This year, north of the USA-Canada border history will be made. For the first time in the history of the NFL more than 4 Canadians will be drafted into the NFL, 6 are expected to be drafted from Thursday April 29th through Saturday May 1st, breaking the record for the 4 Canadians drafted in both 1986 and 2014. With the draft now less than one month away, players have are excited and looking back at the journey they’ve taken to get to this point. “A lot of people from my situation shouldn’t even be here.” said running back Chuba Hubbard who looks to be the first Canadian running back drafted in the NFL since Tim “Touchdown Tim” Biakabutuka was drafted by Carolina in the first round of the 1996 draft, “only a few out of Canada make it. To be in this position I am forever thankful.” he continued.
Hubbard, alongside his teammate of Oklahoma State Amen Ogbongbemiga and fellow Canadians Jevon Holland, Benjamin St Juste, Joshua Palmer and Alaric Jackson have been heavily talked about on all platforms as they have been participating in all of their pre draft activities and raising eyebrows doing so. Pro days, team meetings and interviews with media have all gone extremely well from the sounds of it for the six Canadians now projected to get picked in the 2021 NFL Draft, some now higher than others. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said, “I like Josh Palmer. To me, he’s like a third, fourth round receiver who can really get vertical.” after watching him all week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama and his pro day in late March. If drafted in this year’s NFL Draft, Josh Palmer would be among Chase Claypool and Nkeal Harry, having three consecutive NFL Drafts with one Canadian receiver drafted and when you talk to Palmer, its clear that getting a call on draft night has been a dream of his for some time now. “I visualize it all the time.” he said on a zoom meeting with media ahead of his Tennessee Volunteers Pro Day. But for Palmer and also Oklahoma State linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga who also said, “I’ve had it (dreams of playing in the NFL) for a long time. Since I started playing football in middle school.” it wasn’t an easy journey to be in the position they are today. It took a lot of hard work and dedication for these players to be at the level of football that they are at now.
Adding to his comment about his dream of playing in the NFL, as a child Ogbongbemiga remembers how he “used to walk to the bus stop at 5 am in two feet of snow to keep getting better and eventually the place (Division one/NFL) I’m at today.” For many athletes coming from Canada it isn’t the same road as a lot of Americans with the same dream to play in the NFL. It is much more complex, with many obstacles and road blocks, almost making it impossible at times, but with the mentality that these six football players have it never seemed impossible, it was simply an additional hill to climb and another opportunity to improve and be better than everyone else. When evaluating future division one players from Canada in January John Garcia Jr. of Sports Illustrated All-American had said, “It makes them stronger. Them going to prep school or University in a different country isn’t just school for them, it is a business trip. They are there on a mission, knowing that they have to be smart, do good in school and perform on the field, it has been a reason why coaches like to bring in international talent because they are premature and serious about it.”
To back up what Garcia Jr had said, in his Pro Day interviews Amen Ogbongbemiga was asked about what him and Chuba Hubbard’s relationship was like while at Oklahoma State as two Canadians and he simply replied, “When we first came here we made it a priority of ours that we make it to the next level.” and now as we see them both compete to be drafted into the NFL its clear that they and the other Canadians manifested their dreams into a reality. Although its not just them with those dreams of playing at the highest level of football.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of programs that offer football in Canada. From 6 year olds playing Tyke football to University athletes playing U-Sports a lot of them share the same goal of playing professionally but up until now there hasn’t been a lot of people for these football players to look up to. The Canadians that were featured in the NFL in past years were linemen and special teams players for the most part and its often hard for younger athletes to appreciate and look up to players at those positions mostly because of the marketing around quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defensive backs. Now where we see 4 skill position players enter one NFL Draft coming from Canada there should be more younger eyes on the game of football in Canada, which for Benjamin St Juste is a goal, “It is an honour to be in this position and in this position that I’m in (having the NFL platform behind him) I need to shed light on my city (Montreal, Quebec) and give back to the community.” he said, “I need to give hope and opportunity that I didn’t have when I was growing up. We didn’t have skill players going to the NFL and even division one so I represent everyone from Canada when I play.”
