NFL

Panthers choose Chuba Hubbard, tying record for most Canadians picked in 1 NFL draft

Chuba Hubbard's patience was finally rewarded Saturday as the Carolina Panthers selected the Oklahoma State running back from Sherwood Park, Alta., in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

Defenders Jevon Holland, Benjamin St-Juste and receiver Josh Palmer taken Friday

Running back Chuba Hubbard, who opted out of the 2020 NCAA season early on with a high ankle sprain, to declare for the NFL draft, was chosen by the Panthers in the fourth round on Saturday. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images/File)

Chuba Hubbard made it a record-tying NFL draft for Canada on Saturday.

The Oklahoma State running back from Sherwood Park, Alta., was taken by the Carolina Panthers in the fourth round, No. 126 overall, of the draft. That made Hubbard the fourth Canadian selected, tying the 2014 mark for most Canucks picked

With both Iowa tackle Alaric Jackson of Windsor, Ont., and Oklahoma State linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga of Calgary still on the board, though, it appeared a good bet it would be a record-setting draft for this country. Both were bypassed but expected to sign as undrafted free agents with an NFL squad.

Jackson not being drafted was a surprise given the towering six-foot-six, 321-pound offensive lineman was a four-year starter at Iowa. Ogbongbemiga wasn't chopped liver either, being selected as Oklahoma State's top defensive player in 2019.

However, being one of four Canadians drafted was a source of pride for Hubbard.

"It just shows there's a lot of hidden gems across the border," Hubbard said during a Panthers' Zoom call Saturday. "The fact that you see a lot of guys from Canada, so many of my friends, so many guys that I know, make their dreams come true and achieve all of these things, it's great.

'We just continue to create this pipeline'

"It's a special feeling. I hope that this shows that younger guys from Canada and really all over, they can do the same thing. We just continue to create this pipeline from Canada to the States for football and really all other sports."

Hubbard became the first Canadian running back taken in the NFL draft since Carolina selected Montreal's Tim Biakabutuka in the opening round in 1996.

But Hubbard had to wait two days in order to hear his name called. The first-round selections were made Thursday night, followed by the second and third rounds Friday.

The six-foot, 208-pound Hubbard ran for 625 yards (4.7-yard average) and five touchdowns last season. After missing two games with a high ankle sprain, he decided to opt out of the remainder of the '20 campaign and declare for the draft.

It wasn't the ending Hubbard envisioned when he decided to remain in school after leading American university football with 2,094 yards rushing (6.4-yard average) and 21 TDs in 2019.

"[2020] was a period to get better, become a better person, better leader, better football player," Hubbard said. "That's really what this year has been — I just look at it as a year of learning and growth, that's how I've taken it."

Hubbard proved earlier this month at Oklahoma State's pro day he's healthy again, posting an official 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds although some social media reports had him running under 4.40 seconds.

Hubbard also registered a 36-inch vertical jump, 4.26-second short shuttle and 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

Hubbard will provide depth behind starting running back Christian McCaffrey, who ran for 1,387 yards in 2019.

"I know I definitely need to work on my pass protection," Hubbard said. "In regards to the passing game, I definitely feel I can be a threat there, a weapon there.

'Big chip on my shoulder'

"Obviously Christian McCaffrey does a lot of work there and I think I model a lot of my stuff when it comes to catching the ball after him. I have a big chip on my shoulder. I promise [the Panthers] are going to get the best out of me."

In fact, Hubbard said he grew up a Panthers fan and cheered for the team in its 24-10 Super Bowl loss to Denver on Feb. 7, 2016.

"I grew up a big Cam Newton fan," Hubbard said. "Going into the Super Bowl against the Broncos, I was really hoping the Panthers were going to win, I'm not going to lie.

Three Canadians were taken Friday night.

  • Oregon safety Jevon Holland, of Coquitlam, B.C., went in the second round, No. 36 overall, to the Miami Dolphins.
  • Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, of Montreal, and Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer, of Brampton, Ont., were taken in the third round by Washington and the L.A. Chargers, respectively.
  • Offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage of Saint-Eustache, Que., signed with the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent shortly after the draft.
Oregon safety Jevon Holland of Coquitlam, B.C., was among three Canadians drafted Friday night. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

St-Juste slowly coming to grips with being NFL pick

Even after sleeping on it, St-Juste was having a little difficulty coming to grips with the realization he's a full-time football player.

"I'm always someone who takes a bit more time to just reflect on everything, call up my mom and dad and just chat about it," St-Juste said during a video conference Saturday. "It will probably be the next few days when I really realize what I did.

"But my mind is always on the next thing, keep working and keep working."

St-Juste said he had multiple meetings with Washington officials throughout the draft process but was somewhat surprised to have been drafted by the franchise.

"When I talked with my agent, there were different teams that were supposed to pick me but they ended up getting a corner," St-Juste said. "I think [Washington] has a specific plan for me.

"I think I might not just play corner, I might be moved around inside at safety, all around. I don't know yet about the specific plan but I think that's it."

Resilient

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.

St-Juste has certainly shown resiliency during his football tenure. He began his college career at Michigan, playing as a freshman in 2017 before red-shirting 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.

"I think [adversity] played a big role in my journey," he said. "Going through barriers, going through adversity, that shapes your character, that shapes your personality, and it gets the best out of you.

"It shows if you really love football and I love football and so I went through it and came out stronger. I still have this chip on my shoulder and I think it put me in the position I am today."

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

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