the perfect time to do it, and me being 23 now I think it’s the perfect time to be able to learn a new sport and there are a lot of transferable skills I can take into this sport.

“I think now was just the perfect opportunity to do it.”

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