Cornerback Deane Leonard is the latest reason why the Los Angeles Chargers are Canada's team in the NFL.
The Chargers took the Calgary native in the seventh round of the NFL draft Saturday. The former Ole Miss star joins a team that already boasts five Canadians -- defensive back Tevaughn Campbell (Toronto), defensive lineman Christian Covington (Vancouver), offensive lineman Ryan Hunter (North Bay, Ont.), linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga (Calgary) and receiver Josh Palmer (Brampton, Ont.) -- on its roster.
And it's the second straight year the Chargers have drafted a Canadian. The club selected Palmer in the third round, No. 77 overall, in 2021 out of Tennessee.
Palmer was one of a record-tying four Canadians selected in last year's NFL draft.
The Chargers took the six-foot-one, 194-pound Leonard with the 15th selection of the final round, No. 236 overall. Twenty picks later, the Arizona Cardinals took Penn State linebacker Jesse Luketa, an Ottawa native.
In 1990, tight end Shannon Sharpe began his Hall of Fame NFL career as a seventh-round selection of the Denver Broncos. When he retired after 14 pro seasons, the three-time Super Bowl champion was the league's all-time leader in catches, yards and touchdowns at his position.
The selections of Leonard and Luketa boosted the number of Canadians drafted to three. Alabama receiver John Metchie III, of Brampton, Ont., was taken in the second round, No. 44 overall, by the Houston Texans on Friday night.
Leonard started 11 games for the Rebels last season, registering 50 tackles (30 solo, one for loss) and seven pass breakups. Leonard didn't attend the NFL combine but posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds at Ole Miss's pro day.
Leonard helped the Calgary Dinos win the 2019 Vanier Cup before heading to Mississippi. In 2020, he started two of eight games, recording 14 tackles and four pass breakups.
Leonard appeared in 23 career games with the Dinos, registering 47 tackles (one for a loss), one sack and six interceptions. He was named an All-Canadian twice.
Leonard's father, Kenton, spent seven seasons with the CFL's Calgary Stampeders. Deane Leonard was selected in the second round, No. 18 overall, of the 2021 CFL draft by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The six-foot-three, 247-pound Luketa spent his first three seasons at Penn State as a linebacker before adding defensive end to his repertoire last year. The versatile performer had 61 tackles (34 solo, 8.5 for a loss), a half-sack and interception in 2021.
Luketa performed well during practices at the Senior Bowl, which annually attracts some of the top NFL draft prospects. He also had two sacks, including a strip-sack, in the actual showcase contest.
Luketa was named a Penn State team captain in 2020 and registered 59 tackles (31 solo) and a fumble recovery. He attended this year's NFL combine but suffered a hamstring injury while running the 40-yard dash.
Luketa is also eligible for the CFL draft Tuesday. After being named the top prospect in the Scouting Bureau's top-20 winter list, Luketa finished second in the final rankings behind Metchie.
Defensive end Luiji Vilain, another Ottawa native who had a team-high nine sacks last year at Wake Forest, wasn't drafted. However, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero tweeted Vilain would be signing with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent.
That's bad news for the Toronto Argonauts, who selected the six-foot-four, 255-pound Vilain in the third round, No. 25 overall, of last year’s CFL draft. What's more, another '21 draftee, Sage Doxtater of London, Ont., an offensive lineman at New Mexico State, reportedly signed with the New Orleans Saints.
Jake Julien, of Barrie, Ont., a punter at Eastern Michigan University, agreed to a contract with the New England Patriots.
On Friday night, Houston traded up with the Cleveland Browns to select Metchie. The Texans made the move despite Metchie suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Tide's 41-24 SEC title win over Georgia on Dec. 4.
But Metchie said after being drafted the Texans won't have to wait long for him.
"As far as my recovery, I will be good to play football in July," Metchie told reporters during a video conference. "I'll be good to go, no training wheels.
"I've been running already for the last couple of months, cutting, jumping, all of those type of things. When I say I'll be ready in July, it's full-go football."
The five-foot-11, 186-pound Metchie had a team-high 96 catches last season for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns before his injury. The 2021 All-SEC second-team selection opted to skip his senior campaign at Alabama and declare for the 2022 NFL draft.
Metchie won't be the lone Canadian on the Texans' roster. Tight end Antony Auclair, a six-foot-six, 256-pound native of Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Que., is entering his second campaign in Houston after spending the first four NFL years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, securing a Super Bowl ring in the 2020 season.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press