NFL: Chargers Shaping Up to Be Canada’s Team, and Other Stars to Watch in 2021

Canadians have been making their way into American college football and, indeed, the NFL. In the past, the number of players to go pro south of the border has been relatively low, with just seven Canadians in the league in 2011 – on par with Germany and American Samoa. This represented the joint-highest representation of a foreign nation, which is understandable given that the sport, as it’s played in the NFL, is very much mainly America’s game. Still, the amount of Canadian talent moving south has steadily increased over the years.

Entering the 2021 campaign, at least 14 have made it onto the final 53-man rosters, and that’s not including injuries as of September 7. One such star is Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who extended the list of Canadian Super Bowl winners in 2020, and might just be looking to get his name on the list again this season. As well as the lineman, many other top-class athletes from Canada are competing in the NFL this season, with the Los Angeles Chargers shaping up to be Canada’s team, based on its roster.

Chargers Accumulating Canadian Talent

In the grand scheme of the NFL, Canadians make up a minute percentage of the total players across the 53-player rosters of the 32 teams. Yet, the LA Chargers find themselves with four Canadians on the roster, each of which will attempt to help them to grab a playoff spot this season.

Perhaps the most exciting addition to the team is rookie Joshua Palmer, who was selected 77th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. In the depth chart, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are the default options, with Austin Ekeler being a sound pass-catcher out of the backfield. However, Palmer already appears primed to be the third option, and Williams is well-known as being injury-prone, with Draft Sharks listing the wide receiver as having a 95 percent chance of injury this season. So, it could be Palmer’s time to shine.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bolts’ defensive line, linebacker corps, and secondary feature a Canadian this season. In the trenches, Christian Covington of Vancouver is already reported to be making an impact. This will be the Vancouver-native’s first season with the Chargers, having made 14 solo tackles in 14 games for the Cincinnati Bengals last season.

Despite going undrafted, Calgary Notre Dame’s linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga made it onto the final roster, as did 28-year-old Tevaughn Campbell. The defensive back looks to improve on his four starts, 22 combined tackles, one interception, and one touchdown last season. Being in the same division as the indomitable Kansas City Chiefs, the LA Chargers were never going to be placed among the favourites to win the AFC West this season. However, there is reason for optimism, such as a prediction of a 10-7 record to finish second.

In fact, with the Chiefs being near-certainties to top the division, and the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders being distinctly lacking on one side of the ball or the other, the Bolts are the clear favourites to land second. As of September 7, the Betway NFL odds for the division have the Chargers at 2.87 to come second in the AFC West, which is better than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 4.00 odds to win the Grey Cup this year. Overall, a 10-7 record and a second-place finish should be enough to see all of these Canadians make it to the playoff.

Other Star Canadians to Keep an Eye on in the NFL

Coming into the season, N’Keal Harry of the New England Patriots and Toronto, winner of the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and Neville Gallimore of the Dallas Cowboys and Ottawa were all placed on the injured reserve. However, each of them, particularly Duvernay-Tardif, is in line to make some big contributions to their respective teams this season. Fighting an uphill battle to do so is Dakoda Shepley, who’s turned from playing Omega Red in Deadpool 2 to fighting for a place on the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line.

Particularly in the early days of the season, now that fans are abuzz with fantasy football, it’s the new offensive weapons that are grabbing everyone’s attention. Top of the list is second-year Pittsburgh Steelers receiver and former Fighting Irish game ball recipient Chase Claypool. The 6’4’’ pass-catcher reeled in nine receiving touchdowns from 873 yards as well as two rushing touchdowns. While Claypool will get targets from Week 1, Chuba Hubbard may have to be patient for game time. The rookie running back selected 126th overall this year will have to prove himself in limited opportunities behind Christian McCaffrey to truly cement the job, but he is seen as an instant RB2 by Sports Illustrated.

Other Canadians looking to make a splash as rookies this year are Benjamin St-Juste of the Washington Football Team, from the wide receiver position, and free safety Jevon Holland. You’ll also be able to see defensive lineman Brent Urban attempting to shore up the now-notoriously shaky line of the Dallas Cowboys, as well as Nathan Shepherd on the interior of the New York Jets’ rather impressive defensive line on the inside.

While not all of Canada’s star NFLers are exactly aligned to get their hands on the Lombardi Trophy, with Duvernay-Tardif being the main exception, many are still set to be key features for their teams in 2021.

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