Heading into this year's NFL draft, there were at least five Canadians who looked to have a solid shot at being chosen, so it seemed that there was a good chance to at least tie the record of three Canadians picked in a given year. Things went even better than that, though; a record-breaking four players who were born north of the border were chosen. (Update: Depending on how you look at it, it can be record-tying: 1986 had three born-in-Canada players and Germany-born RB Markus Koch, who grew up in Canada.) That's a great sign for the state of Canadian football talent, even if it may make things a little more difficult for the CFL. Perhaps even more notably, the best Canadian player selected may be the one who was taken last, and he happens to be from the Canadian university ranks.
That would be McGill offensive tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who was taken in the sixth round (200th overall) by the Kansas City Chiefs. It's rare to see a CIS prospect as polished as Duvernay-Tardif, who's been a dominant player for the Redmen and won the 2013 J.P. Metras Trophy as Canadian university football's top lineman (offensive or defensive). At 6-foot-5, 298 pounds, the St. Hilare, Quebec product has impressive size (even if he'll likely shift inside in the NFL), and remarkable speed, explosiveness and agility; he posted a 4.94-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, added 34 bench press reps and notched a broad jump of 9 feet, six inches. He's been pretty impressive off the field, too, juggling football and training for the draft with working up to 60 hours a week at a Montreal hospital as part of his graduate studies in medicine. He placed first in all three CFL prospect rankings this year, and heading into this draft, he looked like the top Canadian NFL prospect.
Of course, there wound up being three players born in Canada who were taken ahead of Duvernay-Tardif, and they're all notable stories in their own right. The first one taken was Virginia DE Brent Urban, a Mississauga, ON native who only switched from hockey to full-time football when he was 16. The Baltimore Ravens picked Urban up in the fourth round (134th overall), which likely caused plenty of groans in Hamilton; the Tiger-Cats drafted him in the second round of the 2013 CFL draft, 15th overall. (Cases like Urban's where a player becomes eligible for the CFL draft a year before the NFL draft thanks to redshirting have made it extremely difficult for northern teams to judge the NFL's interest in a player, and that's why the CFL changed its rules this past year, so those guys should be available for both leagues in the same year going forward.) While Urban has struggled with injuries in the past, he's been very effective when he has played, recording a NCAA-leading nine pass knockdowns for the Cavaliers last year and adding 13 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and a sack. He could become a very solid player for Baltimore.
The Ravens apparently are quite high on Canadian-born talent, as they made another north-of-the-border selection later in the draft, grabbing Winnipeg-born offensive lineman John Urschel in the fifth round (175th overall). The 6'3'', 313-pound Urschel is another very bright guy, a mathematics graduate student who teaches college-level courses and has had several research papers published. He received the William V. Campbell Trophy, the "Academic Heisman," in 2013 as NCAA football's top student-athlete, and also was named the winner of the cross-sports AAU's Sullivan Award a few weeks ago. Urschel also had a great on-field career for the Nittany Lions, and he was named all-Big 10 twice in the last couple years. He mostly played guard for Penn State, but could potentially shift to centre in the pros.
The other Canadian-born player taken was Notre Dame receiver T.J. Jones, selected in the sixth round (189th overall) by Detroit. Jones was born in Winnipeg when his father was playing for the Blue Bombers. He grew up in Georgia, but chose to play for the Irish at the college level, where he had plenty of family connections; his late father Andre played there, as did his godfather Rocket Ismail (who, of course, went on to a famous CFL and NFL career himself). Jones has an impressive football family in general, as his uncle Phillip Daniels spent 14 years as an NFL DE and is now Washington's director of player development. He wasn't picked just based on his name, though; the 70-reception, 1,108 yard, nine-touchdown season he had in 2013 certainly helped. He might be a very intriguing pro receiver.
All of these guys will be interesting to watch going forward, but it's Duvernay-Tardif's selection that might mean the most for the Canadian game. Even if he was chosen later than many initially thought, his pick still shows that NFL teams are paying close attention to CIS football; that could help boost the profile of the Canadian university game, and it might also convince top Canadian athletes that they can A. stick with football and B. stay in Canada to play if they want. Beyond him, these picks all show that there are plenty of great Canadian-born players out there (and it's not just these four; other Canadians, such as Université de Montréal offensive lineman David Foucault and Oregon linebacker Bo Lokombo, are expected to earn undrafted free agent contracts or at least minicamp invites).
The record-breaking Canadian content here will make things a little difficult for the CFL, but isn't a huge factor in all these cases; while Urban's a CFL draft pick and Duvernay-Tardif is going to be, Urschel and Jones in particular don't even have non-import status at the moment. Beyond that, these selections show there are lots of great Canadian football players at the moment. The pool of Canadian talent is deep and getting deeper, and that bodes well for the CFL's future. Even if some of the players are going to be snapped up by the NFL, there are many more out there.