Could Christian Wade really succeed in the NFL?
November 28 2018
Christian Wade, the wing renowned for his blistering pace, acceleration and agility, has scored 82 tries for Wasps since breaking into the club’s senior side in 2011, making him the third-most prolific try-scorer in Premiership history ..
Despite that longevity and success however, Wade only has one England cap to his name, when as a 22-year-old he made his test debut in a 32-3 victory over Argentina in June 2013.
Now 27, it may be that lack of national recognition is the reason Wade will leave the game behind. Last week, the winger dramatically walked out of Wasps with the intention of pursuing a career in the NFL.
Wade is reported to have fallen ‘out of love’ with rugby and those in the know – including former England international Ugo Monye and all-time record try scorer Tom Varndell – feel that the Slough-born player is making the move in part due to a lack of appreciation, which – if true – is a damning indignity to England and rugby as a whole as it loses one it’s brightest talents.
Whilst still at his athletic peak, Wade wants to try his considerable physical attributes in a new discipline and he clearly possesses the speed and footwork required to excel in gridiron, potentially as a running back or wide receiver.
The question however, is that while Wade does perhaps have a 5-10 year window remaining to make hay as an elite athlete, can anyone so deep into their twenties take up an entirely new sport and succeed at the highest level? Sure Rugby and the NFL share parallels, but they are fundamentally different disciplines.
Conor McGregor found out last year that even a high-level mixed-martial-artist can’t just adapt to the nuances of the professional boxing ring. Former boxing world champion James Toney found the reverse to be just as true, while Usain Bolt’s venture into soccer from sprinting has been restricted to a certain level and even then screams more of a media attraction rather than a serious sporting endeavour.
There are also examples that provide a direct comparison to Wade’s case.
Former Newcastle Falcons, London Irish, and Yorkshire Carnegie centre Alex Gray became the first Englishman to join the NFL’s International Player Pathway program – the route that Wade aims to take into American Football prominence – in 2017. He signed with the Atlanta Falcons as a tight end for the practice squad after attending try-outs, but now in his second season in Georgia the 27-year-old remains resigned to being a practice player and is ineligible to be selected for the main squad’s 53-man roster.
NFL rules state that a player can only be a member of the practice squad for up to three years before joining the roster or be released, so while Gray still has some time, the clock is ticking for him to make his break in American football.
Former Saracens lock Hayden Smith had a short-lived stint with the New York Jets before returning to his old union side and former Worcester Warriors player Christian Scotland-Williamson is a member of the same program that Gray followed, but remains a practice squad member at the Pittsburgh Steelers. If Wade is looking for inspiration however, then maybe he can look to rugby league.
Australian Jordan Mailata made the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles this season in first year since switching from Sydney Rabbitohs and in 2015, Jarryd Hayne enjoyed fleeting success with the San Francisco 49ers, although he too returned to league after the 49ers waived the chance to re-sign him for a second season.
The difference though is that at 100kg+ Hayne is a much larger athlete than Wade, which convinced NFL selectors at the time to give him a chance. Mailata meanwhile is still just 21 years of age, six years younger than Wade and therefore seen to have much more upside potential.
If there was a union player who’d you expect to make an NFL switch then it would surely be Wade, but the odds are stacked against him pulling it off.
In Wade’s absence, the odds on Wasps winning the Premiership are 12/1 across bookmaker sites like William Hill and Ladbrokes.
The Wasps are currently priced at long odds of 50/1 at Bet365 to with their pool outright and there are plenty of free bet offers from Bet365 available on the cup for new and existing customers if you fancy a punt.pqs: qs:
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