2015 NFL Draft Prospect You Need To Know: C-USA
By David Seigerman
For an NFL prospect, Christian Covington comes from the unlikeliest of places.
Not Rice. It's never been a wellspring of NFL talent, though, to be fair, the Owls are starting to surface in previously uncharted territory . . . Draft Day Two. Cornerback Phillip Gaines went in the third round of the 2014 draft, and tight end Vance McDonald was a second round pick in 2013, the highest a Rice prospect was picked since Bert Emmanuel went 45th in 1994.
No, I'm talking about Canada. Western Canada. British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver to be specific. The list of Canadians who have carved out an NFL niche is a short one, with Rainy River, Ontario's Bronco Nagurski at the top, a bunch of kickers (Shaun Suisham, Mike Vanderjagt, Steve Christie) and a few recognizable if unexceptional names (Mark Rypien, Tim Biakabutuka, Nate Burleson), but not much else by way of success stories.
An unprecedented four Canadian-born players were taken in the final day of the 2014 NFL Draft: Virginia defensive tackle Brent Urban (Baltimore), Penn State guard John Urschel (Baltimore), Notre Dame receiver T.J. Jones (Detroit), even one who played his college football in Canada, McGill offensive tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (Kansas City). That's a step in the right direction, and Covington, one of the most intruguing NFL prospects out of Conference USA, expects to follow the trail they're blazing.
At 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, Covington plays primarily the 1 technique for Rice, lining up not over the center like a pure nose tackle but in the A gap between the center and the guard. He's been remarkably effective in getting penetration from that spot; his 11.5 TFL led the Owls last season, and he has 24 TFL and 10 sacks over the two seasons.
It's not his strength that has been Covington's best asset, though reports of his weight room prowess suggest he'll open some eyes at the Combine next February. Instead, it's been his quickness. Covington isn't Aaron Donald, but he has good balance and fast feet and looks remarkably smooth in pursuit. He had four sacks a year ago, none more impressive than when he beat All-American left tackle Jake Matthews and engulfed a pocket-bound Johnny Manziel. That kind of face time with Johnny Football is usually reserved for A-listers like Drake.
Covington boasts something very few Canadian football players can claim -- a pedigree. His father, Grover Covington, is an inductee of the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame and is the CFL's all-time leader in sacks (157). He was the Defensive MVP of the 1986 Grey Cup and played three seasons in Hamilton with Darrell Patterson, Rice's assistant head coach.
If he takes the next step forward in his development, Covington will have the rare opportunity to be the pride of both (Conference) USA and Canada.
David Seigerman's new book, "Under Pressure," co-authored with former NFL quarterback Ray Lucas, is available on Amazon.com and at bookstores everywhere.