Australian Daniel Faalele is an NFL draft prospect like no other.
Don’t believe us? Ask ProFootballFocuswho says they have “never seen anyone like Daniel Faalele before”.
The 22-year-old is following in the footsteps of fellow Australian Jordan Mailata, also having traveled to America on a journey into the unknown, learning the NFL’s rules on the fly.
Watch Live Coverage of The 2022 NFL Draft with ESPN on Kayo. 29 April – 1 May New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >
But Faalele, who has been tipped as a second or third-round pick in the upcoming draft, has taken his own path towards the NFL.
From playing junior basketball and rugby to the bright lights of American football, this is all you need to know about Faalele’s journey to the upcoming draft.
WHO IS HE?
Faalele was born and raised in Melbourne and grew up playing basketball and rugby. By the time he was 12 years old, Faalele was already 1.8 meters tall and weighed 100 kilograms, according to The Canberra Times. While that obviously comes with advantages on the field, it can also invite unwanted attention. According to The Times, Faalele quit rugby union because he hated injury opposition players when he tackled them. He was also taken from the field during one game because opposition parents believed he was too old. So, if Faalele spent his teenage years playing basketball and rugby union, how exactly was he scouted?
SO IF HE HADN’T PLAYED NFL… HOW WAS HE SCOUTED?
It all started at Conquest Fitness, in southeast Melbourne, where the gym’s director David Tuinauvai introduced Faalele to American football. “I knew as soon as I started teaching them a few things that they had the potential to go and play (American) football, and now these college coaches see what I see and they’re all flying out here,” Tuinauvai told foxsports.com.au back in 2016. University of Hawaii offensive line coach Chris Naeole then heard about Faalele and from there, the Australian went on to attend the University of Michigan satellite camp in Melbourne. Within two months he was at IMG Academy in Florida, which has been described as America’s premier prep football program.
WHAT WERE PEOPLE’S FIRST IMPRESSIONS AT THE IMG ACADEMY?
When Faalele first stepped foot in the Academy, he was standing at 6-foot-9 (206cm) in size 18 shoes and weighing 394 pounds (179kg). Scholarship offers had come in from Arkansas, Fresno State, Hawaii, LSU, Miami, Michigan and Oregon State according to ESPN and Faalele still had not played a game of high school football by that point. “He’s just a freak of nature,” IMG strength coach David Ballou told ESPN. IMG head football coach, Kevin Wright, told ESPN that the “only human I’ve ever met in person who was that size was Shaquille O’Neal”. Fellow IMG Academy teammate Curtis Dunlap said Faalele was built “like a brick wall.” What made Faalele such an exciting prospect was not just his size but how he moved and took advantage of it. “As thick as he is and as big as he is, you wouldn’t expect him to move like he does,” Ballou added. “He’s a powerful dude, but he’s had limited strength background before coming here. From our perspective, his training age is 1. He’s an untapped gem.
HOW DID HE LEARN TO PLAY A SPORT HE HAD NO IDEA ABOUT?
Mailta likened it to being “blindfolded”, chasing his NFL dream in a sport that may as well have been a foreign language. It was a similar experience for Faalele, who had never watched a game of football before he arrived at IMG and did not even know what a yard or first down was. “It was like taking a newborn out of the womb,” IMG offensive line coach Derrick Elder told ESPN. Faalele even turned to the video game ‘Madden’ to learn the rules. “I didn’t know what a first down was or anything,” Faalele told ESPN in 2018. “I didn’t know the positions or what roles they played. That was surprising. Just being around football helped me understand it more.” Faalele was a fast learner though and quickly made an immediate impact on the field, helping the IMG Academy team to an undefeated season in 2017. Faalele went on to play college football at Minnesota, playing in 34 games with 31 starts, all coming at right tackle. The Australian famously scored a touchdown in the final game of his college career against West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. And of course, seeing a big man touchdown set the American sports social media scene alight.
Faalele did not participate in the majority of athletic testing drills at the Combine, although he did put up 24 reps on the bench press. Speaking of benching, Faalele’s arms are so long that he once went to rack the bar only to go over the top of the bench, to which the Vikings strength coach said: “I ain’t ever seen anything like that”.
The Australian also turned heads when he got on the scales though, weighing in at 384 pounds. According to ESPN Stats and Info, it made him the heaviest player at the combine since 2003. Speaking at the Combine, Faalele told reporters he wanted people to know “how athletic I am for my size and how powerful I am”. “Being a bigger body I have longer arms, so just using those intangibles to my advantage,” he added.
Faalele later revealed in March that he has dropped more than 40 pounds (18kg) since first arriving at Minnesota in 2018, when he weighed in at 426 pounds (193kg).
Faalele has been widely tipped by draft experts to either be taken in the second or third round, ranked 49th overall in a host of big boards. He could still fall to the third round though given his lack of playing experience but it would still be an incredible achievement for the Australian. For context, Mailata was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round.
Even still, despite his relative inexperience, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited by the raw potential Faalele offers. “Faalele is a rare dude due to his gargantuan size, brute strength and balanced movements,” The Athletic’s Dane Brugler wrote. “Faalele has only three seasons of football experience under his belt and it shows on tape. But he has balanced footwork and movements for a player with his imposing size and strength and if his technique and awareness of him continue to improve, he will start for a long time in the NFL. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, meanwhile, wrote that Faalele is gifted with “surprisingly nimble feet and athleticism.”