The final day of the NFL draft was a record-setting one for Canadian players.
Four Canadian-born prospects were selected Saturday over the final four rounds, the most ever, with the Baltimore Ravens taking a definite look north.
The Ravens selected Virginia defensive lineman Brent Urban, a six-foot-seven, 295-pound native of Mississauga, Ont., in the fourth round, No. 134 overall. Then in the fifth round, Baltimore took Winnipeg native John Urschel, an offensive lineman at Penn State, at No. 175 overall.
Notre Dame receiver T.J. Jones — another Winnipeg native — went in the sixth round, No. 189 overall, to the Detroit Lions before the Kansas City Chiefs selected McGill offensive tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in the sixth round, No. 200 overall.
Last year, Rice tight end Luke Willson, a native of LaSalle, Ont., was the lone Canadian drafted, going in the fifth round to the Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks. But in 2012, a record four players from Canada were selected.
Three Canadians — defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford of Windsor, Ont. (third round, Dallas) and Christo Bilukidi of Ottawa (sixth round, Oakland) and centre Philip Blake of Toronto (fourth round, Denver) — were drafted. So was Akiem Hicks, an American defensive lineman who played at the University of Regina (third round, New Orleans).
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was surprised Urban was still available in the fourth round.
“He’s a guy when I first watched him thought second round at the latest,” Harbaugh told NFL Network. “He’s had a couple of injuries and things like that but you talk to this young man and he’s a great guy.
“He’s a hard worker, big, strong. He fits our defence. This guy is a guy who fits our scheme perfectly, a big, strong guy who fell to us so we couldn’t be more happy with him.”
NFL draft guru Mike Mayock agreed.
“Not only do I like the pick but he fits exactly what they do,” he said. “‘The five technique is probably his best position, a 3-4 defensive end in a 3-4 defence.
“I think he’s a big, strong kid. He’s stout. In addition to playing that five technique, he could probably move inside also. So I like him and I think there’s some significant upside there.”
Urban, 23, started eight games at defensive tackle last year before suffering a severe high ankle sprain but still led all NCAA Division 1 defensive linemen with nine pass knockdowns. He was invited to the Senior Bowl but couldn’t play in the game due to injury.
Not surprisingly, Urban has been compared to Houston Texans’ star J.J. Watt, one of the NFL’s top defensive lineman, and came into the draft projected as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme — three defensive linemen, four linebackers. Urban was selected in the second round of last year’s CFL draft by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats but elected to return to school.
This marks the second straight year the Ticats have lost a highly touted defensive lineman to the NFL. Hamilton took Calgary Dinos defensive lineman Linden Gaydosh first overall in the 2013 CFL draft but the native of Peace River, Alta., signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent and spent all of last season on injured reserve after undergoing back surgery.
A converted hockey player — he played AAA as a bantam in Mississauga — Urban took up football his first year at Lorne Park Secondary School before deciding to concentrate full-time on the sport.
After high school, he attended Virginia and redshirted as a freshman. He served as a backup defensive end for two seasons before starting at tackle in 2012. Last season, Urban recorded 13 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and a sack. He was invited to this year’s Senior Bowl but was limited to just two practices because of his right ankle sprain.
The major knock against Urban heading into the draft has been injuries. Urban underwent surgery in February and didn’t participate in the NFL combine, where the top draft prospects undergo testing under the watchful eye of league coaches, GMs and scouts.
Urban expects to be ready to participate in training camp come July.
After being redshirted, Urban suffered a torn left ACL that limited him to just three games in 2010. He appeared in all 13 games in 2011, recording 15 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss but did undergo wrist surgery after the season.
Urban started all 12 games at defensive end in ‘12, registering 20 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks with a fumble return for a TD.
The six-foot-three, 313-pound Urschel was born in Manitoba but played football at Canisuis High School in Buffalo, N.Y. He was a team captain at Penn State and earned all-Big 10 honours his final two seasons there and was one of 15 offensive guards invited to the ’14 NFL combine but could also play centre as a pro.
But he is much more than just a football player. He earned a masters degree in math and received the Campbell Trophy as U.S. college football’s top football scholar athlete. Urschel also taught undergraduates at Penn State and has been published in a scientific journal.
The six-foot, 195-pound Jones was born in Manitoba but moved to Georgia, where he went to high school. He had his most productive season at Notre Dame in 2013 with 70 receptions for 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns.
Jones heads to the NFL with a definite pro pedigree.
Jones’ late father, Andre, was a defensive end at Notre Dame — where he was a member of the school’s ‘88 NCAA championship squad — who also played for the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. His uncle, Philip Daniels, is a former NFL defensive lineman who suited up 14 seasons with Seattle, Chicago and Washington over 14 seasons who’s currently Washington’s director of player development.
Also, his godfather is former Notre Dame flanker Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, who helped the Toronto Argonauts win the Grey Cup in 1991.
Jones was born in Winnipeg before moving to Georgia, where he attended high school. As a true freshman in 2010, he started seven of 12 games with Notre Dame and had 23 catches for 306 yards and three TDs.
The six-foot-five, 314-pound Duvernay-Tardif, of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que., became the 10th CIS player taken in the NFL draft and third in six years. Western defensive lineman Vaughn Martin was selected in the fourth round by San Diego in ‘09 before New Orleans took Hicks in ‘12.
Duvernay-Tardif is only the second McGill player to be taken after Randy Chevrier, a defensive lineman/long snapper with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, went in the seventh round to the Jacksonville Jaguars in ‘01.
Duvernay-Tardif was twice an All-Canadian at McGill and last year was named Canadian university football’s top lineman. A medical student, Duvernay-Tardif was also named as the CFL scouting bureau’s top prospect for the league’s draft Tuesday night.
Duvernay-Tardif, a converted defensive lineman, has been firmly entrenched atop the CFL central scouting bureau’s list of the top-15 prospects for this year’s draft but his NFL stock skyrocketed following his pro day in Montreal in March.
The Chiefs were among nine NFL teams — Oakland, Philadelphia, Arizona, New York Jets, Green Bay, Chicago, San Francisco and Buffalo were the others — who attended Duvernay-Tardif’s workout, along with four CFL clubs — Montreal, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa. And Duvernay-Tardif didn’t disappoint, posting a 40-yard dash time of 4.94 seconds, a 31.5-inch vertical and 34 reps in the bench press.
Duvernay-Tardif wasn’t invited to the NFL combine but those numbers were as good as any offensive lineman who tested in Indianapolis.