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Canadians Jesse Luketa, Deane Leonard chosen in NFL draft

Edmonton-born, Ottawa-raised Jesse Luketa is a Cardinal, and ex-Calgary Dinos corner Deane Leonard is latest Canadian Charger

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It took a lot longer than anyone expected, but Canadian Jesse Luketa had his NFL dream realized Saturday.

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The Edmonton-born, Ottawa-raised pass rusher from Penn State waited nearly seven hours on the final day of the 2022 NFL Draft, but just before 6:45 p.m. EDT the 23-year-old was chosen by the Arizona Cardinals, with the 35th pick of the seventh and final round, 256th overall — the seventh-last pick of the draft.

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Luketa was one of three Canadians selected this year over the NFL’s three-day selection meeting in Las Vegas.

In a surprise on Saturday, a one-time Canadian university player — former University of Calgary Dinos cornerback Deane Leonard — was taken by the Canadians-loving Los Angeles Chargers with the 15th pick of the seventh round, 236th overall.

Leonard was rated only the No. 56 cornerback in the draft by Dane Brugler of TheAthletic.com. He had transferred to the University of Mississippi and played two seasons with the Rebels. But he was timed this year at a blazing-fast speed of 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

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Leonard will become the sixth Canadian this spring on the Chargers’ 90-man roster — along with Toronto cornerback Tevaughn Campbell, Vancouver defensive tackle Christian Covington, Calgary linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga, Brampton wide receiver Josh Palmer and North Bay, Ont., offensive lineman Ryan Hunter.

John Metchie III, who spent most of his grade school and middle-school years in Brampton, was the first Canadian selected, on Friday night, by the Houston Texans 12 picks into Round 2, 44th overall. That was earlier than expected, as Metchie tore his left ACL only five months ago.

As for Luketa (pronounced Loo-KEH-ta), most draft experts had pegged him as a Day 3 pick — but probably earlier (Rounds 4-5) than later (Rounds 6-7).

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He tweeted Saturday night, simply: “Highly favoured … Lets’ get to work AZ!”

Luketa began dreaming of playing in the NFL at around age 10, while living with his single mom and seven siblings in the South Ottawa neighbourhood of Hero Gate.

That’s when he fell in love with the popular football Madden video game, and when he began playing youth three-down football with the South Ottawa Mustangs.

After playing on the St. Patrick’s High School varsity football team in Grade 9, Luketa and his mother, Rose, arranged for him to play his last three years of high school football state-side, in Erie, Pa.

Luketa eventually chose Penn State over a slew of full scholarship offers to top Division I NCAA universities.

OTHER CANADIANS

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At least three other Canadians earned a shot at making an NFL team this spring or summer.

Defensive end Luiji Vilain of Ottawa, who played college ball state-side at Michigan and Wake Forest, agreed to terms as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Vikings, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Tre Ford of Niagara Falls, Ont. — the dazzling University of Waterloo quarterback in Canadian college ball, and the fastest QB in this year’s NFL draft class — has been invited to try out with the Baltimore Ravens at their rookie camp in early May, according to Justin Dunk of 3downnation.com.

Ford’s brother, University of Waterloo defensive back Tyrell Ford, was invited to two May rookie mini-camps, per Dunk — with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets.

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Deionte Knight, a defensive lineman at Western University in London, Ont., has been invited to try out at the Washington Commanders’ rookie mini-camp next weekend.

SEC STILL THE CHAMP

For the umpteenth year in a row the SEC was the college conference that supplied the most players to the NFL Draft. By far.

This year: 65, same as last year’s total of 65, but two less than 2020’s 67, and one more than 2019’s 64.

The conference with the next most players once again was the Big Ten, with 48 — compared to 44 last year, 48 in 2020, and 40 in 2019.

Tied for a distant third, with 25, were the Big 12 (after 22 last year and 21 in 2020) and Pac-12 (after 28 last year and 32 in 2020). The ACC’s player supply plummeted to 21, exactly half of last year’s 42, and down a bit from 26 in 2020.

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15 FROM GEORGIA!

The University of Georgia — which won both the SEC and U.S. national championships in 2021 — broke the NFL’s seven-round record for most players drafted, with 15.

And all 15 went before the end of Round 6.

That breaks the record of 14 shared by LSU in 2020 and Ohio State in 2004. Before the NFL reduced the number of drafting rounds to seven in 1994, the University of Texas had 17 players drafted in 1984 when there were 12 rounds.

Last year Alabama and Ohio State supplied the most drafted players, with 13 apiece.

QB ROLL CALL

In all, nine quarterbacks were drafted, but only one — Kenny Pickett by the Pittsburgh Steelers — was taken over the first two rounds.

Perhaps only Pickett has much of a chance to start in 2022.

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This year’s QB draftees:

  • Pitt’s Pickett, Round 1, No. 20 overall, to Pittsburgh;
  • Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Round 3, No. 74, to Atlanta;
  • Liberty’s Malik Willis, Round 3, No. 86, to Tennessee;
  • Mississippi’s Matt Corral, Round 3, No. 94, to Carolina;
  • Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe, Round 4, to New England;
  • North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Round 5, to Washington;
  • South Dakota State’s Chris Oladokun, Round 7, to Pittsburgh;
  • Kansas State’s Skylar Thompson, Round 7, to Miami;
  • And Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, Round 7, to San Francisco.
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy is Mr. Irrelevant.
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy is Mr. Irrelevant. Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack /AP

EXTRA POINTS

Purdy, in fact, was this year’s so-called “Mr. Irrelevant” as the last pick in the draft, with the 41st pick of Round 7, 262nd overall … Philadelphia might be the City of Brotherly Love, but Pittsburgh is giving its cross-state rival a run for its money. The Steelers drafted Michigan State tight end Connor Heyward in Round 7. He’s the brother of current Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. Theirs now is the fourth brothers pairing on Pittsburgh’s roster, which includes ace pass rusher T.J. Watt and fullback Derek Watt.

John Kryk now writes a weekly newsletter on NFL matters. Content is exclusive to that platform. You can have it automatically dropped into your email inbox on Wednesdays simply by signing up — for free — at https://torontosun.com/newsletters/

[email protected]

@JohnKryk

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