Make no mistake about it, the 2021 NFL Draft was about the quarterbacks.
While months of wild speculation made the five quarterbacks taken in the top 15 picks seem almost anti-climactic, eight passers being chosen in the first three rounds set a new NFL Draft record.
Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, BYU’s Zach Wilson and Trey Lance of North Dakota State became the first quarterbacks to come off the board with the first three picks since 1999 when they were selected by the Jaguars, Jets and 49ers respectively, but the fireworks wouldn’t end there. The Chicago Bears jumped up to number 11 to select Justin Fields of Ohio State and Alabama’s Mac Jones fell to the New England Patriots at 15, making it five passers in the first round.
The reigning Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept the ball rolling on Day Two, selecting Kyle Trask of Florida as Tom Brady’s potential successor with the final choice of the second round. The Minnesota Vikings took Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond two picks later and the Houston Texans followed by making Stanford pivot Davis Mills their first choice of the draft.
While quarterback records got all the hype, another record was the biggest international storyline. Canada had high hopes for a record-setting weekend, with as many as six players born north of the border viewed as potential selections. Instead it was only record-tying, with four Canadians selected matching the high water mark set in 2014.
Oregon safety Jevon Holland was the first off the board on Friday, becoming the first player at his position taken when the Miami Dolphins called his name with pick 36. Minnesota corner Benjamin St-Juste joined him a round later when the Washington Football Team made him the 74th selection and Tennessee wide receiver was close behind, going 77th to the Los Angeles Chargers. Former Heisman candidate running back Chuba Hubbard of Oklahoma State rounded out the group on Day Three, going 126th to the Carolina Panthers.
Four other Canadians put pen to paper after the draft as undrafted free agents to wrap up a maple-soaked weekend. Congolese-born, Calgary-raised linebacker Ogbongbemiga will take his talents from Oklahoma State to the Chargers, Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson joined the cross-town Rams, and Cincinnati tight end Bruno Labelle was inked by the Arizona Cardinals. Montreal Carabins o-lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage overcame the odds despite a canceled U Sports season and will represent Canadian university football with the Seattle Seahawks.
Beyond the great white north, there were a handful of other players with international connections who received their pro opportunity.
Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye became the first foreign-born player selected when he was chosen 21st overall by the Indianapolis Colts. The son of a Liberian refugee, Paye was born in a refugee camp in Guinea before moving to the US at six months old.
It was a good week to be the kid of Nigerian immigrants, with nearly a dozen taken over the course of the draft, but only one spent time in the country himself. Texas edge rusher Joseph Ossai called Africa home until he was ten and will now head to Cincinnati, expected to make an immediate impact as the 69th overall selection.
Day Three finally saw the draft add some European flavor, at least unofficially. USC wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was chosen in the fourth round, 112th overall by the Detroit Lions and will soon be heard speaking both German and French in the Motor City. Raised entirely in the US, save for some long summer vacations, he’s a German citizen thanks to his mother and holds great affinity for his ancestral home.
Another German speaker, Austrian defensive tackle Thomas Schaffer, was the only other European to realize his NFL dream this year. The sack leader for the Stanford Cardinals this past year has signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent and will compete for a role after he recovers from offseason surgery.
Wrapping up the international contact was a pair of specialist UDFAs. Venezualan-born kicker Jose Borregales of Miami will move up the coast to Tampa Bay and Australian punter James Smith of Cincinnati signed with the Tennessee Titans. Somewhat shockingly, Australian and former Ray Guy Award winner Max Duffy of Kentucky has yet to sign with an NFL team.
NFL fan bases now have a whole fresh set of players on which to pin their hopes and dreams, 14 internationally connected players among them. While the quarterbacks get the headlines, it takes every member of an NFL roster to win the Super Bowl and a future championship was won this weekend somewhere in the later rounds.