Redblacks’ GM Shawn Burke rooting for Ottawa native Jesse Luketa as he pursues NFL dream

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

Ottawa Redblacks’ general manager Shawn Burke is rooting for local product Jesse Luketa to make the most of the NFL opportunity that lies before him.

“We’re cheering him on, that’s for sure. At the end of the day what you want for these young individuals that are pursuing this career is to take it to the highest level possible that they can, so the way I look at things is I always cheer guys on to achieve their dreams. To have that type of talented football player homegrown in Ottawa is exciting,” said Burke during a recent videoconference.

“Canadians nowadays are getting harder looks in the NFL and the NCAA and that’s a credit to the rise of the elite athletes in our country. Jesse’s a great player. He obviously has got some recognition being at the Senior Bowl and everything so we’re excited to see where he goes and cheer him on along the way.”

Luketa measured in at six-foot-three and 253 pounds at the NFL Combine last month and ran a 4.89 forty-yard dash on his first attempt before suffering an apparent leg injury on his second attempt. He rebounded to perform for scouts at Penn State’s pro day three weeks later and posted a 4.27-second short shuttle and 7.29-second three-cone drill, both of which are solid numbers for a player of his size.

The 23-year-old played twelve games as a senior this past season and made 61 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, and one interception. The versatile defender was generally considered a better run-stopper than a pass-rusher but that may have changed after he recorded two sacks in the Senior Bowl, bringing down Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe and North Carolina’s Sam Howell.

Burke declined to provide a prediction regarding how early Luketa could be selected in the upcoming NFL draft.

“You’d have to send me to Vegas to be able to guess that,” he said with a chuckle.

Though we won’t know for sure until his name is called at the end of April, Luketa is generally projected to be a “day two” selection by NFL draft analysts, meaning he is expected to get picked between round two and round four.

The Redblacks hold a territorial selection near the end of the second round of the 2022 CFL Draft, which must be used on a player from the Ottawa region. Though it seems unlikely that Luketa will ever play in the CFL, he would be an enticing high-risk, high-reward option for that pick. Other candidates include Katley Joseph and Shaquille St-Lot, both of whom play defensive back at the University of Maine.

Two active NFL defensive lineman were born in Ottawa: Eli Ankou of the Buffalo Bills and Neville Gallimore of the Dallas Cowboys. Ankou went unselected in the 2017 NFL Draft out of UCLA, while Gallimore was a third-round pick out of Oklahoma in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Luiji Vilain, another Ottawa native, could also get a look from the NFL this year after having a breakout season at Wake Forest during which he made 34 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, eight sacks, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Vilain was a third-round pick of the Toronto Argonauts in the 2021 CFL Draft.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.