Curious Case of Carlin Isles: USA Rugby Star Joins NFL


CLIFTON PARK – We’re skipping the NFL Picks this week because, frankly, my picks this season were not as accurate as I had liked them to be. But what can you do? Sometimes the ball doesn’t roll your way. But sometimes it does and it certainly took a strange bounce in the direction of one, Carlin Isles.

Isles going through drills with the Lions' practice squad.

Isles going through drills with the Lions’ practice squad.

The fastest man in American rugby” joined the Detroit Lions’ practice squad Thursday morning, after a spot cleared up. Isles, now a wide receiver, brings a lot of talent and experience to the table in the NF – but it’s in Rugby 7s…  At 5’8″, Isles has the size to be a prototypical slot receiver. However, what is most attractive about this prospect is his blazing speed. Isles has been previously clocked running a 4.22 40-yard dash, which is comparable to that of Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Unlike recent crossover athletes Hayden Smith and Daniel Adongo, Isles is coming over to the NFL with some football experience. Isles was a prolific kick returner at the Division II Ashland University, holding school records for longest kickoff return touchdown and most kickoff return yardage in a game. Isles kick return skills will bode well for him as he learns the Detroit Lions playbook going into the off-season.

Goodwin is preparing to take on the New England Patriots defense Sunday.

Goodwin is preparing to take on the New England Patriots defense Sunday.

Yet the superlatives for Mr. Isles don’t stop on the pitch; he is also one of the top sprinters in the nation. In 2012, Isles measured as the 36th fastest 100-meter sprinter. Isles’ speed is what caught Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz’s eye.

He’s got great speed,” said Schwartz, according to The Detroit News. “That’s probably the biggest thing. He’s a legit track guy. His background happened to be rugby, but it’s probably more track.”

I mean, you’re looking for athletes. … There are skills you can develop. If you see something you like, you can work with him.

NFL teams are always looking for speed… look at the Buffalo Bills for instance. The Bills used a third-round draft pick this past April to draft University of Texas wide receiver and U.S. Olympian Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin has flourished with Buffalo registering three touchdowns this season, each at least 40-yard receptions.

Carlin Isles could be the Lions’ Marquise Goodwin… or not. Thought?

P.s… The NFL might want to watch this:

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DJ Eberle is easily the largest of the RWU Team; Offensive Tackle Large. In fact, this Albany native played OT for Western New England University until he graduated in 2014. Like Junoir Blaber, he’s moonlights on His Dad played prop with Johnathan Wicklow Barberie and Matt McCarthy – who also in a moonlighter. DJ’s cross to bear, however, is his love for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. There is hope, though, that his genetic inclination for Rugby, will cure him of that! Follow him on Twitter: @DJEberle66

  • He won’t be long in the NFL but it can only make him stronger. That could help the Eagles in the long run.

    • Carlins Big Brother

      welll we have the classic hater move by meet the matts..

      • Why would you say that? We’ve been in his corner from Day One. But the NFL has speed and size and more experience at every position. The field is also smaller and covered by 4 more players. There isn’t the open space like there is in rugby. Look, we’d love to see him make it and make it in a big way – but we’d also love to see him thrive and succeed in rugby if it doesn’t pan out.

      • Grant A Cole

        If you think that is a hater move, you don’t know this website.

        RWU will love on Eagles’ players long past their expiration date.

        Unfortunately for Carlin and the rugby-world, the only way to get him back in Eagles’ kit is to have a coaching change in Chula Vista. Word is that Carlin was told that he needed to find other employment for 2014. Looks to me like Carlin thumbed his nose at his haters and got a job that pays, regardless of

        • Junior

          Grant Cole, RWU’s own Huggy bear!!

    • DJ Eberle

      To a degree I agree with Matt. It’s extremely hard to make it in the NFL, however teams want this guy and with a new coach in Detroit in the coming weeks it could be a perfect opportunity. There are not a lot of players with 4.2 speed in the NFL and that is what makes Carlin special. He could be a diamond in the rough.

      • It won’t be for a lack of hard work. He works hard. Very hard.

  • Junoir Blaber

    He will still be in Vegas so that is good. So Dj I bet the Jets to beat the Fish!

    • Grant A Cole

      Regardless of what he’s said, until USAR announces who was offered and accepted OTC/CV contracts, there remains a question regarding what team he will play with in LVI…

      No one seems to be wondering why, if Hawkins has already made his contract offers (and he has confirmed that he has done so), is the team speedster shopping his options? I could be wrong, but Hawkins’ record of playing Isles indicates to me that Isles is not a first choice for receiving a contract. I do not think Isles will spend 2014 on contract without Melville’s intervention.

