Despite our love for all things hockey, Canada and the CFL have produced some standout stars in the NFL. And while some fans south of the border may struggle to name the Canucks in their favorite team, we recognize and appreciate their talents.
As NFL teams continue to look outside the US for the next big thing, more and more young Canadians are getting the opportunity to earn a place on a roster. With foreign imports at an all-time high and player salaries going through the roof, it’s little wonder that Canada’s brightest athletic talent are looking to the NFL for a career.
This year saw Chase Claypool headline the Canadians drafted by NFL teams. We’re pretty excited about the wide receiver who looks like the real deal. In fact, if Claypool makes the starting team, this season’s NFL odds could have him as one of the top picks for a good proposition bet. Yes, he’s really that good.
But the current crop of players aside, who are the all-time Canadian greats to make a name for themselves in the NFL? Here are the names that we came up with.
Yes, he is indeed a Canadian and has the maple leaf tattoo to prove it. Burleson was born in Calgary while his father played on the roster for the Stampeders. After a college career with the University of Nevada, he signed for the Minnesota Vikings. He showed promise in his rookie season, but it was second season that made people take notice.
By 2006, he was playing for the Seattle Seahawks and although he suffered some pretty bad injuries, he is still regarded as one of their finest wide receivers of the 2000s. He then went on to play for the Detroit Lions for three seasons where he was a popular figure. Although he never won any individual or team awards, he was still a great player.
Currently playing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Ryan spent a hugely successful 13 seasons in the NFL. He first signed with the Green Bay Packers who he spent two season with before being picked up by the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent. He would then spend the next 11 seasons playing for the Seahawks.
In 2014, Ryan became the first Saskatchewan to win the Super Bowl when the Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos by an incredible score line of 43-8. He then appeared in the Super Bowl the following year but lost out to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Ontario native, Atogwe was the complete athlete in high school. He played soccer, football, and was named the league MVP as a senior on the basketball team. But when he went to Stanford, football was his game. The St. Louis Rams picked him in the 2005 draft and played 12 games in his rookie season. He followed that up with impressive stats in the following two seasons and ended up staying with the Rams until 2011.
At that point, he was signed by the Washington Redskins and stayed with them for a season making some great interceptions in big games. He was released by the end of the season and in 2018 made his first moves into coaching. It hasn’t quite worked out for him yet but we have faith that he’ll come good.
For the last man on our list, we’re going back in time to the 80s and early 90s. That was when Saskatchewan Rueben Mayes spent seven years in the NFL. After a successful high school career as a running back in North Battleford, Mayes earned himself a place on the football team at Washington State University. In 1984, he finished tenth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy which is no small feat.
In 1986, the New Orleans Saints selected Mayes and he repaid their faith by winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Even though he suffered quite a few injuries during his time with the Saints, he was still named to the Pro Bowl on two occasions in 1986 and again in 1987. And such was his popularity that he was inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame.
He then spent a couple of seasons with the Seattle Seahawks but at this point his career was beginning to wind down as injuries took their toll. That said, he is still considered the greatest Canadian to have ever played American football in the NFL.
This year’s drafts have some way to go to reach the heights that both Mayes and Ryan hit during their peak years. But as we said, with Chase Claypool, we could have a new name to add to this list in a few years’ time.