Wicklow native Daniel Whelan is poised to be the first Irishman to play in the NFL in over 40 years. Standing at 6’6’’, 215 pounds, the punter out of the University of California Davis has the prototypical size required for pro football and will be expecting to hear his name called when the draft takes place in a little over 2 months time. Whelan is one of three Irish born punters aiming to make the jump to the professional ranks in the near future. By landing a spot on an NFL roster he will truly have blazed a trail for future Irish players dreaming of American football glory.
Whelan’s prospects for the 2022 edition of the draft are legitimate. He is the 5th ranked punter in the nation, giving him an excellent chance of being selected in the later rounds. His college numbers and credentials speak for themselves: In 151 punt attempts he made a total of 6,523 yards with a long of 67. Averaging 43 yards per punt and only 7 touchbacks, he had 42 punts of 50 yards plus. In short, he has a massive boot! Whelan also doubled up as a kick off specialist, an asset that will add to his draft stock at the end of April. In 2021 he was named to the FCS All America team, and this accolade will surely only further entice one of 32 NFL teams to spend a draft pick on him.
The path he has taken to college football and beyond is a familiar one to both his predecessors and peers.Whelan was born and raised in Enniskerry before emigrating to California in his early teens. The erstwhile outhalf immediately took to “soccer” and was quickly spotted by his high school’s football coach. A natural kicker from his days at outhalf, it’s no surprise that he was recruited to boot at the college level. Sounds familiar right? That’s because it’s more or less the exact same situation that Blackrock college man Ben Kiernan has found himself in in North Carolina!
While his odds of getting selected are looking good, there are no guarantees in the NFL. Not only is it quite rare for a punter to get drafted,they also face stiff competition for roster spots! Quite often, 2 or even 3 players at this position will battle it out in the pre season for a single spot. That being said, a quality punter is a valuable commodity in the modern NFL. Whelan certainly has the pedigree and we would not be surprised to hear his name called on the third day of the draft.
Daniel Whelan may be the first Irishman of our generation to play in the NFL, but he certainly won’t be the last and all of us at Gaelic Gridiron wish him the best of luck as he pursues his dreams!