Chiefs Kingdom adds new levels of dynamism with their new rugby recruit

An Australian rugby fan and Chiefs writer weighs in on what to expect from Louis Rees-Zammit.

Gloucester Rugby v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership Rugby
Gloucester Rugby v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership Rugby / David Rogers/GettyImages

The Kansas City Chiefs made one of the most intriguing moves of the NFL offseason this week, sealing a deal with international rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit.

The Chiefs are set to sign the Welsh international to a three-year deal, according to Ian Rapoport, as part of the NFL’s international pathway program, a move that has plenty of upside and practically zero risk.

The 23-year-old Rees-Zammit is expected to play at running back and wide receiver, but will most likely be most dangerous on kick returns, especially given the recent rule changes there.

So, who is Louis Rees-Zammit? What should Chiefs Kingdom expect to from him, and where can he shine the most?

As a Chiefs fan in Australia who matches a lot of rugby, I’ve got a good idea of what it will take for him to excel. Let’s dive in.

What you need to know about Louis Rees-Zammit

Rees-Zammit was born in Wales and is making the switch from rugby to football at the height of his powers.

He is only 23, but he has already represented his country at rugby’s most elite levels. He played for Wales in the rugby World Cup just last year, and helped the Dragons win the Six Nations (the top European international rugby tournament) in 2021.

Rees-Zammit played as a winger, a position in rugby usually characterized by speed, elusiveness, and strength—all qualities that Kansas City’s newest recruit possesses in droves.

At 6-3 and just under 200 lbs., he certainly has size about him—and he is quick, too. Rees-Zammit ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL’s international testing day this offseason and is regarded as one of the fastest players in world rugby.

Rees-Zammit reportedly once hit a top speed of over 24mph in a rugby game, which is faster than the top speed of any NFL player last year. Early indications are that he will be used as a running back and potentially at wide receiver too.

As an international development player, Rees-Zammit would qualify as an additional player on Kansas City’s practice squad.

What Chiefs Kingdom should expect

To put it bluntly, expectations for Rees-Zammit should be tempered – but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a big impact.

While he is unquestionably a phenomenal athlete, the transition from rugby to the NFL is extreme and it will take significant time for him to adapt.

Football and rugby have similarities, but they also have major differences. Rugby is super free-flowing and a lot less technical, which allows pure athletic ability to shine through. Football meanwhile is far more complex, with every position broken down into an exact science at the microscopic level.

Players going from rugby to the NFL need to learn everything from the basics of football right through to the specific nuances of their position—things like learning the playbook, formations, route concepts, blocking, and reading coverages—skills that don’t necessarily translate from the world of rugby.

Other rugby-to-NFL converts Christian Wade and Jarryd Hayne came to football with plenty of hype and excitement. Still, neither was able to make a meaningful impact in Buffalo and San Francisco, respectively.

That being said, the transition is not impossible. On offense, I would expect Rees-Zammit to be primarily used as a running back, the position most similar to what he has experienced as a rugby player. He has elite speed and the ability to break tackles and make players miss, but running through a B-gap at the line of scrimmage is very different from breaking the lines on a rugby field. It’s a totally different type of run.

If the Chiefs can get the ball to him in space—halfback tosses or quick pitches—that is where he is most likely going to find success. And while the Chiefs might experiment with Rees-Zammit as a pass catcher, I don’t see this position as a natural fit. Rugby players don’t catch passes like the ones a quarterback throws to a wide receiver, and they also don’t have to contest catches against defenders in the same way either.

Don’t expect to see Rees-Zammit set the world on fire as a traditional wide receiver.

Where Rees-Zammit can really shine

While his role as either a running back or wide receiver might be restricted to begin with, kickoff returns are where Rees-Zammit should have a chance to excel – especially with the new format.

The kick-off rules are perfectly suited to Rees-Zammit’s skill set and background. Essentially, the changes mean NFL kickoffs are now almost identical to kickoffs in rugby, and that is good news for Kansas City’s new favorite Welshman.

As a returner, Rees-Zammit will be able to catch the ball in open space, gain speed, and then try to run and break through a single, spread-out line of defenders, which is exactly what he excelled at doing on a rugby field. It is quite literally the perfect environment for the Chiefs to utilize his skill set and athletic ability.

Rees-Zammit might find it difficult early on to play RB or WR in a traditional sense, but there are still plenty of other ways the Chiefs can use him as a dynamic playmaker. Think things like jet sweeps, screens, quick out throws, pitches to the running back on an RPO—anything that gets the ball into Rees-Zammit’s hands when he is in space and when things are moving.

Beating a press corner off the line of scrimmage might be tough for him initially, but running through tacklers and into space is where he can shine.

A bonus secret weapon

There’s one other funky way that the Chiefs might want to get the ball into LZR’s hands too—laterals.

Rugby is essentially a game made up almost exclusively of laterals. As part of the sport, Rees-Zammit runs and catches a ball tossed backward to him while he’s sprinting at full speed. It is something the Chiefs should try to use to their advantage.

We’ve seen the Chiefs use laterals in a game before, like this play between Travis Kelce and LeSean McCoy against Detroit.

And there was another lateral attempt—again by Kelce—that looked even more like a conventional rugby play, even if the toss was wayward.

It’s a high-risk, high-reward kind of play. But with a mad scientist offensive genius in Andy Reid designing plays, it is exactly the out-of-the-box kind of thing that could be so crazy that it works.

It wouldn’t have to be something that was used often, but if the situation and the timing was right, a lateral to an evasive running machine like Rees-Zammit at full speed could be a dynamite addition to an already ultra-creative offense.