The 2014 NFL Draft class is full of intriguing, talented prospects who have each taken unique journeys to arrive at this point, the doorstep of the NFL.
And one of the most interesting players is a young Canadian offensive lineman out of Montreal's McGill University: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
The 6-5, 310-pounder is more than just a fun name to say (by the way, it's pronounced loh-RON DOOVER-nay TAR-dif), he's also a highly coveted player who is attracting a lot of attention from NFL teams. Factor in that Laurent, or Larry for short, is currently in medical school while preparing for the NFL Draft and his days are very busy as of late.
"I trained in the states for five months (Knoxville, Tenn.); now I'm back in Montreal," Duvernay-Tardif said during a recent phone interview. "I have a pediatric rotation from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, then a workout, then dinner, then homework and then studying film."
Duvernay-Tardif has five years to complete one more year of schooling before receiving his M.D. certificate, something he hopes to do in any spare time he has as a NFL player. He would like to become a sports doctor down the road, which would mean another three-year residency. But first and foremost, Duvernay-Tardif's motivation is to become a professional football player.
"Every time I train, I think of training camp and being in the NFL. I want to give 100 percent and make it clear, football is my focus."
Duvernay-Tardif started playing football 10 years ago, the first eight on the defensive side of the ball. But he moved to the offensive line two years ago and has been a quick study. He says he likes blocking better than rushing because of the "strategy and team work."
And the positional change has been a beneficial move with his athleticism, strength and smarts translating very well to the offensive side of the ball. Admittedly he still has room to grow, especially run blocking at the NFL level since Canadian rules allow a full yard between the offense and defense at the line of scrimmage. But as Duvernay-Tardif explains, "I'm very cerebral and I'll learn quickly."
A NFL Combine snub, Duvernay-Tardif is realistic to the fact that few knew of him prior to the East-West Shrine Game , but after the scouting all-star exhibition this past January in St. Petersburg, more NFL teams started to take notice. And now he has eight visits on the calendar with more likely on the way. Duvernay-Tardif mentioned four teams in particular that have shown the most interest: San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles, who also set up a private visit with him.
The NFL has several active players with Canadian connections, like Miami Dolphins DE Cameron Wake, who played two seasons in the CFL or Austin Collie, Nate Burleson and others who were born north of the border. But few have played collegiately in Canada and gone on to hear their name called on draft weekend, the most recent example being New Orleans Saints DT Akiem Hicks, who was a third round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft out of Regina College.
Duvernay-Tardif, who is the projected No. 1 overall pick in the CFL Draft, is expected to be selected early on day three of the NFL Draft, probably in the 4th-5th round range as NFL teams see a lump of clay ready to be molded. He will require some time to develop, but his football intangibles and raw talent to eventually start are reasons behind the buzz. Duvernay Tardif's impressive pro day last month only fueled that fire, running his 40-yard dash in the 4.94-5.05 range with a 1.72 10-yard split, 34 bench press reps, 31.5-inch vertical leap, 9-foot-6 broad jump and 7.21 three-cone drill – numbers that would have ranked him among the top at his position at the NFL Combine.
As a student-athlete in medical school, Duvernay-Tardif obviously has the intelligence, discipline and preparation skills needed for the NFL. And based off the game film and workout numbers, many believe he has the athleticism and strength needed for the pro game as well.
One thing is for sure, Duvernay-Tardif has the mindset needed to survive in the NFL trenches.
"I love the feeling when you dominate, both physically and mentally," Duvernay-Tardif said. "When you're on the field you're prepared and know what's coming, it's a great feeling."
Learning the journey of draft prospects is one of the most interesting aspects of the process and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif certainly has a story to tell -- one I think we'll hear more about once his name is called at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.