Sevens star Perry Baker, who moved from American Football to rugby union, has warned Christian Wade he faces one of sport’s toughest challenges to break into the National Football League.
Wade has quit Premiership club Wasps to try and forge a career in the NFL and while his switch has yet to be officially confirmed, RugbyPass has been assured the 27-year-old England and British and Irish Lions wing has turned his back on union.
Wade is third in the all-time Premiership try-scorers list with 82 tries and follows fellow rugby union players Alex Gray and Christian Scotland-Williamson who are also trying to crack American football via the NFL’s international player pathway programme.
Baker, the reigning World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year, was signed as a wide receiver by the Philadelphia Eagles in July 2011, but he suffered a knee injury that cut short his NFL career. Baker then played two seasons for the Pittsburgh Power in the Arena Football League before switching to rugby union and setting the Sevens circuit alight.
The USA Sevens flyer believes moving from the NFL to rugby union is easier than making the journey Wade, 5ft 8ins and 185lbs, is about to start as he is joining a more complicated game with hundreds of college players also looking to break into the big time who Wade will have to eclipse to earn a lucrative NFL contract.
Baker said: “I think it is harder to go from rugby union to football than the other way around.
“The problem coming over to the NFL is the understanding of the league and the play-book. The speed of the game plus the knowledge of the play-book and reading a defensive set up are the things that could hinder him. Christian will be up against a lot of college players coming into the game next season along with guys who get cut from their current team and are looking for new contracts.
“Everyone believes they can make it but it is so hard to get that opportunity to join a 53 strong roster for one of the NFL teams. So, it would be a huge achievement just to make the practise team because they won’t know anything about him in America. There are a lot of hurdles to clear just to get a chance.
“The playbook is a huge mass of data and it is added to every week with new ideas to deal with the defence in the next game. There are so many plays in each game and you have to study them all the time and that is why team’s have so many meetings in the week – a ton of them. You are constantly writing in your notepad, studying all the moves. Not having been part of a pre-season is really tough for Christian and there will be a lot of catching up to be done.
“If you are an attacker playing wide then you are X in the play-book and if you are on the inside then you are Y. You have to know what each call for a receiver is because there may be a block to be made. It is so different man!”
Another skill Wade will have to develop is the ability to read a play while it is in motion to cater for unexpected pressure on the quarterback who then has to change the call on the run. Wade has already worked with a speed coach to develop his footwork on a recent holiday in America to try and bring him up to speed for this dramatic change of career which will involve running in a helmet and padding.
Baker added: “Timing is crucial and when a quarterback drops back five steps then you need to be at a certain point in your run. If the quarterback is having to scramble then you have to be prepared to react; if you are running a shallow route then you may have to go deep or visa versa, you come back to shorten the throw.
“In rugby there aren’t the kind of complicated calls you get in football with the quarterback calling “YZ22” and that means you have to pick up whoever is Y, Z and 22. If a quarterback sees something different on defence he can suddenly switch from a running play to a throw and it is up to you to know what your route will be. Rugby doesn’t have an audible in the middle of a play.
“He will have the skills of running with the ball and to beat a defender while in the NFL you also get guys blocking tacklers for you. Getting the game understanding is a problem because team don’t wait for you and that means you have to catch up very quickly. They may be just bringing Christian in to do the tests for the NFL.”
Watch the Heineken Champions Cup Final live on RugbyPass throughout Asia and Australia.