Toronto's Philip Blake and Ottawa's Christo Bilukidi made sure the 2012 NFL draft was a historic one.
The six-foot-two, 311-pound centre for the Baylor Bears was selected in the fourth round, 108th overall, of the NFL draft Saturday by the Denver Broncos. Bilukidi, a defensive lineman at Georgia State, went in the sixth round, 189th overall, to the Oakland Raiders.
That means a record four football players from Canada were taken in the draft.
On Friday night, defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford of Windsor, Ont., and Akiem Hicks of the Regina Rams were both taken in the third round. Crawford, a six-foot-four, 275-pound defensive tackle from Boise State, was the first Canadian selected, going 81st overall to the Dallas Cowboys.
The six-foot-five, 318-pound Hicks, an American who had transferred to Regina after becoming involved in a recruiting scandal while at LSU, went 89th overall to the New Orleans Saints. Hicks became the first Canadian university player selected in the NFL draft since defensive lineman Vaughn Martin of the Western Mustangs went in the fourth round to the San Diego Chargers in 2009.
Blake, 27, didn't take up football until his senior year of high school but became a three-year starter at Baylor and anchored an offensive line that Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, who went second overall Thursday night to the Washington Redskins.
Blake was a first-team All Big 12 centre in his senior season but his advanced age was a red flag to some.
Blake, who took part in both the Senior Bowl and NFL combine, received solid grades from scouts for his ability to sustain his blocks and overall tenacity. They also liked his quickness when pulling and penchant for staying in front of defenders.
He posted a 40-yard dash time of 5.25 seconds ad the combine as well as 22 reps in the bench press and a vertical leap of 29.5 inches.
However, scouts listed his age and athletic ability as concerns and stipulated their feeling that he was still a developing talent. They also cited Blake had difficulty facing athletic opponents and that he'd need time to blossom into an NFL-calibre starter.
This marks the second straight year the Broncos have drafted a Canadian offensive lineman. In 2011, they selected Orlando Franklin, a native of Jamaica who grew up in Toronto, in the second round out of the University of Miami. The six-foot-six, 330-pound Franklin started all 16 games last season at tackle.
The selection of the six-foot-five, 307-pound Bilukidi was surprising as the thought was he'd likely sign an NFL deal as an undrafted free agent.
Bilukidi, whose father is an Angolan diplomat, was a two-year starter at Georgia State and played primarily at defensive tackle but did see action at defensive end. He had a school-record 10 career sacks and 16 tackles for loss and was named one of the team's permanent captains for the 2011 season.
Bilukidi was also a highly rated prospect for next week's CFL draft. He finished ranked No. 6 among the top-15 prospect for the CFL draft, which will be held Thursday.
With Crawford, Hicks, Blake and Bilukidi all being drafted, that boosts the number of Canucks taken to 22 since 1983.
Last year, offensive linemen Danny Watkins and Franklin made Canadian NFL draft history.
Watkins, a native of Kelowna, B.C., was selected in the first round, No. 23 overall, by the Philadelphia Eagles. Franklin went in the second round, 46th overall, to Denver. It marked the sixth time two Canadians went in the same draft but none had ever been selected as high as Watkins and Franklin.
The previous high was in 1986 when Queen's offensive lineman Mike Schad of Belleville, Ont., went in the first round, 23rd overall, to the Los Angeles Rams before Washington State tailback Rueben Mayes of North Battleford, Sask., was selected in the third round, 57th overall, by the New Orleans Saints.
Hicks became the first Regina player to be taken in the NFL draft and joins Seattle punter Jon Ryan as the only Rams to play in the league.
“It's been an incredible journey for Akiem,” Rams head coach Frank McCrystal said in a statement. “He never wavered from his goal to be drafted by an NFL team.
“We are all absolutely thrilled that this has come to fruition for Akiem and we are excited about the opportunity that awaits him in New Orleans.”
Hicks also becomes just the ninth CIS player to be taken in the NFL draft, with only Shad having gone higher.
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