Where will Canadians be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft?

Courtesy: AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

Up to four Canadians could be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, which gets underway on Thursday evening and runs through Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas.

At least one Canadian player has been selected in each of the past eleven NFL drafts, a streak that is expected to continue this year. Alabama receiver John Metchie III and Penn State linebacker Jesse Luketa are both expected to get picked, while Wake Forest defensive lineman Luiji Vilain and Ole Miss defensive back Deane Leonard could be selected as well.

Where will these prospects get taken and with which teams might they end up? Below I’ve provided analysis on each prospect along with where I see each of them fitting into this year’s draft. Don’t forget to get in on the action and place your bets before things get underway on Thursday.

Courtesy: Alabama Athletics Photography

REC John Metchie III, Alabama

The two-time Jon Cornish Trophy winner became one of the Crimson Tide’s top targets over the past two seasons, making 151 receptions for 2,058 yards and 14 touchdowns as part of the NCAA’s strongest program. He has solid speed, runs great routes, and contributes without the ball in his hands as an elite blocker.

Once viewed as a possible first-round pick, Metchie’s stock fell after he suffered a torn ACL in the SEC Championship Game in December. He is reportedly recovering from his injury quickly and could be ready for the start of training camp, which would make him a more alluring option for teams around the league.

Born in Taiwan but raised in Brampton, Metchie is viewed as a possible day-one starter in the NFL. It won’t take long for him to get into a team’s lineup and make an impact on the offensive side of the ball.

Prediction: late second-round pick

Possible fit: round 2, pick 52 — Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers lost JuJu Smith-Schuster to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency and have historically valued physical receivers who can block well. The fact that Metchie would be playing alongside Canadian superstar Chase Claypool would just be the icing on the cake.

Photo: AP/Barry Reeger

LB Jesse Luketa, Penn State

The Ottawa native has been described as a positionless player given his ability to play middle linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end, and contribute on special teams with the Nittany Lions. Regardless of what position he ends up playing in the NFL, this six-foot-three, 255-pounder is sure to make his team better.

Luketa played 12 games as a senior in 2021 and recorded 61 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and one interception which he returned for a touchdown. He finished his four-year NCAA career with 151 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, six knockdowns, and one fumble recovery.

If there was one knock on Luketa from his time at Penn State it was his lack of sacks but he was able to record two in the Senior Bowl in January. If teams view him as a legitimate edge rusher, his stock will only continue to climb.

Prediction: mid-fourth round pick

Possible fit: round 4, pick 129 — Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys hit a home run in last year’s draft by selecting NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and first-team All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons at twelfth overall. Luketa and Parsons were college teammates and are close friends off the field, making him a perfect fit for the Cowboys.

Courtesy: AP Photo/Matt Kelley

DL Luiji Vilain, Wake Forest

The six-foot-four, 252-pound pass rusher moved to the United States for his final two years of high school and committed to Michigan as a four-star recruit out of Episcopal High School in Virginia. He dressed for only 12 games over four years with the Wolverines, recording 11 total tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble.

Vilain transferred to Wake Forest in 2021 and enjoyed a breakout season, making 34 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, a team-leading nine sacks, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. He performed well for approximately 40 NFL scouts at Wake Forest’s pro day and participated in the College Gridiron Showcase.

The Ottawa native was recently identified as an underrated prospect by Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus who suggested Vilain could be selected “anywhere from late in the third round to the fifth round of the draft.” Vilain’s CFL rights already belong to the Toronto Argonauts by virtue of last year’s draft that saw him selected in the third round.

Prediction: undrafted

Possible fit: round 7, pick 234 — Denver Broncos

Denver had the worst pass rush win rate in the NFL last year after trading Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams. Vilain obviously wouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for the future Hall of Fame edge rusher but could provide some much-needed depth as the Broncos looks to make a run at Super Bowl LVII with Russell Wilson under centre.

Photo courtesy: Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

DB Deane Leonard, Ole Miss

The Calgary native was a first-team All-Canadian in 2019 at the University of Calgary before transferring to Ole Miss of the prestigious Southeastern Conference. He went on to dress for 18 games with the Rebels, recording 62 total tackles, one tackle for loss, 11 pass breakups, and one fumble recovery.

The former Dino ran a 4.39 forty-yard dash at the University of Mississippi’s pro day last month in front of 71 scouts representing 31 NFL teams. At six-foot-one and 194 pounds, he’s got a rare combination of length and speed that teams covet at the cornerback position.

Leonard reportedly had top 30 visits with the Las Vegas Raiders and Indianapolis Colts, which is a strong indication that he is being considered for the draft. His CFL rights belong to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats by virtue of the 2021 CFL Draft in which he was a second-round pick.

Prediction: undrafted

Possible fit: round 7, pick 227 — Las Vegas Raiders

Las Vegas allowed a respectable 222.9 passing yards per game in 2021 but recorded a league-worst six interception. Leonard hasn’t historically been a ball hawk but he’s got great raw tools and the Raiders had him in for a face-to-face meeting. This could be a good fit for both sides if Las Vegas is serious about helping Leonard reach his full potential.

Four Canadians were selected in last year’s NFL draft, including defensive back Jevon Holland (Miami Dolphins, round two), defensive back Benjamin St-Juste (Washington Commanders, round three), receiver Josh Palmer (Los Angeles Chargers, round three), and running back Chuba Hubbard (Carolina Panthers, round four).

Other notable Canadians selected in recent NFL drafts include receiver Chase Claypool (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2020), defensive lineman David Onyemata (New Orleans Saints, 2016), offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (Kansas City Chiefs, 2014), and Tyrone Crawford (Dallas Cowboys, 2012).

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.