A couple of months ago, I put out an article picking out which NFL players I would choose to make a rugby starting XV. That got me to thinking about how many rugby players have transitioned over to football and made it to the highest of heights: the NFL.
Here is a look at NFL players who came from rugby backgrounds, proving that the transition is certainly doable:
Grew up playing rugby in South Africa before becoming one of the all-time great NFL kickers for two decades for the Steelers, Eagles, 49ers, Vikings, and Titans.
Won three high school national championships with Highland Rugby Club in Utah before playing football at the University of Nebraska, and then seven years in the NFL as a linebacker with the Eagles, the Cardinals, and the Broncos.
Played rugby in his native New Zealand before picking up football in college at Arizona State University. Went on to have an 11 year career in the NFL at guard, primarily with the Minnesota Vikings.
Most rugby fans in the United States are well familiar with Ebner. The former collegiate rugby player for Ohio State walked on to the football team and has since been a staple for the Patriots over the last decade. He now plays for the New York Giants, and also played for the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The big English center/No. 8 played in the Premiership for Newcastle and the London Irish, as well as for the England 7s team, before coming overseas to tryout for the NFL. He made it on to the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad in 2017 through the NFL International Players Pathway program, and has been on the practice squad since.
The big man from BYU grew up playing rugby in New Zealand before joining BYU to join the rugby squad there. He then joined the football team and eventually made it onto the Chicago Bears, where he played for two seasons, starting in 10 games for the Bears. He now has returned to rugby, starting at center for both the United States and for the Harlequins in the English Premiership.
Ngata played football growing up, but he was also a great rugby player as well. He was a high school rugby player in Utah for Highland Rugby Club, leading them to the national championship game, as well as a top level football recruit. He went on to play at the University of Oregon and has since had a Hall of Fame worthy career in the NFL, mainly with the Baltimore Ravens and is one of the best nose tackles of this millennium.
Born in New Zealand and growing up in Tonga, Paea was an avid rugby player with aspirations to play for the All Blacks one day. His family, however, moved to the United States and there he picked up football. He went on to play collegiately for Oregon State, and then played six years in the NFL for the Bears, Redskins, Browns, and Cowboys as a defensive tackle.
The English second row forward played in the Premiership for Worcester from 2014-2017 before a tackle of his went viral, prompting him to try out for the NFL. Through International Players Pathway program, he found a spot on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad, and is still there today.
The Australian grew up playing basketball, and came to play collegiately in the U.S. at Metro State in Colorado. He picked up rugby union there while trying to stay fit, and instantly became a star in the U.S. He was picked up by the Saracens in England, where he played for seven years, and tried out for the NFL in 2012. He made it as a tight end on the New York Jets, playing one season for the franchise.
Growing up in American Samoa, Sopoaga played rugby in his youth, as well as starring in basketball, baseball, and football too. He played collegiate football at the University of Hawaii before embarking on a ten year NFL career, primarily with the San Fransisco 49ers as a nose guard.
Tardits was a French Junior National Team rugby player growing up, but eventually walked on at the University of Georgia as a defensive end on the football team. Nicknamed "Le Sack", he had the most career sacks at Georgia until his record was finally broken 15 years later in 2004. He played three years in the NFL for the New England Patriots.
Wade is the fourth all-time leading try-scorer in the English Premiership, and after eight years with Wasps, he decided to give the NFL a crack. He landed on the Buffalo Bills offseason squad and made some huge impressions in the preseason with long runs. He was on the practice squad in 2019 but will continue to fight for a spot on the full roster for 2020.