Falcons take Canadian OL Bergeron, Eagles pick S Brown at NFL Draft

Newly drafted Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman and Victoriaville, Que. native Matthew Bergeron shares how he went from playing hockey as a kid to being the 38th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Courtesy: Falcons

After sitting through the first round of the NFL draft, Canadian Matthew Bergeron didn’t have to wait long Friday night to hear his name called.

The Atlanta Falcons selected the Syracuse offensive lineman in the second round. They made a deal with the Indianapolis Colts to move up and take Bergeron with the seventh pick of the round, No. 38 overall.

Bergeron was projected as a second-day selection, however some mock drafts had him moving in the latter stages of the first round.

“It was a long wait, I didn’t expect it to be that long,” Bergeron said in a telephone interview. “When you watch the draft as a fan, after pick No. 20 you’re going to bed but for me the 20th pick was when the action started.

“It was a long wait but I came back with a positive mindset and I’m very happy. I’m excited (to go to Atlanta), I’ve never been down there.”

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The 23-year-old native of Victoriaville, Que., was the first Canadian selected in this year’s draft. The six-foot-five, 322-pound Bergeron started 11 games last season for Syracuse and served as a team captain.

Then in the third round, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Illinois safety Sydney Brown, of London, Ont., with the third pick, No. 66 overall.

Bergeron allowed just four sacks in 686 snaps and was penalized three times. He was a 2022 second team All-ACC and AP All-ACC second team selection.

The burly Canadian anchored an offensive line that helped running back Sean Tucker gain more than 1,000 yards. Tucker also became the first player in school history to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons as well as 250-plus receiving yards.

Bergeron was invited to both the Senior Bowl and NFL combine during the off-season. He was the second offensive lineman selected in the second round but first tackle.

Five tackles were selected Thursday.

“I’ve been playing football my whole life and now it’s my job and I’m excited to attack it,” Bergeron said. “Obviously football is my passion and for your passion to be your job, I think is kind of a dream come true.”

When asked what kind of player the Falcons selected, Bergeron’s answer was short and sweet: “A physical and aggressive player.”

Bergeron made 39 career starts at tackle at Syracuse and was the top-ranked player in the CFL’s spring scouting bureau of the top-20 prospects for Tuesday’s draft. Bergeron became the first freshman to start at tackle for the Orange in nearly 20 years.

He came into the NFL draft as the top Canadian prospect, garnering a grade as an eventual plus starter. Bergeron had a 30.5-inch vertical leap and eight-foot-seven broad jump at the NFL combine and ended up ranked eighth among offensive tackles there.

The scouting report on Bergeron said while he was a college tackle, he could end up being a guard in the NFL. Scouts felt he was evenly proportioned and wore his weight well and many were impressed with his run-blocking (which had been described as Pro Bowl-calibre) and his ability to excel in positioning, sustaining and then finishing.

The Falcons appear set at tackle with Kaleb McGary (a 2019 first-round pick) on the right side and veteran Jake Matthews (entering his 10th NFL season) at left tackle. The team has a Pro Bowl player at right guard in Chris Lidstrom but there’s a vacancy at left guard with Elijah Wilkinson, who started nine games there last season, joining the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent.

“He’s someone the more I watched, I started to like him more,” Daniel Jeremiah, the NFL Network’s draft guru, said during the network’s telecast Friday. “I thought this guy had a chance to hold up at tackle (but) immediately I talked to a couple of teams (that said), ‘He’s going to have to kick inside.’

“I think he can play tackle in a pinch … he plays with really good balance. You rarely find him out of position.”

Atlanta (7-10) finished tied for second in the NFC South behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9), missing the NFL playoffs.

The five-foot-10, 211-pound Brown was a first-team All-Big Ten coaches selection last season at Illinois. The 23-year-old Canadian started 12 games, registering 59 tackles (3.5 for loss), six interceptions (tied for third in FBS) with a sack and scored two defensive TDs in the regular-season finale at Northwestern.

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Brown also garnered USA Today all-American and All-Big Ten (media) second-team honours and was a PFF all-American third-team selection. He also participated in both the Senior Bowl and NFL combine.

At Indianapolis, Brown posted a 4.47-second 40-yard dash time, 40.5-inch vertical leap, 10-foot-10 broad jump and 23 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

Brown appeared in 51 games at Illinois. He finished with 319 tackles (186 solo, 10 tackles for loss) and 10 interceptions and was ranked third on the CFL’s scouting bureau of the top-20 prospects for this year’s draft.

The Eagles (14-3) finished atop the NFC East last season and advanced to the Super Bowl before dropping a 38-35 decision to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The final four rounds will be held Saturday, with three Canadians looking to be called.

Chase Brown, Sydney’s twin, ran for 1,643 yards last season at Illinois, the fourth-highest rushing total in the NCAA Division I ranks. He was projected as a mid-round pick, as was Tavius Robinson, of Guelph, Ont., a defensive lineman at Ole Miss who began his college career at the University of Guelph.

If Chase Brown is drafted, he and his brother would become just the sixth twins to be taken in the same NFL draft and first since Khalil and Carlos Davis in 2020. And Robinson is looking to become the first Gryphon to be selected south of the border.

Sidy Sow of Bromont, Que., an offensive lineman at Eastern Michigan University, is the other Canadian prospect. If all five are selected, it would be the most Canucks taken in a single draft, surpassing the previous high of four, which has happened three times (1986, 2014 and 2021).

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