Pittsburgh Steelers RB Benny Snell Jr. (24) is stopped by Jacksonville Jaguars DE Adam Gotsis (96) during NFL game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Stamey
They say the average NFL career lasts just three years. By the time a player has entered his fifth year, traditional wisdom says his development has peaked. For most, the end of the line is nearing.
Not so for Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Adam Gotsis. The powerful Australian had a steep learning curve when he made the jump from the Australian club ranks to top tier college football almost a decade ago and still believes he has ground to make up as an NFL veteran.
“The learning curve is huge,” Gotsis said in an interview late last month. “I feel like I’m still learning so much about the game.”
As a starting defensive end for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season after four years spent with the Denver Broncos, Gotsis certainly doesn’t look like a player still learning the pro football ropes. While Jacksonville has stumbled to an 1-9 through 10 games, the Aussie has been a rare bright spot for an injury ravaged team in the running for the #1 overall selection in next year’s draft. Standing at 6’4 and 287-pounds, Gotsis excels at the often-unheralded work of run defense and has proven an impactful edition despite coming off ACL surgery his final year in Denver.
“Adam is a great story, he’s a great person. But what he’s brought is a level of toughness for us,” Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash told reporters earlier this year. “I think he does a really good job in what we’re asking him to do; playing the run on first and second down, he’s stout at the point of attack, and I think he does a nice job of leading those guys with the work ethic that he brings in every day. So, it’s a heck of a story and I think he’s got a lot of football ahead of him.”
That wasn’t always a certainty. Raised in Melbourne, Gotsis began his athletic career in Aussie rules before switching to the American game as a teenager. As an obvious physical freak, Gotsis turned plenty of heads nationally, but getting noticed by American college teams was a virtual impossibility. Ultimately, it was a football relationship between Team Australia offensive coordinator Paul Manera and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson that made the difference, as Johnson has facilitated Manera’s own journey from Australian club football to the NCAA while serving as Hawaii’s offensive coordinator in 1987. The Yellow Jackets bench boss trusted the advice of his former player and the rest was history. Gotsis would go on to play 48 games for Georgia Tech, racking up 110 tackles, 12.5 sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and four blocked kicks before being selected 63rd overall in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the highest ever selection used on an Australian.
Since then, Gotsis has taken on a much less glamourous role as a run stuffer on early downs but his production has remained consistent while playing alongside talented pass rushers like Demarcus Ware, Von Miller and Josh Allen. In 67 career NFL games, Gotsis has made 130 tackles, 5 sacks and batted down 14 passes and he’s on pace for another strong campaign in 2020 with 21 tackles through his first nine starts. The box score numbers don’t tell the whole story either. According to analytics firm PFF, Gotsis is tied with All-Pro TJ Watt for the 5th best run stop percentage among NFL edge defenders with at least 140 snaps of run defense this season, a metric that describes how often a player is credited with creating a situational loss for the offense when on the field. The Australian has done that on 8.9% of plays this season and it’s easy to see why his coaches have been pleased.
“I like a lot of things that [Adam’s] done,” Head Coach Doug Marrone admitted publicly last month. “He’s really helped us in the run game. He’s done a good job in the position that we have him in. I think he’s excelled in that position before and I think we’re going to push him to see if we can get a little bit more pass rush out of him.”
That could mean more opportunities for Gotsis down the line but it also proves Gotsis’ own belief that he’s never done learning. While the run stuffer has opened doors for Australian position players in the NFL just as Paul Manera opened one for him in the NCAA, the work is not yet done.
“The learning never ends, you know, you’re constantly surrounded by players who have made it to this level. So you know, they’re doing something right,” Gotsis says. “You can always learn from that and learn from your peers, you know, the coaches around you. And coaches here in Jacksonville. I’m excited about what I’m getting to see here and excited to keep doing it on the field.”