Canada has not been a hotbed of NFL talent over the years, but that could be about to change. There have been solid players that have enjoyed good careers in the league.
The most notorious of all is Eddie Murray, who won the Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys in 1993. He was one of the best kickers of his generation, being named a First-Team All-Pro in 1980 along with four Second-Team All-Pro berths. As a result of his impressive form throughout the 1980s, he was named in the 1980s All-Decade Team behind Morten Andersen.
Another kicker also impressed as Mike Vanderjagt was named a First-Team All-Pro in 2003, but his career was defined more by his misses than his successful kicks, failing under the spotlight under too many occasions for the Indianapolis Colts.
However, there have been few standout playmakers on the field, the ones that really make people sit up and take notice. Canadians will naturally gravitate towards ice hockey more than American football, but if youngsters start to see their compatriots make a splash in the NFL, it could be a watershed moment for the country to produce quality players on a consistent basis and in key positions.
Here are two players currently active in the NFL that could be ready to change the perception of football in Canada.
Holland was born in Coquitlam, British Columbia, but moved to the United States in elementary school, where he developed his skills on the field. Holland’s dad Robert, played for the BC Lions in the CFL, so he has genetics on his side.
However, Holland junior has managed to take his footballing career to the NFL. He excelled as a defensive back at the Oregon Ducks for three seasons before he opted to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. In a talented class, Holland was one of the first defensive backs taken by the Miami Dolphins with the 36th overall pick, the fourth selection in the second round.
Holland was a regular starter as a rookie under Brian Flores, excelling at the strong safety position. In 16 games, he accumulated impressive statistics, making 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 2.5 interceptions. It was not enough to allow him to rise above veterans to earn a Pro Bowl nod, but among his first-year class his talent was recognised as he was named in the PFWA All-Rookie Team.
The 22-year-old has maintained his form in the 2022 campaign despite the departure of Flores. Under Mike McDaniel, he was named a defensive captain and continues to make plays, notably picking off New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones in the season opener.
Holland is becoming a star in the making the rising Dolphins, who have been outstanding in the campaign to date and could be ones to watch. Miami are considered slight outsiders in the NFL odds in the race for the Super Bowl.
Holland has made plays for Mike McDaniel’s team in the secondary, but will need to make a lot more to turn them into true contenders for the crown. He has the talent to become a perennial All-Pro and that will aid the Dolphins in their quest for a deep run in the post-season. Winning the Super Bowl would certainly put Holland on the map in Canada.
Claypool was born in Abbotsford, British Columbia and remained in Canada throughout his high school career, excelling on the field by breaking records aplenty. Due to his incredible performances, Claypool received numerous offers from the top colleges in the United States and opted to attend Notre Dame, one of the most prestigious schools in the country. He failed to make an impression as a freshman and was not much better as a sophomore, but Claypool improved leaps and bounds in his junior year. All eyes were on the wideout in his senior season, where he was terrific recording 1,037 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in only 13 games.
Claypool’s performances put him on the radar of NFL teams, and it did not take long before he was snapped up in the 2020 NFL Draft in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Claypool hit the ground running as a rookie, joining a select company of players to score four touchdowns in a single game when he achieved the feat against the Philadelphia Eagles. The quality of his first year earned him a nod to the 2020 PFWA All-Rookie Team, and many were expecting him to take the next step in 2021.
The performances of Roethlisberger dipped in what would be his final season in the NFL, Claypool’s production in the endzone suffered as a result. The Steelers opted to draft Kenny Pickett to replace Roethlisberger, but it failed to remedy the issues in the 2022 season. Claypool was the target of other NFL teams, and the Steelers opted to trade him to the Chicago Bears for a return on their second round pick. Now paired with one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the NFL in Justin Fields, Claypool could be ready to re-ignite his career. At his best, he can be devastating on the field and a player to excite neutral fans everywhere, which is not something said about most NFL players hailing from Canada.
There is hope that Canada are starting to produce a number of talented players. Beyond Holland and Claypool, Josh Palmer has displayed playmaking ability at the Los Angeles Chargers with Justin Herbert. Washington Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste is another player to watch as he is a regular starter for Ron Rivera’s improving unit.
In the past there were not enough Canadians on an NFL field outside the kicker. Now there are top talents that are flourishing and in the case of Holland part of a push towards the Super Bowl. He could well be the example to follow for Canadians to prove that they are capable of operating at the highest level rather than the CFL. The next 10 years could be very fruitful if there is take-up of young players gravitating towards the sport over the traditional ways.