Canadian QB Nathan Rourke ‘has a shot’ to be NFL starter: CBS analyst Nate Burleson

Graphic: 3DownNation (Photos: AP/Sam Hodde | Evan Agostini/Invision)

Nathan Rourke’s NFL trajectory has been a slow and steady one to start his career south of the border, but a popular NFL analyst believes the Canadian still has a chance to make his mark as a starter.

During the latest episode of Sportsnet‘s Football Nate-tion podcast with co-host Tim Micallef, 12-year receiver turned CBS panellist Nate Burleson laid out exactly how Rourke can rise to the top of a depth chart.

“It’s going to take a little luck. It’s going to take one of the coaches in the building to stand up on the table in that team meeting and say: ‘Put this guy in,'” Burleson said. “The last thing and this is the most important, it’s going to take you to cook in practices that simulate the actual No. 1 offence.”

Rourke was signed to the Jaguars’ active roster on Saturday and is scheduled to be in uniform for the second time this season when his team meets the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. With both starter Trevor Lawrence and backup C.J. Beathard nursing injuries, the 25-year-old CFL phenom is expected to be utilized under the NFL’s emergency third quarterback rule, making him eligible to play only if both players ahead of him leave the game hurt and cannot return.

With Jacksonville’s franchise pivot battling through a high-ankle sprain that usually takes multiple weeks to heal and Beathard dealing with an ailment in possible relief, the Jaguars’ hesitancy to play Rourke has perplexed Canadian fans. Burleson, who was born in Calgary while his father played for the Stampeders, explains the underlying uncertainty driving those decisions.

“Oftentimes these third-stringers and practice squad guys or even second-stringers, they’re running the opposing team’s offence every week. You have no idea as a coach if they can successfully run your offence,” he said. “With the potential injury, you’ll get those reps at practice. I’ll tell you what, with that athleticism, Nathan has a shot. Any quarterback that is a backup, the one thing that will always work for a coach is the fact that you have some athleticism.”

Rourke has spent the majority of his first NFL season on the practice roster, despite a stellar preseason in which he completed 66 percent of his pass attempts for 348 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. He also carried the ball 14 times for 39 yards and one rushing touchdown but was waived following training camp.

The six-foot-one, 210-pound QB went viral in his NFL preseason debut against the Dallas Cowboys, throwing a spectacular touchdown pass after he broke several tackles. According to Burleson, it is plays like those that will give him a chance to be called upon.

“The last thing a coach wants to do is put in a young, inexperienced quarterback who might not have a grasp of the playbook like the starter who is a sitting duck, a statue-esque quarterback that when the play breaks down, they have to throw it away or take a hit,” he said.

“When you have a young guy that’s athletic like Nathan, you can tell him: ‘Hey listen, go through your progression, if you can’t make it through three progressions, after two, get out of there and make a play with your legs.'”

That’s the skillset that Rourke was known for in the CFL when throwing for 3,349 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing for 304 yards and seven touchdowns over 10 games with the B.C. Lions in 2022. He was the first quarterback to be named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian since 1980 and helped the Lions reach the West Final despite playing with a lingering foot injury.

Rourke signed in Jacksonville after an extensive NFL workout tour, in part due to promises that he would be able to compete for the backup job. That hasn’t materialized yet but he will be just a couple plays away from seizing a potential opportunity when the Jaguars (8-4) visit the Browns (7-5) on Sunday, December 10 at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.