So, a 6’-9” rugby player walks into the Steelers’ practice facility and says...
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. No? Me neither.
Thanks to the NFL’s International Player Pathway program, the Steelers get to carry a 91st player on their off-season roster, with the addition of former British rugby player Christian Scotland-Williamson, who dwarfs everyone on the roster except offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Finally, the enormous tackle has someone with whom he truly sees eye-to-eye in the most literal sense.
The question, of course, is what do you do with the guy?
For starters, don’t tick him off. The 800-pound gorilla rule sort of applies in his case. He sits wherever he darned-well pleases. If you ever doubt why, just Google videos of him, then hold onto your jock strap while you repeat this thought in your spinning head: rugby players don’t wear pads.
Of course, it’s fair to ask whether rugby players even make good American footballers. The games are quite different despite their obvious similarities, and the mindsets are generally different, too. The ball is different. The equipment is different. The positions are different.
Rugby players are more of a generalized lot. Everyone has a specific role of course, but all players are both defenders and attackers. In this way, rugby is often viewed as a bit of a cross between American football and soccer. This is where it starts to muddy the waters.
The video of Scotland-Williamson you will undoubtedly find with ease is one of him making a full-speed, picture-perfect tackle that not only stopped his opponent stone-cold, but also drove him backward about six feet. In that way, he seems like a good defender. But, at 280 pounds, he doesn’t fit anywhere on defense. He’s not particularly fast — one video has him unofficially timed as running a 5.03-second 40-yard dash. That rules out linebacker, and relatively low weight and undoubtedly high center of gravity means he will likely lack the leverage to play on the defensive line. We already see this problem a lot with 6’-6” nose tackle Daniel McCullers.
Offensively, he’s certainly undersized to play on the line, and far too tall to be an effective back. That leaves him with with tight end, a position for which he actually has a nearly ideal build. To top it off, as a long-time rugby player, he certainly has proven he has no qualms about engaging with someone, meaning he already has a leg up on the Steelers’ other tight ends when it comes to blocking. Whether he can get the technique — and his center of gravity — down is another matter altogether.
From the sound of it, the Steelers already plan to use him as a tight end this off-season and, probably, into training camp. He’s an intriguing prospect there, to be sure, due to his combination of height and his lean muscular build. Still, the lack of speed is already a detriment. Oh, and that same video on which his unofficial 40-yard dash time is called out also shows him dropping a number of easy passes, and without the plays being contested or even defended in any way. He definitely has a lot to work on.
Still, anyone who expected him to make the roster this year is probably fooling himself, anyway. The Steelers already have Jesse James, Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble, and they will likely pull out all the stops to find a position for Jaylen Samuels, given his versatility. That pretty much leaves Scotland-Williamson on the outside looking in.
Maybe that’s a very good thing.
Grimble hasn’t panned out as the player many hoped he’d be, and the acquisition of McDonald before the 2017 season started showed the team feels largely the same way. This is pretty much a prove-it season for Grimble. But it also means there will be no pressure on a guy like Scotland-Williamson to make the roster and contribute. It’s more than likely the behemoth will end up on the practice squad, at best. That means he could have an entire season in the system, learning and improving every day, with the ultimate possibility of replacing Grimble in 2019. He’ll have other competition as well in fellow undrafted free agent Pharaoh McKever and also Jake McGee, who have played tight end a lot longer. But, if he can prove he belongs in the NFL, Scotland-Williamson could find himself on an NFL roster a year from now.