New York Giants select Canadian Johnson in fourth round of NFL draft

It didn't happen when Canadian Theo Johnson thought it would but he landed where he wanted to.

The New York Giants selected the Penn State tight end in the fourth round, No. 107 overall, of the NFL draft Saturday. Johnson had been projected as a possible second-day selection.

"(That) wasn't in the cards for me but I think I got picked exactly when I was supposed to and exactly where I was supposed to," Johnson told reporters in New York after his selection. "Went to school and worked with Christian Daboll (Giants head coach Brian Daboll's son) when he was at Penn State.

"So pretty early on, they showed a lot of interest and it was clear that this was definitely a potential landing spot for me."

Johnson was the second Canadian off the board. Isaiah Adams of Ajax, Ont., an offensive lineman at Illinois, was taken in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals on Friday

The Detroit Lions also took UBC tackle Giovanni Manu in the fourth round, No. 126 overall. Manu was born in Tonga and went to high school in Pitt Meadows, B.C.

And with the final pick of the fifth round, No. 176 overall, the New York Jets selected cornerback Qwan'Tez Stiggers, the CFL's top rookie last season. Then in the sixth, the Cincinnati Bengals picked Arizona tight end Tanner McLachlan, of Lethbridge, Alta., 194th overall.

Last year, a record five Canadians were drafted.

The six-foot-six, 260-pound Johnson of Windsor, Ont., appeared in 45 games over four seasons at Penn State, recording 77 catches for 938 yards and 12 TDs.

After participating in the Senior Bowl, Johnson performed well at the NFL combine, posting a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, 39.5-inch vertical, 10-foot 5-inch broad jump — all second-best results — and a short-shuttle time of 4.19 seconds that topped the position group.

Johnson could fill a big need for the Giants with veteran tight end Darren Waller pondering retirement.

"He runs like a wide receiver," said Daniel Jeremiah, the NFL Network's draft guru. "I thought he aced the spring.

"From what we saw at the Senior Bowl, the all-star circuit, he was excellent there. Then the combine, pro day, you name it, that's where he really upped his stock."

Johnson said he hasn't talked to the Giants regarding where he fits on the roster.

"What I do know is I'm going to come in and I'm going to work from Day 1 and whatever role I earn will be one that I earned," he said. "I'm going to do my very best to show everybody in the building that I deserve to be taken seriously.

"I'm definitely capable of being a tight end you can't take off the field with all the attributes that I have and I'm going to work for that."

The towering six-foot-eight, 350-pound Manu and highly touted teammate Theo Benedet anchored a UBC offensive line that allowed 15 sacks and helped the offence average 6.8 yards per rush.

The Thunderbirds reached the Vanier Cup last year, dropping a 16-9 decision to the Montreal Carabins. Still, it was UBC's first appearance in the Canadian university football championship game since 2015.

Manu became the first UBC player to be taken in the NFL draft.

"I’m not here on my own," Manu said. "I’m here because of my family and all the mentors I’ve met on the way through this amazing sport of football I discovered in Canada.

"And yeah, the journey’s only starting, it's going to get a whole lot better. But, yeah, it’s been a long process, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but I’m happy to be here."

Manu didn't attend the NFL combine but 16 teams attended UBC's pro day. He posted a 5.03-second 40-yard dash and had 23 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

Earlier this off-season, Detroit signed Canadian defensive lineman Mathieu Betts, the CFL's top defensive player last season with the B.C. Lions. Manu had a pre-draft visit with the Lions (12-5, first NFC North).

The six-foot, 197-pound Stiggers had a team-high five interceptions and 56 tackles in 16 regular-season games with the Toronto Argonauts.

Stiggers finished high school in 2020 and had committed to Tennessee’s Wayne College on scholarship. But when his father died in September 2020, Stiggers fell into a deep depression and didn’t attend school.

Eventually, with help from his mother and fiancée, Stiggers returned to football in 2022, playing in the Fan Controlled League, a seven-man indoor circuit.

His coach was John Jenkins, a former Toronto offensive assistant who recommended Stiggers to the CFL team.

The six-foot-five, 244-pound McLachlan enjoyed a record-setting tenure at Arizona, surpassing Rob Gronkowski for most career receptions by a tight end (79). He recorded 45 catches for 528 yards and four TDs in 13 games last season to earn All-Pac 12 honourable mention.

"Whatever is asked of me, I’m excited to go do it and do it to the best of my abilities," McLachlan said during a conference call with Cincinnati media.

"I'm so excited to go play with those guys (Bengals starter Joe Burrows, receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins) and I’m just looking forward to it all."

McLachlan will join sophomore running back Chase Brown, of London, Ont., on Cincinnati's roster.

McLachlan began his college career at Southern Utah in 2018 before transferring to Arizona. Injury forced McLachlan to miss the Senior Bowl but he attended the NFL combine where he posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.61 seconds, 35-inch vertical and nine-foot nine-inch broad jump while not participating in the bench press, three-cone and short shuttle.

But Jeremiah, who had McLachlan as his second-rated tight end, said the Canadian recently had core muscle surgery.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2024.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press