Oregon safety Jevon Holland becomes first Canadian player selected in 2021 NFL draft

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After having to sit through the entire opening round of the NFL draft without being taken, Canadian Jevon Holland didn't have to wait long to hear his name called Friday night.

The Miami Dolphins selected Holland with the fourth pick of the second round, No. 36 overall. That made the Oregon safety from Coquitlam, B.C., the first Canadian drafted.

"Last night, I was a little tossing and turning but I had a good night sleep," Holland said during a Dolphins zoom call. "I woke up (Friday) morning and went and worked out, then I sat down and was ready (to hear) my name called.

"I'm blessed the Miami Dolphins, coach (Brian) Flores called my name."

Two more Canadians were drafted in the third round.

The Washington Football Team took Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, a Montreal native, No. 74 overall. Then three selections later, the L.A. Chargers selected Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer, of Brampton, Ont.

The final four rounds will be held Saturday.

Palmer, for one, wasn't content with merely being drafted.

"Just because the draft is going on doesn't mean I stop working," Palmer said during a Chargers zoom call. "This is what I've been training for and now that it's here, it's time to go take advantage of it and be great."

As an early second-round selection, Holland can expect to sign a four-year deal roughly worth US$8.7 million with a signing bonus of about $3.7 million.

St-Juste's four-year contract should be worth around $5.1 million with a $1.069-million signing bonus. Palmer can expect a four-year, $5.03-million deal with a $1.02-million signing bonus.

Holland was surprised to be taken by Miami.

"No, I didn't have any idea.," he said. "I'm overjoyed."

More Canadians are expected to follow. Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard (Sherwood Park, Alta) and linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga (Calgary) and Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson (Windsor, Ont.) have also garnered much NFL interest.

The record for most Canadians taken in a draft is four, set in 2014.

"I love being able to represent the Canadian people," Holland said. "I'm blessed to be in this position representing that many people.

"I'm just honoured to be here.

Holland was the second defensive back taken in the second, but first safety in the draft.

Holland, a six-foot, 207-pound junior, opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 NFL draft. Holland said teams asked him about that decision and he didn't shy away from answering their queries.

"Everybody wanted to know and so I was honest about it," he said. "That's the only thing I could be and we just went from there."

Holland registered 66 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss, and four interceptions in 14 games for Oregon in 2019. He appeared in 27 career contests with the Ducks, accumulating 108 tackles and nine interceptions.

Holland said seeing action as a receiver in high school helped him develop his ball skills.

"I feel like I have a good sense of how the ball trajectory is going to be in the sky and things like that," he said. "I definitely think that added to my ball skills and ball-hawking ability."

At Oregon's pro day, Holland posted 40-yard dash times of 4.46 and 4.48 seconds. He also registered a 35.5-inch vertical jump, a stellar broad jump of 10 feet six inches and 19 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

Holland also offers versatility as he can also play cornerback and return punts.

On Thursday, Miami selected Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle with the sixth-overall pick. Waddle was also a dangerous returner for the national-champion Tide.

"Jaylen, that's my home boy, he's a hell of a player," Holland said. "I'm excited to be a Dolphin with him.

"I'm just looking to be on the field with him and all my other teammates. Whatever the coaches want, man, I'm down to do."

Holland was invited to this year's NFL combine, but the league eliminated in-person workouts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holland comes by his football prowess honestly. His father, John, was a defensive back in both the NFL (San Francisco 1992-93) and CFL (1990, 1993-97 with B.C., Edmonton and Saskatchewan).

"My dad and brother both played football," Holland said. "It's really just me trying to follow in their footsteps.

"And then . . . kind of adapting a passion for myself and I ended up falling in love more with the game at that point."

The six-foot-three, 205-pound St-Juste, 23, played in five of Minnesota’s seven games this season. He registered 14 tackles and broke up three passes while earning academic All Big-10 honours.

"One of the exciting things about him is his physical play, his physical nature," Washington head coach Ron Rivera said during a zoom call. "(He's) a guy who will come up to the line of scrimmage and be physical and a guy who will tackle."

St-Juste began his college career at Michigan, playing as a freshman in 2017 before redshirting in 2018 due to a hamstring injury that ultimately affected his scholarship status. He transferred to Minnesota in 2019, appearing in all 13 games (starting nine) and finished tied for the team lead with 10 pass breakups.

St-Juste showed versatility at the Senior Bowl in January, performing well at both cornerback and safety. He was also invited to the NFL combine but that event was held virtually, putting more weight on St-Juste’s performance in Mobile, Ala.

"He did a really good job at the Senior Bowl, he caught my eye there," Washington GM Martin Mayhew said. "The guy is six foot three, he runs well, he uses his hands and length well.

"A lot of time you see big corners and they're not as aggressive at the line as they could be. This guy utilizes his length at the line of scrimmage. He brings a lot to the table as far as his overall skillset and his size."

St-Juste's father, Wilbert, played safety for the University of Miami in 1989.

The six-foot-one, 210-pound Palmer had 99 catches for 1,514 yards and seven TDs while starting 36 games at Tennessee. He also impressed at the Senior Bowl, practising well and catching a TD pass in the game.

"I'm coming to work," Palmer said. "Man, you're going to get everything out of me.

"I don't really care what role I have, I'm going to learn, you're going to get everything from me and we're going to win some games. We're going to win some championships."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press