      • Junoir Blaber

        It is an awkward position for Polar Bear and USA Rugby. Your most popular player is far from your best player. However, he puts bums in seats, gets clicks and youtube numbers. You have to keep him and develop him would be my guess.

        • oldhooker2@

          From what I saw,he was an anchor. Dumb pnalties, playing out of position, not knowing what to do in pressure… No more excuses. Team has to win and qualify.

        • Grant A Cole

          If a coach is going to develop a player, that coach MUST play that player.

          Everyone knows that Carlin puts in the time to stay fit, to work on his game in practices, to study the game. One thing that stood out about Carlin in Tobago? His time to get up was faster than everyone else, thus his workrate increased. He spent a lot of time working on defense, but he hasn’t learned to exploit the space immediately around a defender AND he hasn’t become an offload threat, yet.

          If Carlin is to be a threat, he needs development. He needs match time and a lot of it. IF Hawkins is made to maintain Isles, he must find a club that Isles can play on through the Summer 7s season and plant him there.

          If Hawkins is not willing to develop Isles, he should just cut his losses and move on. Maybe Isles would take that as a clue to either follow the Craigwell path or move on with his life.

          • One could argue that there is no room/time to “develop” a player on the circuit – especially when an Olympic birth is at stake.

          • Grant A Cole

            Valid Argument.

            So, how does a coach find a way to develop such players when he doesn’t have the time and wherewithal to do so at Chula Vista? ODAs. Fund them. Now.

          • ToughGuy5

            That is the problem any coach in the USA faces. It is amateur hour right now trying to train or teach a player how to play while playing on the highest level. I saw a great point made that Carlin Isles playing rugby was like Michael Jordan playing baseball. Jordan got called up to the White Sox after a cup of coffee with the Triple A Team. Isles should at least have been in Serevi camps anytime he was not with the Eagles.

          • Grant A Cole

            Anyone that hopes to get a toe in the various Eagles/other-NT pools should schedule themselves in as many Serevi camps as they can afford (seriously, fund-raise, crowd-fund, work extra hours, just do something to get there). If you cannot see that as the future selection vehicle for all USAR NTs, then you are blind to any sense of reality.

          • James Walker

            He can pay to go to camps, or he can drop us a line and get full time training and residency. He is from Ohio after all 😉

          • Excellent stuff!

          • John Anderson

            I think Isles is a decent enough athlete that the coaches need to play him (and other crossover players) around the ball more, especially when you take in account his 40m speed and workrate. When you have someone that quick why would you limit his ball touches/game by placing him away from the ball. That a huge risk as we havent really seen isles show us huge standalone plays of defense like he has shown attacking ball in hand. I say put him at 9, let him touch the ball more. Surround him with the best break down winners/defenders possible as you are hoping he has the speed to finish on hisown and might have to support him against bigger/stronger runners until he learns how to use his atheltism in ways to win at the contact area. I know this is a big risk as isles has little rugby experience compared to the competion but if usa wants to beat the big boys we might have to show them a different look. Odds are he has the stamina to play 9 does he have the heart to play 9? If he is willing to do the hard work up close and learn to use his motor to win at thebreakdown from time to time when the opposition is either lazy or holding a poor body position at the contact area isles could be more than just a fast sprinter/football playerthat comes on to score a try or two because his is so fast.

          • NZ does it with Cama and England had great success with Mat Turner at 9… But those two were born with rugby balls in their hands. It would also mean that Carlin would be defending the likes of them. It’s moot now, unfortunately.

  • Carlins Big Brother

    Rugby will never match the NFL. First off there is no money and they treat their best player like trash…

    • James

      Is there any movement on proposals that – briefly – picked up interest on this side of the Atlantic about NFL franchises setting up rugby teams? That’s where the money and interest might come from… Or has it died a death?

      • The NFL seems to be allowing the rugby thing in as the Olympics loom. Not that they’re opportunists!

    • The treatment of players varies greatly outside of the USA and then you have the particular organization’s standard. Some organizations treat their players well, some don’t. The NFL chews players up and spits them out for the most part. Look how they’ve historically treated their retirees. Let’s be honest.

  • The Lions just signed USA Rugby star Carlin Isles:

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