Potential record-setting NFL draft for Canadian football this year

By Dan Ralph

Jim Nagy can see a record number of Canadians being taken in this year’s NFL draft.

Nagy, the executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, feels as many as five could hear their name called between April 27-29. That would break the previous high of four taken in 2014 and 2021.

Four of the top prospects were in Mobile, Ala., last week for the Senior Bowl, U.S. college football’s premier all-star contest. They included twins Chase and Sydney Brown of London, Ont., (running back-defensive back, respectively, at Illinois), Matthew Bergeron of Victoriaville, Que. (offensive lineman at Syracuse) and Tavius Robinson of Guelph, Ont. (defensive lineman at Mississippi).

All are rated to go anywhere between the second and fifth rounds.

Another draft prospect is Eastern Michigan offensive lineman Sidy Sow of Bromont, Que. The six-foot-four, 329-pound Sow wasn’t at the Senior Bowl but participated in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in California.

“I watched all that tape and we actually called some guys from that game and Sidy had a really good week,” Nagy said in a telephone interview. “He was arguably the first- or second-best offensive lineman of that game, in our opinion.

“I think all four guys in the Senior Bowl are safely draftable and I do think Sidy has a good chance to also get drafted. He’s going to fit more of a gap scheme of offensive line, teams that like bigger guys who can move people off the ball. That’s kind of his play style.”

The five Canadians will have another opportunity to strut their stuff at the NFL combine, which begins Feb. 28 in Indianapolis.

Another eligible Canadian is Pitt receiver Jared Wayne of Peterborough, Ont. The six-foot-three, 210-pound Wayne declared for this year’s draft after registering 60 receptions for 1,062 yards and five TDs last season and finishing his collegiate career with 146 catches for 2,308 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Chase Brown made quite an impression in Alabama. The 22-year-old was named the National team’s running back practice player of the week in voting by members of the squad’s linebackers group.

“Any time you’re voted by your peers as the player of the week, that says something,” Nagy said.

The five-foot-11, 205-pound Brown was fourth in NCAA rushing with 1,643 yards for Illinois, averaging five yards a carry and registering 10 100-yard rushing games. He also had 13 TDs (10 rushing, three receiving) and was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award as U.S. college football’s top running back.

Brown also received the Jon Cornish Trophy as the top Canadian in American college football.

“He can stop on a dime, he’s got great cutting ability,” Nagy said. “He can make people miss behind the line of scrimmage, he can make them miss at the second level, he’s really one of the most creative backs in this draft.

“I thought he did a nice job in the passing game. I thought he caught the ball well and did some good things in the blitz pickup period.”

The six-foot, 205-pound Sydney Brown had 59 tackles (3.5 for loss), a Big Ten-high six interceptions and a sack this season. A team captain at Illinois, Brown was an All-Big 10 first team pick by coaches and a second-team USA Today All-American selection.

“He didn’t get voted defensive back of the week on his team but I did a poll with 32 (NFL) executives and Sydney got multiple votes,” Nagy said. “I d say the biggest thing that surprised us a little bit was Sydney really shows up in coverage more than you’d expect because he’s this big, muscled-up guy who likes to play downhill fast and then hit people and usually those guys are more run-support players.

“By the end of the year Sydney had six interceptions. He did a nice job in the one-on-one periods, the seven-on-seven periods … and got a lot of peoples’ attention. I think Chase probably started the week at a higher level on most teams’ draftboards but I’d say Sydney probably helped himself more because he had more ground to make up. Big week for the Brown brothers.”

The six-foot-five, 322-pound Bergeron has been listed in many mock drafts as a 2023 second-round pick. That doesn’t surprise Nagy as Senior Bowl officials had Bergeron rated as a third-round selection last summer.

“He was a slam-dunk Senior Bowl invite … he’s a guy we’ve always thought pretty highly of,” Nagy said. “He’s got left tackle athleticism but a body type that could move inside and play guard.

“I think he’s going to give you a lot of position versatility that way. He can stay in front of people and pass protect and if you can find guys to play left tackle who can stay in front of the best rushers in the league … those guys typically don’t last very long.”

Nagy feels the six-foot-six, 265-pound Robinson dramatically improved his draft stock this season. Robinson had 44 tackles, seven sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 13 games at Ole Miss.

“We had late-round grades (seventh round) on him over the summer and I think we ended up with him in the fifth round,” Nagy said. “When you can jump two rounds as a senior, that’s a big deal.

“He still has some rawness to him but again he made a big jump so you know he’s not close to hitting the ceiling. His tape was significantly better this year. His hand placement was better, his motor was better and he’s a long-bodied guy. Players with that kind of length are hard to find, especially those who also play hard. The feedback I got from guys around the league was Tavius did a very nice job during the week.”