Why the Bills picked a player in NFL Draft who has never played football: he’s 6-foot-7 and runs a 4.79 second 40-yard dash

Ben Morse, CNN | 4/29/2024, 12:08 p.m.
The transition from rugby to football has proven tough in the past. Jarryd Hayne and Christian Wade both left rugby …
Travis Clayton was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the 221st overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft. Mandatory Credit: Nic Antaya/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

The transition from rugby to football has proven tough in the past. Jarryd Hayne and Christian Wade both left rugby near the peak of their powers to try their hand on the football gridiron, with both failing to make it long term.

Former Welsh international Louis Rees-Zammit will try to make it work with the Kansas City Chiefs this season after switching sports earlier this year.

However, there are some prominent success stories. Jordan Mailata is one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL, having developed into a stalwart on the offensive line for the Philadelphia Eagles after switching from rugby league.

And on Saturday, the Buffalo Bills drafted someone who they hope will have a similar effect as Mailata, despite never having played a snap of football.

With the 221st overall pick and the first pick of the seventh round, the Bills selected Travis Clayton, a former rugby player from the United Kingdom.

From Basingstoke in England, Clayton is one of 16 players in this year’s International Player Pathway program – an NFL scheme which allows athletes from across the globe to try to reach the league.

Clayton has never played in a football game but possesses the raw tools that could translate to play offensive tackle in the league.

He is 6-feet-7-inches and weighs 303 pounds. He can also run a 40-yard dash in 4.79 seconds.

“His measurables are – wow – off the page,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said.

Clayton played for Basingstoke Rugby club, which plays in the Counties 2 Hampshire Division, the eighth tier of English rugby.

The club posted the congratulations to Clayton on X, formerly known as Twitter, after he was drafted, saying: “BUFFALO SOLDIER!! Our man Travis Clayton drafted by the Bills. Proud is an understatement. Basingstoke on the NFL Map! Go smash it Trav!!”

While his experience in the game is limited, Clayton believes his rugby experience will help his transition to a new sport.

“With rugby also being a team sport, I believe that helps tremendously, my team knowledge and what it takes to communicate properly here and in the future, hopefully in the NFL,” Clayton said. “More importantly, playing the wing in rugby helps with the physicality side and with agility and things like that will help.”

According to NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein, Clayton’s future in the league will be dependent on “his toughness and a team’s ability to provide him with the necessary reps to get better at his craft” given his inexperience.

But while there are glaring weaknesses, Zierlein also points to his strengths, saying Clayton is an “above-average athlete with a seven-foot wingspan” and “shuffles and slides with fluidity and clean change of direction.”