A running back from the prairies and a defensive ironman top this list of the most successful Canadians in NFL history:
Rueben Mayes – The pride of North Battleford Saskatchewan, Rueben Mayes had the most successful season by a Canadian in NFL history. In 1986 Mayes rushed for 1,353 yards, scored eight touchdowns, and was named NFL offensive rookie of the year. The elusive runner went on to rush for a total of 3,484 yards and 23 touchdowns over seven seasons with the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks. Mayes was also named to two Pro Bowls.
Like Mayes, Windsor Ontario’s O.J. Atogwe spent a few seasons as perhaps the best player at his position. From 2006 to 2011 the former Ontario Varsity Football League star was the only defensive back to rank among the top-five in interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Over seven seasons with the St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins the Stanford grad recorded 373 tackles and 25 interceptions.
Vancouver native Rob Meier never led the league in any statistical category, and wasn’t even a starter for much of his nine-year career as a defensive tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yet his consistency and ability to stay healthy while playing in more than 100 NFL games is remarkable. From 2000 to 2009 the unheralded iron man missed only six games, and quietly recorded 173 tackles and 21.5 sacks while anchoring a very successful Jaguars defensive front.
Jerome Pathon also grew up playing football in British Columbia (Carson Graham Secondary School). The small but effective wide receiver is one of the most statistically accomplished players with roots in the Canadian University system (Pathon recorded 868 yards receiving and was named Canadian University rookie of the year while at Acadia University in 1993). Over an eight-year NFL career with the Colts, Saints and Falcons (1998 to 2005) Pathon had 3,350 yards receiving and scored 15 touchdowns.
One of the few Canadians to earn a Super Bowl ring, Lennoxville Quebec’s Tom Nutten started 69 games in eight seasons (1998 to 2005) as an offensive guard for the St. Louis Rams. Nutten, who was born in Germany but grew up in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, protected Kurt Warner as he led the Rams to a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Few Canadians have entered the NFL with as much buzz as Montreal’s Tim Biakabutuka. Born in Zaire but raised in Montreal, Biakabutuka once rushed for 313 yards in a single game for the Michigan Wolverines. Over six seasons with the Carolina Panthers the 1996 first-round draft pick rushed for a total of 2,530 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Known mainly for creating the ‘dirty bird’ (one of the most famous touchdown dances in NFL history), Whitby Ontario’s O.J. Santiago had a season to remember in 1998. The tight end recorded 428 yards receiving and scored five touchdowns while helping the Atlanta Falcons reach the Super Bowl. Over a seven-year career (1997 to 2003) with the Falcons, Browns, Raiders and Cowboys, Santiago compiled 1,041 yards receiving and scored a total of nine touchdowns.
While his time as a quarterback in the NFL was limited, Ottawa’s Jesse Palmer did rise to the level of starter — a rarity and a significant accomplishment for a born-and-bred Canadian quarterback. This rare accomplishment earns him a spot on the list. Palmer spent five years in the league (four with the New York Giants and one with the San Francisco 49ers), appearing in eight games and starting three. The former Myers Riders star threw for a total of 562 yards with three touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 52.5 per cent completion percentage.
Active Canadians currently enjoying long and distinguished careers in the NFL include Israel Idonije, Nate Burleson, Vaughn Martin and L.P. Ladouceur.
Complete list of Canadians in the NFL Draft (all-time):
Tyrone Crawford – 3rd round Cowboys 2012
Akiem Hicks – 3rd round Saints 2012
Philip Blake – 4th round Broncos 2012
Christo Bilukidi – 6th round Raiders 2012
Danny Watkins – 1st round Eagles 2011
Orlando Franklin – 2nd round Broncos 2011
Vaughn Martin – 4th round Chargers 2009
Austin Collie (born in Hamilton) – 4th round 2009 Draft – Colts
Nick Kaczur – 3rd round 2005, Patriots
OJ Atogwe – 3rd round Rams 2005
Teyo Johnson (born in White Rock BC) – 2nd round 2003 Raiders (now plays in UFL)
Nate Burleson (born in Calgary) – 3rd round 2003 – Vikings
Jesse Palmer – 4th round Giants — 2001
Rob Meier – 7th round Jaguars — 2000
Jerome Pathon – 2nd round – 1998 Colts
OJ Santiago – -3rd round 1997 draft Falcons
Tim Biakabutuka – 1st Round 1996 Panthers
Tom Nutten – 1992 7th round Rams
Tyrone Williams – 1992 – 9th round — Phoenix
Tony Mandarich – 1989 – 1st round – Green Bay
Mike Schad – 1st round 1986 Rams
Rueben Mayes — 3rd round 1986 Saints
Chris Schultz – 7th round 1983 Cowboys