Trio of Canadians cement NFL draft stock with strong Senior Bowl performance

Photo courtesy: Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

They say that the road to the NFL Draft starts in Mobile, Alabama and a trio of Canadians proved this week that their pro football journeys are only just beginning.

The Reese’s Senior Bowl was held Saturday and the National Team felled the American Team 27-24 in the traditional kick-off to NFL Draft season. Amongst the assembled all-stars were Canadian NFL hopefuls Josh Palmer, Benjamin St-Juste and Alaric Jackson, each hoping to take advantage of the platform that helped rocket countrymen Chase Claypool and Neville Gallimore up draft boards a year ago.

The group did not disappoint and each drew praise from NFL scouts over the course of an important week of practice. In game, it was Brampton’s Josh Palmer who took over the Canadian star mantle from Claypool, hauling in two passes for 27 yards and a touchdown from eventual game MVP Kellen Mond.

It was the cherry on top of an incredible week for Palmer. The Tennessee product was considered one of the week’s biggest risers due to consistently dominant showing in practice. Top NFL Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah named Palmer one of the stars of the showcase’s first day and the receiver never looked back.

In 46 career games with the Volunteers, Palmer made 96 catches for 1,459 yards and seven touchdowns, including 475 yards and four scores as a senior.

Often held back by poor quarterback play, the six-foot-one, 210-pound receiver was projected to go undrafted by many before the week began, but Jeremiah now has him graded as a third or fourth-round prospect. With reps like this, it’s no wonder why.

It seems one of the only players able to contain Palmer this week was Minnesota cornerback and fellow Canadian Benjamin St-Juste. Checking in at an impressive six-foot-three and 200 pounds with 32 inch arms, the Montrealer broke up two pass in the game, including a potential long touchdown to Palmer.

St-Juste’s impressive athleticism and hip flexibility for a corner of his size has drawn plenty of eyeballs all week, confirming that the Golden Gopher made the right decision by declaring for the draft as a redshirt junior. Though without an interception for his career, St-Juste amassed 59 tackles and 13 pass deflections in 18 games for the Golden Gophers.

While a move to safety has been proposed by some due to his imposing frame, St-Juste’s ability to smother receivers in press coverage this week may have locked him up a draft spot.

Windsor-born tackle Alaric Jackson also competed in the contest and the top -anked player on the CFL’s latest Scouting Bureau rankings, one spot ahead of Palmer, has scouts divided.

After a career at Iowa in which saw him earn multiple All-Big Ten honours at left tackle, many project Jackson to move inside to guard at the next level. It was an up-and-down week of practice as he was moved around the line, but he still showed the ability to handle power with ease.

Expect to see a team sprint in the card for Jackson late in the draft.

With no in-person combine this year, the Senior Bowl was the most important evaluation event on the 2021 NFL calendar and all three Canadians made the most of the opportunity.

While Canucks were once a rarity in Mobile, they’ve now taken center stage for two years in a row and the NFL is taking notice.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.