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MLR 2021 Draft: Naposki #1 of Five Dallas Picks

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MLR 2021 Draft: Naposki #1 of Five Dallas Picks

Eric Naposki is the #1 pick. David Barpal photo.

Fullback Eric Naposki, a four-year starter at UCLA, was the No. 1 overall selection by the expansion Dallas Jackals in tonight’s second-ever Major League Rugby Collegiate Draft.

This was a surprise pick as conventional wisdom leaned toward higher picks being, mostly, forwards, with one or two inside backs as well. Naposki, as a fullback/wing, and an excellent one at that, bucked that notion.

Naposki, 22, represented the USA Men’s U23 side at the Rugbytown 7s has also been a multiple time Collegiate All-American in both sevens and 15s, as well as a high school All-American. The fullback also started for the LA Giltinis Academy.

“I am extremely excited to be a part of the Dallas Jackals,” Naposki said. “Dallas is a great city, a big sports town, and I have always been a fan of starting from the ground-up in my career. I am excited that it is a new team coming into the league and we get the opportunity to make a splash, like the LA Giltinis did this year, and it will be an exciting experience to hopefully get Dallas to do that as well.”

The Houston SaberCats selected Lindenwood University flanker/lock and Rudy Scholz Award-winner Emmanuel Albert with the second pick. Saint Mary's center Tavite Lopeti was taken #3 by the Seattle Seawolves. Logan Martin-Feek, University of Victoria, went fourth to the Toronto Arrows as the first-ever Canadian collegiate athlete selected in the MLR Draft. The event included three rounds of picks, for a total of 39 collegiate athletes headed to MLR.

“The future of Major League Rugby took another significant step forward tonight with the addition of 39 very talented young players to our league,” said George Killebrew, Major League Rugby Commissioner. “Congratulations to Eric Naposki from UCLA on being the first pick. We are thrilled to see so many young players from across North America selected in tonight’s draft.”

Dallas didn't stop with the surprises, choosing Queens University No. 8 Decor Davis, a powerful but not-tall loose forward with potential, another outside back in Kutztown wing Aaron Gray, Thomas More College flyhalf Alejandro Torres, and University of Memphis center Calvin Gentry. Dallas traded for two additional picks. Again, most would expect a new team to draft a majority of forwards, but four of the five Dallas picks were backs.

Last year the inaugural Collegiate Draft saw center/wing Connor Mooneyham of Life University chosen by Dallas as the first pick. When Dallas opted not to start the season due to the COVID shutdown hurting the building of a new team, Mooneyham signed with Austin and played very well. Of the 24 2020 draft picks, 23 are still listed on team rosters.

This year’s Draft was open to Canadian collegiate athletes for the first time and five players were selected from Canada. The order of selection was determined by the inverse order of standings from the 2021 MLR season. There were a number of trades in the first round, including the Utah Warriors and NOLA Gold swapping first round picks, along with Dallas adding an additional first round pick from Rugby United New York. RUNY got DC's first-round pick as part of an earlier trade.

Unsurprisingly, Lindenwood University led all schools with three first round picks, including No. 2 pick Albert and No. 5 pick Jonah Dietenberger (San Diego Legion), and six picks overall.

GRR's discussion of potential picks covered discussed all 13 first-round picks as likely high picks and 21 of the other 26. Some players GRR touted, such as Trent University prop Emerson Prior and Lindenwood flyhalf Coleson Warner didn't get picked as early as was expected. 

Interestingly, six hookers, along with three players who could easily switch to hooker, were picked. There were six centers chosen also and five props. One surprise was only one lock was chosen (Jonah Dietenberger), however, Albert and Asa Carter could certainly play there also. Four flyhalves is likely more than was expected and is a good sign that MLR teams are perhaps looking develop young Americans (or Canadians) at that position.