Shedding light on his city of Montreal, Quebec and the country of Canada in general Benjamin St Juste hopes to make the people back home proud when he steps on the field for the first time in 2021 and it won’t be too long after where he will be among the Canadians that he inspires to play in the NFL. After the 2021 NFL Draft will be the 2022 NFL Draft which could feature the same amount, if not more Canadians with star potential players like Patrice Rene of Rutgers, John Metchie from Alabama, Chase Brown of Illinois, Luiji Vilain at Wake Forest and both Jonathan Sutherland and Jesse Luke from Penn State all headline players moving into the next year. With all eyes on Canada for the next few years for both NFL and NCAA talent, 2021 NFL Draft prospect Joshua Palmer of Brampton, Ontario backs up all the reports stating, “there is a lot more talent where we come from.”
Where do the Canadians size up to Americans in the NFL Draft?
In this year’s NFL Draft, there are several great players. Really showcasing that it is a deep draft for both sides of the ball, but of all drafts this is the deepest for Canadian talent. Not just the six projected to be drafted, but others as well. There is Daniel Joseph, defensive lineman out of North Carolina State, Virginia receiver Terrell Jana, Central Michigan defensive line star Mohamed Diallo and Deshawn Stevens of Maine University all in this year’s NFL Draft class alongside U-Sports athletes Alain Cimankinda, Logan Bandy, Nelson Lokombo and Dylan St. Pierre who all have a chance at an NFL camp invite. One thing about the Canadians though, in this year’s draft there is absolutely no difference between them and the Americans in their positions.
At his Pro Day on Thursday Chuba Hubbard ran an unofficial 4.36 40 yard dash, making him unofficially the fastest running back in this year’s NFL Draft ahead of Pooka Williams of Kansas who ran a 4.38. The best running back in the draft, Travis Etienne from Clemson clocked in at 4.45. Hubbard’s teammate Ogbongbemiga, at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds ran a 4.66 40 yard dash, 4.28 shuttle and hit 24 reps at 225 pounds for the bench press. As a linebacker he is automatically sized up to Micah Parsons who ran a 4.39 at the Penn State Pro Day last week, though Amen Ogbongbemiga can be matched more with a defensive end or edge rusher considering all of the different roles he played with OSU in University.
Along with Hubbard and Ogbongbemiga of Oklahoma State, Joshua Palmer, a 6-foot-2, 210 pound receiver of Brampton, Ontario clocked in at 4.51 for Tennessee’s pro day. He also had a vertical jump of 34 inches, broad jump of 10.4 feet and ran a 4.25 second 3 cone drill. Palmer is a vertical threat so you can size him up to Julio Jones or Davante Adams who he studies film of. In their Pro Days and combines Jones ran a 4.39 40 yard dash and jumped a 38.5 inch vertical while Adams ran a 4.56 40 yard dash and jumped a 39.5 inch vertical.
This 2021 NFL Draft class tends to headline a lot of offensive super stars but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some skilled defensive players to pair with Amen Ogbongbemiga or any offensive linemen worthy enough to talk about. Both Alaric Jackson and Benjamin St Juste are perfect examples of under the radar talent in this year’s draft class. In a year where receivers, quarterbacks and running backs are getting a lot of attention, there are very deep talents at both offensive linemen and defensive back, making enough room for some hidden gems like the two Canadians mentioned. Two of the top defensive backs, Shaun Wade of Ohio State and Patrick Surtain from Alabama have been creating a lot of noise in the media but putting Wade’s 4.5 speed (unofficial, didn’t run at pro day) and Patrick Surtain’s 4.46 40 yard dash up against Benjamin St Juste’s 4.51 40, and 3.96 shuttle they don’t look too eye opening anymore, or maybe St Juste is better than people expect him to be. Jackson, as a big man clocked in at 5.38 for his 40 yard dash, jumped a 25 inch vertical and hit 20 reps of 225 pounds for the bench press. He said after the pro day, “I showed NFL scouts that I can move pretty well for my size.”