The Arizona Cardinals should look in an unlikely place to add talent to the roster.
The NFL’s annual International Pathway Program has given players and teams an opportunity to add talent to their rosters with little risk to other players as it allows teams to add a coveted extra spot to their practice squad to retain an international prospect. Although the Arizona Cardinals haven’t taken advantage of the program yet, they could look to do so in 2019 as this year’s crop offers two intriguing names.
Just two days ago, in Tampa Bay, seven foreign players came from far and wide to impress NFL scouts. However, nobody turned heads as much as two former rugby stars named Christian Wade and Valentine Holmes.
27-year-old Christian Wade gave up his career as a wing (typically the player that scores most) in the top-ranked British League in October of 2018 to pursue a career in the NFL. While he stands at just 5-8, 190-pounds, the former rugby star is one of the more intriguing international prospects in recent memory.
Wade is likely to play at either running back or slot receiver in the NFL, and could also handle return duties. Per Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com, Wade, in a best-case scenario projects as a similar talent to Bears’ running back Tarik Cohen and Chiefs’ wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
Wade has earned high-praise amongst league circles due to his explosive play, elusiveness, balance, and quick hands. Due to his rugby background, his toughness isn’t in question either. While his 4.53 second 40-yard-dash isn’t eye-popping, his play-speed, and ability to reach his top-gear in a jiffy is.
Wade, along with Holmes, has been training at the famed IMG Academy in Florida to learn the nuances of the game including footwork, adding to his route-tree, and general football intelligence.
Despite Wade’s lack of football experience, it may be difficult to pass taking a shot at a player that’s scored 487 points for the Wasps Rugby Club, even if he needs a season of practice squad development.
The next player, Valentine Holmes may be just as impressive as his slippery counterpart. But at only 23 years old, he may project as a more intriguing long-term option.
Not only does Holmes best Wade in age, but he also recorded a faster 4.45 second 40-yard-dash, and weighs in at a lean 6-1, 190-pounds. Like Wade, he turned down the opportunity to continue to solidify his status as a rugby legend in Australia’s premier league NRL to pursue an NFL dream in November of 2018.
Per Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com, Holmes emulates his play after Panthers’ versatile running back Christian McCaffrey. In the NRL, Holmes played the part of fullback, meaning he was essentially the last line of defense and returned kicks on offense. Like Wade, he’s hoping to earn a shot as either a running back, slot wide receiver, or returner.
As you can see in the clip above, Holmes isn’t afraid of contact and is an incredibly explosive athlete. His size, athletisism, and youthfulness alone may make him a more attractive prospect than Wade. However, like most rugby to NFL converts, he’s still learning how to play the game of football.
To be clear, while both of the mentioned prospects may earn a spot on the Arizona Cardinals, they aren’t a guarantee. However, the potential to be productive isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Wade and Holmes are both unbelievable athletes with successful track-records in high-tier rugby leagues.
Nonetheless, it’s worth mentioning if neither of the two is signed to an NFL roster, they will be assigned to an AFC East team as the previous Super Bowl-winning division gets priority on international prospects.