Buffalo Bills take a chance on English rugby player Travis Clayton with their last pick in NFL draft


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — English rugby player turned offensive tackle prospect Travis Clayton was ready to join his International Pathway Program classmates on the NFL draft stage in Detroit on Saturday, when suddenly his agent came running from behind to hand him a cell phone.

A frantic and joyous minute later, Clayton had the stage all to himself after being selected by the Buffalo Bills with the 221st pick in the seventh round.

“It was all a bit of a blur, but luckily I managed to get on stage in time, dragged left, right and center,” a still breathless Clayton said with a Bills cap on his head during a Zoom call. “I hope I did it right on stage.”

The 23-year-old Clayton has a head start on many of his Pathway Program 2024 classmates, who took part in a 10-week training camp-type workout in Florida this winter.

Rather than being allocated to a team by the NFL or sign as an undrafted rookie, Clayton became the program’s second player to be selected in the draft. He joined Canadian Giovanni Manu, who was chosen earlier in the day by the Detroit Lions with the 126th pick.

At 6-foot-76 and 303 pounds, the 23-year-old Clayton has long been into athletics, having taken up rugby and boxing, and dabbled in soccer, rowing and tennis growing up, before drawing the line on a chance to try skeleton.

“I didn’t really fancy going head-first on a train down a skip slope, so I actually declined that,” he said with a laugh.

American has been on his radar since 2019, when he took part in the NFL Academy.

“I love the physical side of things. Being on the offensive line, being able to take your anger out on people legally, it’s great,” he said. “I can just use my strength to my abilities.”

Clayton landed on the Bills radar after sending one of their scouts to take in the Pathway Program workouts. Soon after, Bills offensive line coach Aaron Kromer was studying a tape of Clayton, and forwarded it to general manager Brandon Beane.

“He was like, ‘Man, this guy’s athletic. Obviously, raw,’” Beane said of Kromer’s reaction, which eventually led to Buffalo using its ninth and final pick on Clayton.

“You know, I’ve never seen him really, truly play ,” Beane said. “But I know he was a rugby player, boxing and by all accounts a great young man. And his measurables are wowing off the page.”

The Bills can take a patient approach in developing Clayton.

For the first time this season, each team will have a 17th roster spot on the practice squad specifically available for an international player. Teams also are permitted to promote an international practice squad player to the active roster a maximum of three times throughout the season — increasing opportunities for players to develop and get a chance to play.

“We’re excited. Obviously he’s going to be raw. And, you know, this will be new to the game. But, really, his workout was impressive,” Beane said.

Of the 37 international players who have been allocated or signed with teams since 2017, five have made the active roster. They include Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, who has started 57 games in four seasons.

Clayton said he wasn’t aware of the Bills interest in him until they called.

“I didn’t have visits with the Bills, but look, it’s the NFL, man. Buffalo came to me. Buffalo wanted me. I’m just ready to work,” he said. “I don’t think it’s really going to kick in yet until I actually get to Buffalo. But at the moment, it’s a world of emotions going on right now. It’s crazy.”

He referred to adapting to American to learning a new language.

“I always had the dream of playing in the NFL. So hearing to get my name called out, that’s the main goal. That’s exactly what I wanted,” Clayton said. “There is a lot of steps still to be done, but the first step is a big one I’ve done. It’s a blessing.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl



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