Irish-born National Football League (NFL) star Daniel Whelan is on track to help the Green Bay Packers qualify for the play-offs in his first season with the club.
Whelan relocated to California in the United States at the age of 13 – a move which triggered a switch from his beloved soccer into American Football.
Whelan made his mark as an exceptional punter during his freshman year at UC Davis in 2017, delivering ten punts for 440 yards across five games.
His contributions continued to grow, and his 67 punts for 2,756 yards the following year earned him honourable mentions and all-conference accolades.
Whelan achieved third-team all-conference recognition with a punting average of 44.1 on 57 kicks in 2019. The 2021 spring season showcased further showcased his exceptional punting skills as he punted 17 times for 815 yards and led the Big Sky Conference with a 47.9-yard average.
His outstanding performance earned him several accolades, including four first-team All-American selections, a first-team all-conference selection and consideration for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Punter of the Year Award.
In his final year at UC Davis during the autumn 2021, Whelan handled both punting and kick-off duties, setting a single-season school record with a 46.25 punting average. His outstanding performances earned him All-Big Sky and second-team All-American honours.
He concluded his impressive college career with 151 punts for 6,523 yards, establishing a new school record with a 44.01 career punting average.
Whelan was unselected in the 2022 NFL Draft despite his achievements, but his breakthrough moment came when he signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent.
He subsequently transitioned to the Extreme Football League (XFL), where he was selected by the DC Defenders in the ‘specialists’ phase of the 2023 XFL Draft.
Whelan excelled as their punter, earning All-XFL honours with an average of 45.6 yards on 29 attempts as the Defenders finished the season as runners-up.
After starring in the XFL, Whelan was snapped up by the Green Bay Packers in May 2023 and eventually beat off competition from Pat O’Donnell for the Packers’ permanent punting job.
His NFL debut came against the Chicago Bears in September 2023, making history as the first Irish-born player in the competition since Neil O’Donoghue, who called time on his career in 1985.
Whelan has been a revelation for the Packers this season, and his statistics as of NFL game week 15 are a testament to his unquestionable skill and status as a game-changer.
The 24-year-old has recorded 52 punts for 2,393 yards while averaging 46 punts per yard. His longest punt this season currently stands at 68 yards.
To put Whelan’s performances into context, the Irishman has recorded the third-most punts in the NFL where he has pinned the opponent inside their own 20-yard line since week ten.
Whelan also ranks first in punt return rate during that span, with only 21.4% of his punts being returned. Just one of his 14 punt attempts have resulted in a touchback. The Irishman boasts the joint-fourth highest number of fair catches and also ranks ninth in hang time.
Rich Bisaccia, the Packers’ assistant head coach and special teams coordinator, is hugely impressed by Whelan’s impact on the team’s NFL campaign.
“Obviously, he’s improved,” said Bisaccia. “He’s played well to this point. I think the big factor for us early was his basic football awareness – what to do in different situations.
“Where am I on the field? What’s the wind doing? Am I doubled to one side, singled to the other? Is it double-double or whatever those things are? I think he’s concentrated on his drop, trying to get a little more hang.”
While the Packers have endured a topsy-turvy campaign despite Whelan’s efforts, they are still in contention to progress to the play-offs with a handful of regular season games remaining.
They went into the season as 51.00 shots with online bookmakers to win the Super Bowl, but have drifted out to odds of 151.00 following a patchy run of form in recent weeks.
However, Whelan’s presence in the team may well tempt Irish punters into taking advantage of the generous looking 4.00 odds to make the NFL play-offs.
Whelan will undoubtedly play a central role in the Packers’ bid to progress to the post-season and his sizeable fan base in the Emerald Isle will be hoping to profit off his brilliant form on Irish betting sites.
With the Packers set to face struggling Carolina Panthers before games against NFC North rivals Minnesota Vikings and the Bears, securing a play-off spot is not beyond them.
Achieving that feat would be a positive return from Whelan’s first season with the Packers and would give him the confidence he needs to help the club become future Super Bowl contenders.