The 2021 NFL regular season has come and gone with well over two dozen Canadian players spending the year down south. With more Canadians playing in the NFL than ever before, it’s time to recognize some of the best years we saw from our homegrown talent.
I’ve taken the liberty of ranking the top eight Canadian players in the NFL in 2021, along with a handful of honourable mentions. The honourable mentions are listed alphabetically by last name, while the rest of the list is numbered from lowest to highest.
Honourable mentions: DL Eli Ankou, Buffalo Bills; TE Antony Auclair, Houston Texans; OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, New York Jets; DL Neville Gallimore, Dallas Cowboys; N’Keal Harry, New England Patriots; DB Benjamin St-Juste, Washington Football Team.
8) DL Christian Covington, Los Angeles Chargers
The son of legendary CFL pass rusher Grover Covington had the best season of his seven-year NFL career in 2021, recording 52 combined tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble. He’s not flashy, but the six-foot-two, 290-pound defender knows how to push the pocket.
Covington made three starts over 16 games with the Chargers and may have found a long-term home after bouncing between four teams over the past three years.
7) DB Tevaughn Campbell, Los Angeles Chargers
The Scarborough, Ont. native made 40 total tackles, four knockdowns, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery over 16 games, seven of which he started. He set new career-highs in almost every statistical category and firmly established himself as a key component of L.A.’s secondary.
The 28-year-old ranked No. 92 among NFL cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus with a grade of 56.9. While far from elite, Campbell’s grade was better than teammate and 2021 second-round pick Asante Samuel Jr. and former first-round Buccaneers’ draft pick Vernon Hargreaves III.
6) REC Josh Palmer, Los Angeles Chargers
The native of Brampton, Ont. had a solid rookie season, making 33 receptions for 353 yards and four touchdowns. He dressed for all 17 regular season games and made five starts late in the season, averaging four targets and 2.8 catches over those games.
The Chargers have one of the most electrifying aerial attacks in the NFL with phenom quarterback Justin Herbert at the helm. With former first-round pick Mike Williams unlikely to re-sign with the team after making $15.6 million this past season, it’s possible that Palmer will be a much larger part of the offence in 2022.
5) LB Alex Singleton, Philadelphia Eagles
The former CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player made a career-high 137 total tackles in 2021 along with four tackles for loss, four knockdowns, two quarterback hits, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He only started eight games — he started eleven in 2020 — but played the same percentage of defensive snaps (68).
Singleton led the Eagles in combined tackles and is a pending free agent following three seasons in Philadelphia. He should be due for a raise this off-season regardless of whether or not he chooses to remain with the club.
4) RB Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers
The rookie rushed 172 times for 612 yards and five touchdowns and caught 25 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown behind oft-injured Christian McCaffrey. Hubbard only averaged 3.6 yards-per-carry, but opposing defences frequently stacked the box against the NFL’s fourth-worst passing offence and a mediocre offensive line.
The native of Sherwood Park, Alta. unofficially had the sixth-best rushing season by a Canadian-born player in NFL history behind Rueben Mayes (1,353 yards, 1986; 917 yards, 1987; 628 yards, 1988) and Tim Biakabutuka (718 yards in 1999; 627 yards in 2000).
3) DL David Onyemata, New Orleans Saints
The University of Manitoba product had a middling statistical season, recording 33 total tackles, two tackles for loss, ten quarterback hits, and two sacks. His four-game suspension was a factor in reduced production, though defensive tackles rarely post jaw-dropping numbers on either side of the border.
Onyemata finished with an exceptional grade from Pro Football Focus at 83.6, which was tied for fourth-best across the NFL among interior defensive linemen. He graded out better than a number of stars across the league, including Arizona’s J.J. Watt, Baltimore’s Calais Campbell, and Kansas City’s Chris Jones.
2) REC Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers
The six-foot-four, 227-pound target caught 59 passes for 860 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games, while also rushing 14 times for 96 yards. He narrowly missed setting new career-highs in catches and receiving yards, though he also played one fewer game than he did as a rookie in 2020.
Claypool was criticized for requesting music in practice and celebrating a late-game catch in Week 14, which cost his team a few previous seconds on the clock. It will be interesting to see if the burgeoning star can reign things in next year as the Steelers look to have a new quarterback under centre for the first time in almost two decades.
1) DB Jevon Holland, Miami Dolphins
The native of Coquitlam, B.C. finished the 2021 season with a grade of 82.5 on Pro Football Focus, making him the fifth-ranked safety in the entire NFL. He received significant consideration for the Pro Bowl, though he fell just short behind Tennessee’s Kevin Byard, L.A.’s Derwin James, and Kansas City’s Tyrann Mathieu.
Holland made 13 starts in 16 games and recorded 69 total tackles, ten knockdowns, seven quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. He was all over the field for the Dolphins and appears to have a remarkably bright future in the NFL.