05/03/2024

With the NFL Season imminently approaching, The Inner Sanctum examines which Australians are putting the pads on and what we can expect from them in 2023.

Jordan Mailata

The most expensive Australian in NFL history, Jordan Mailata, is suiting up for his 4th season, just a year removed from a Super Bowl debut.

The hulking offensive tackle was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with Pick 233 in the 2018 NFL Draft, making him just the second player to be drafted without any US High School or College Football experience.

Philadelphia boasts one of the best offensive lines in the league, with a core featuring Jason Kelce (6x Pro Bowl appearances) & Lane Johnson (4x Pro Bowl). Mailata was a Pro Bowl alternate last year.

The former Rugby League player is also quite the talented singer, featuring on ‘The Masked Singer’. Additionally, during the 2022 off-season, Mailata contributed to the Christmas Album, ‘ A Philly Special Christmas’. 

Mailata’s chief role is protecting Jalen Hurts, who finished 2nd in MVP voting in 2022. Hurts signed $255 million over 5 years, which (at the time) was the most expensive contract in NFL history.

Mailata is a key player on a team who are intent on reaching the Super Bowl, and making amends for their loss to reigning MVP and Finals MVP Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs.

Mailata and the Eagles begin their season on Monday, September 11 @ 6:25 am AEST.

Lou Hedley

What do Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Peel Thunder, Scaffolding & Bali’s Rosemarrie Tattoo have in common?

Lou Hedley.

The newest Australian in the NFL, Hedley’s years-long journey has culminated in New Orleans after being named to the Saints’ 53-man roster, after beating out former starter Blake Gillkin.

Like many, Hedley’s kicking chops come from playing AFL, yet, his aspirations only got him as far as the WAFL, representing Peel Thunder.

Unlike many who don’t make it to the professional level, Hedley’s story is much more than a failed AFL footballer. Hedley had dropped out of school in Year 11, amassing work as a scaffolder and earning some nice coin whilst doing so.

Hedley took his talents to Bali, Indonesia, where he furthered a significant passion of his, tattooing. Rosemarrie Tattoo became Hedley’s home, life, and work, as he bought the tattoo shop with a close friend.

Despite his life of tattooing and surfing, Hedley still had that itch to play professional sport. His AFL dream was lifeless, so he reached out to ProKick, a pipeline that scouts Aussie kickers and gets them into US college programs.

Hedley found his way to the University of Miami, where he got the support of Hurricanes alum, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, after honouring The Rock’s #94 and making it his own.

Hedley’s Saints should be a competitive team in 2023, competing in a relatively weak NFC South and having added QB Derek Carr (4x Pro Bowl).

Lou Hedley will make his debut against the Tennesee Titans, on Monday, September 11 at 3am AEST.

More US Sports News:

NBL heads back to the NBA for pre-season

Aussie NBA talent played Melbourne United at training camp

How the NHL video game series helped Rhinos goaltender Jase Polglase develop his skills

Daniel Faalele

Representing Baltimore is the colossal Daniel Faalele who enters his sophomore season attempting to lockdown a starting role in the Ravens’ O-Line.

Listed at over 170kg (380lb), Faalele became the NFL’s heaviest player when selected by Baltimore in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Faalele featured in 16 games for the Ravens in his rookie year, featuring in mostly Special Teams snaps. Faalele made the most of his single start, allowing zero sacks in 43 snaps against the Buffalo Bills.

In Faalele’s way on the depth chart is Ronnie Stanley (1x Pro Bowl) and Morgan Moses (93.43% of offensive snaps played in 2022). Despite this, G Ben Powers (100% of offensive snaps) has moved to Denver, so if reshuffling is to occur, Faalele won’t be far back in line.

Notably, Faalele has been used elsewhere on-field before. In his final game of his college career, Faalele ran two yards to score his first-ever touchdown.

I think I’d rather have been anywhere else in the world than in Faalele’s path.

Faalele’s 15% of snaps in 2022, should see an uptick in 2023 following another pre-season, and as the Ravens build around their franchise QB, Lamar Jackson, they’ll need to build a successful O-Line around him.

Baltimore will be in a very competitive AFC North, yet with some new weapons at Wide Receiver, including OBJ, they’ll be looking to make a Super Bowl push.

Faalele and the Ravens begin their season Monday, September 11 at 3am AEST.

