3DownNation top 100 CFL players: No. 89 LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Free Agent

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

To say that Jovan Santos-Knox was an efficient tackler at the University of Massachusetts would be an understatement.

The six-foot-two, 240-pound linebacker made 339 total tackles over four seasons with the Minutemen (2012-2015), including a career-high 143 as a junior. He led the entire NCAA in assisted tackles in 2014 with 90 and again in 2015 with 87.

Santos-Knox also graduated with 25.5 tackles for loss, eleven pass knockdowns, six sacks, five forced fumbles, two interceptions, and one fumble recovery. He could do everything asked of an elite linebacker.

One would think such eye-popping production would catch the attention of NFL scouts, but serious interest never materialized. Santos-Knox went unselected in the 2016 NFL draft and was not offered a contract by the Philadelphia Eagles following a tryout with the team.

Santos-Knox spent some time away from football before attending open tryouts for the Calgary Stampeders and Montreal Alouettes. He was not offered a contract by either team, which almost led to him giving up on his dream of playing professional football.

At the encouragement of his father, the native of Waterbury, Conn. drove nine hours to a Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ free agent camp in North Carolina. He impressed assistant general manager Danny McManus and signed a contract with the team, his first as a pro.

Santos-Knox continued to impress at training camp in June, making the roster behind veteran Ian Wild. As is the case with many rookie CFL linebackers, Santos-Knox made his first impression on special teams, notching 19 tackles in 16 games.

Before long, Santos-Knox was getting regular snaps on defence and became the starter at weak-side linebacker. He put up 47 defensive tackles along with two sacks, two interceptions, and one forced fumble.

His numbers improved the following year when he made 82 tackles, six sacks, and two forced fumbles in 18 games, establishing himself as one of the CFL’s best young linebackers.

Adversity arose at the end of the season when he suffered an injury. Santos-Knox broke his foot in the final week of the 2018 regular season and the injury wasn’t healing properly over the winter.

His injury — and a lack of cap space — meant the Blue Bombers weren’t able to prevent Santos-Knox from testing free agency. Edmonton signed him to a one-year deal in February 2019 worth $145,000 plus incentives, making him one of the CFL’s highest-paid defensive players under the age of 25.

His foot was still a problem when Edmonton took the field for training camp in May 2019. Santos-Knox ended up being sidelined for most of the season, not seeing the field until his team’s final three games.

“I didn’t re-injure it,” Santos-Knox told the Edmonton Football Team’s website in October 2019. “It took a long time to heal. … Just a tough, dark time for me. I felt ready, felt good. Just wrong step one way and things give you a little setback.”

The linebacker made 20 total tackles and one sack in five games — three in the regular season and two in the playoffs — and re-signed with Edmonton in February. Following the cancellation of the 2020 CFL season, Santos-Knox opted out of his deal to pursue the NFL.

Edmonton LB Jovan Santos-Knox opts out of CFL contract to pursue NFL opportunities

He remains unsigned down south, but the 26-year-old still has a promising career wherever he chooses to play next. It turns out that nine-hour drive to North Carolina was well-worth the gas money.

3DownNation is unveiling its list of the top 100 active CFL players. To read the criteria for player eligibility, click here. The list to date can be found below.

90. DB Richard Leonard, Calgary Stampeders
91. REC Armanti Edwards, Edmonton Football Team
92. RB C.J. Gable, Free Agent
93. DT Mike Rose, Calgary Stampeders
94. REC S.J. Green, Free Agent
95. DB Mike Edem, Saskatchewan Roughriders
96. DL John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
97. DB Taylor Loffler, Montreal Alouettes
98. QB Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks
99. ST Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
100. DE Chris Casher, B.C. Lions

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.