A record number of Canadians could get picked in the NFL draft

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This year’s NFL draft class is not the strongest. There are even doubts about the consensus No. 1 pick, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who’s expected to be taken by the Carolina Panthers when the first round kicks off tonight. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner has pretty much all the skills and traits required to excel in the pros, but he measures in at a Flutiesque 5-foot-10 and less than 200 pounds — far short of the specs for a prototypical franchise QB.

Teams that prefer a higher-ceiling physical specimen can turn to Anthony Richardson, the Florida quarterback who dropped jaws with his athleticism at last month’s scouting combine and on college fields last season. But some think Richardson is too erratic and raw to gamble a high pick on. The two other top QBs in the draft, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis, aren’t can’t-miss prospects either.

It’s also not a great year for receivers, with some experts predicting none will go in the top 20. And the only surefire running back appears to be Bijan Robinson of Texas, who has the mixture of rushing and receiving skills that modern teams love.

The Canadian prospects are a bit murky too. There doesn’t seem to be a Chase Claypool, the star Notre Dame receiver who went in the mid-second round in 2020 before scoring 11 touchdowns as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Or even a Jevon Holland, who’s become a key safety for Miami since the Dolphins picked him high in the second round in 2021. This year’s group falls more in the range of Josh Palmer (now a Chargers receiver) or Chuba Hubbard (Panthers running back) — depth guys who have had their moments since going in the middle rounds in 2021.

But, despite the lack of an eye-popping talent, there’s a chance that five Canadians could get picked over the course of the draft’s seven rounds. That would top the record of four matched in 2021 when Holland, Palmer and Hubbard were joined by Benjamin St-Juste, a defensive back taken in the third round by Washington.

It would be a surprise for a Canadian’s name to be called tonight, when the made-for-TV spectacle that is the first round plays out in Kansas City. But let’s look at the guys who could go in rounds 2 and 3 on Friday or 4-7 on Saturday, highlighted by Syracuse offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron and twins Sydney and Chase Brown of Illinois.

To assess their skills, I turned to CBC Sports colleague and NFL draft expert Dion Caputi.

Matthew Bergeron, offensive tackle, Syracuse

Dion’s take: Bergeron is a polished blocker with the ideal experience and dimensions required for playing the all-important offensive tackle position at the pro level. But some teams may want to move the Victoriaville, Que., product inside to play guard, where his average athleticism might be better proportioned. Bergeron is firmly a second-round-level prospect whose worst-case scenario would be slipping to the later part of day two.

Sydney Brown, safety, Illinois

Dion’s take: Brown is an ascending defensive-back talent who, in 50 games over five seasons of college football, amassed 320 total tackles and 10 interceptions — six of which came this year. The native of London, Ont., combines a pro-ready physical build with upper-echelon athletic attributes. He can comfortably expect to come off the board on day two, in the second or third round.

Chase Brown, running back, Illinois

Dion’s take: Perhaps an even more gifted athlete than his twin brother, Chase was the workout warrior among running backs at the NFL combine,  placing No. 1 at the position in the vertical jump, broad jump and bench press and top five in the 40-yard dash (4.43 seconds). Beyond his tantalizing athleticism, Chase accumulated more than 3,000 scrimmage yards and 15 total touchdowns over the past two seasons. Modern NFL teams’ reluctance to draft a back in the early rounds hurts Brown’s chances of sneaking into the back end of day two, but he should be a coveted choice in the fourth or fifth round.

Sidy Sow, offensive guard, Eastern Michigan

Dion’s take: A truculent interior blocker with an imposing frame, the Bromont, Que., native is pro-ready after playing a high volume of snaps in college. He could be a bargain selection in the fifth or sixth round.

Tavius Robinson, defensive end, Mississippi

Dion’s take: At 6-foot-6 and 257 pounds with an impressive burst off the snap, the Guelph, Ont., product approaches the physical prototype teams look for in a pass-rushing edge. Although his technique needs work, Robinson possesses the raw physical talent and size that will appeal to teams seeking a late-round development prospect at a premium position. He’d be another potential bargain if taken between rounds six and seven.

Read more about the Canadian prospects in this year’s NFL draft here. Follow Dion’s draft reactions and analysis on Twitter @nfldraftupdate.

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