Michael Dickson

A modern-day punting legend, Dickson enters year six with Seattle, which looks to build on its first round playoff loss.

The definition of instant impact, Dickson was the first rookie punter to make the Pro Bowl since 1985, and has only built on that year since.

Dickson is the All-Time Leader for Yards per Punt (YPP) with 47.6 and is yet to have a season below 45ypp in his illustrious career.

Not to forget, but Dickson also has one of the best Special Teams highlights in recent memory, with the ‘Double Punt’ now in Seahawks lore.

AFL-esque to a tee, the smother, the pick-up & banana-type of hack kick ended up pinning L.A. back to their 20-yard line.

Dickson is one of the longest tenured Seahawks on the active roster, only behind WR Tyler Lockett & LB Bobby Wagner.

In the same division as the 49ers, the Seahawks are looking like a potential wildcard team, yet if Geno Smith can take another leap, this team could be pushing the upper echelon of the competition.

Dickson and Seattle’s season begins Monday, September 11 at 6:25 am AEST.

Adam Gotsis

Adam Gotsis is entering the eighth year of his NFL career, thus making him the longest-serving Australian currently playing in the NFL.

Gotsis will enter his fourth year with Jacksonville, after spending four years in Denver, where he was selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, with Pick 63.

Gotsis has been a serviceable player throughout his career, but has spent some valuable time in Jacksonville, serving as a valuable reserve lineman during his tenure for the Jags.

Contracted through to 2024, Gotsis will be looking to build on his solid performances in recent years, despite his lesser minutes.

Gotsis had career-highs for QB Hits in 2022 & Tackles For Loss in 2021, including this play on a baby Joe Burrow.

The Jaguars, let by Trevor Lawrence (Pro Bowl debut in 2022) could potentially sweep a poor AFC South, as they look to make playoffs in back-to-back years.

Gotsis and the Jaguars’ season begins on Monday, September 11 at 3am AEST.

Mitch Wishnowsky

Pro Football Reference lists players’ nicknames on their profile, and frankly, ‘Boomin’ Onion’ might be one of the best going. Mitch ‘Boomin’ Onion’ Wishnowsky will enter year five of his NFL career, once more with the San Fransisco 49ers.

Wishnowsky has been one of the most reliable players during his time with the 49ers, having never missed a game. Wishnowsky also holds the honour of being the first Australian to ever score a point in an NFL game.

Wishnowsky’s score came in the one and only game he’s been required to kick in. An injury to Robbie Gould forced Wishnowky into the role, he made 1/2 extra points and missed a 41-yard field goal.

It’s worth noting that the current kicker, Jake Moody, will likely miss the start of the regular season, requiring the 49ers to look elsewhere for a starting kicker. Wishnowsky hasn’t exactly staked the best claim to the spot, despite his ability by foot.

His kicker role might be questionable, but what can’t be questioned is his ability to stick a tackle.

You can take the boy out of the AFL, but not the AFL out of the boy.

As referenced, the 49ers are one of the best teams in the NFC, and should likely cruise to back-to-back divisional championships. The big question is whether they can jump the team that hurdled them last year, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wishnowsky and the 49ers’ season begins Monday, September 11 at 3am AEST.

Cameron Johnston

Since moving to the Texans in 2021, Johnston has established himself as one of the best punters in the league, making the most of the volume in Houston.

Johnston started his career in Philadelphia, spending three years in ‘The City of Brotherly Love’ before being replaced by fellow countryman, Arryn Siposs. Siposs remained the chief punter in Philly for two seasons, before being cut to the practice squad at the 53-man squad deadline just gone.

Due to Houston’s poor performance in the last two seasons, Johnston has been called upon plenty, he led the NFL for total punting yards in 2021 and led the AFC for punts inside the 20 in 2022.

Johnston has been uber-effective with these punts, as he is 3rd for Yards per Punt All-Time (47.2), and if you needed further proof he could nuke a football, this bomb is from his time in Philly.

Unfortunately for Johnson, a pulled calf has forced him onto the Injured Reserve, and thus he’ll miss the first four games of the season.

Houston will likely be a bottom-dweller once again this season, with the 2nd Pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, C.J. Stroud. leading the way.

The Houston Texans begin their season Monday, September 11 at 3am AEST.

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