2021 NFL Draft: Potential for Canadian record top international story with Austria’s Thomas Schaffer a dark horse

In the modern age of texting and DMs, getting a phone call can be an unusual occurrence. Some might even classify it as an inconvenience.

However, for hundreds of young men this week, getting a phone call is the only thing they want.

From the time the 2021 NFL Draft begins on Thursday night to the time Mr. Irrelevant is announced on Saturday, 259 of them will hear the much anticipated ring-tone that means they are now an NFL player. Hundreds more will hear it in the hours following, granted a chance as an undrafted free agent.

In a unusual year such as this, a greater percentage of draft hopefuls will get that call than ever before.

Brought about by the NCAA’s blanket eligibility extension for all sports affected by COVID-19, this NFL Draft pool is the smallest in history. Many prospects chose to return to school and some scouts believe there with be players drafted this year who might normally be mid-tier free agent hopefuls.

When it comes to foreign-born players, the numbers are even smaller.

Several of the most notable have spent most of their lives in the United States. Projected first round defensive end Kwity Paye of Michigan was just six months old when he left the Guinean refugee camp of his birth.  Nigerian edge rusher Joseph Ossai was 10 when he left his home country and will likely hear his name called on Day Two out of Texas. The top kicker available, Jose Borregales of Miami, only called Venezuela home until he was six.

Some connections are more cultural than geographic. USC receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown grew up in California but will likely draw cheers in his mother’s homeland of Germany when he is selected on Day Two. Like his brother Equanimeous, who plays for the Green Bay Packers, St. Brown holds German citizenship and speaks it fluently, though it has never been his place of residence.

When it comes to born and bred Europeans, only one will have his fingers crossed this weekend. Austrian defensive tackle Thomas Schaffer had a break-out season for Stanford in 2020, leading his team in sacks with three in six games. Coming off knee surgery in December, the 6’7, 300-pound defender isn’t expected to be drafted although he could surprise. But if that doesn’t happen, he should get a chance as a priority UDFA (Undrafted Free Agent).

On the other side of the world, fans of Australian punters will also get a chance to cheer. Ray Guy Award winner Max Duffy of Kentucky is in the conversation for top punter in the Draft, while James Smith of Cincinnati and Oscar Bradburn of Virginia Tech are expected to get shots of their own. Other Aussie legs like New Mexico’s Tyson Dyer could also get camp opportunities at this hard-to-project position.

While Austria and Australia hope to celebrate one or two draftees, the country of Canada is preparing for a record-setting few days. The 2014 NFL Draft holds the distinction of being the most Canuck heavy in history with four selected. Barring something unexpected, five will taken in 2021.

The first is likely to be Coquitlam-born safety Jevon Holland, who proudly has his B.C. connection tattooed on his arm despite moving to California at age eight. A jack-of-all-trades ball hawk at Oregon, Holland was a Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist in 2019 as college football’s top defensive back and should be taken sometime in the second round, though slipping into the first is not out of the question.

Also hoping for Day Two selections are Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer and Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste. Both players have seen their stock rise considerably after being among the top performers at the Senior Bowl. St-Juste has some evaluators salivating due to his impressive size for the position and Palmer is viewed as a potential diamond in the rough, having performed well against top competition despite a horrid situation with the Volunteers.

Likely sliding in to Day Three of the draft is the most well-known Canadian in college football, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard. After rushing for over 2,000 yards and earning Heisman votes in 2019, the ‘Canadian Cowboy’ struggled mightily this season. He isn’t seen as top prospect at the position any longer but will still get a chance to prove himself in the NFL.

Expected to be the last off the board of the Canadians is Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson, a four-year starter at left tackle for the Hawkeyes who spent parts of his childhood on both sides of the Detroit River. The night could get even more maple-soaked should Hubbard’s Oklahoma State teammate, Congo-born, Calgary-raised linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga, sneaks into the final rounds, though he’s projected as a priority free agent. Also likely to sign contracts from Canada are Cincinnati tight end Bruno Labelle and Universit√© de Montreal offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage.

Whether you are cheering from north of the 49th, pulling for a kid from Vienna, or just a regular foreign fan, the 2021 NFL Draft should be three days of intrigue and excitement unlike any other offseason event in sports.

Dreams will be realized every time a prospect picks up the phone. You just have to pick up a remote to enjoy it.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.