Preparing for the 2020 CFL Draft has been drastically altered by social distancing protocols created by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the actual event itself won’t be much different.
The CFL Draft, which has been using a conference call to select draft picks since 1996 (with the first two rounds broadcast live on TSN since 2009), will be business as usual, unlike the recent NFL Draft, which had to cancel a series of elaborate plans at the host site in Las Vegas to do a virtual draft.
This year’s CFL Draft starts at 6 p.m. Thursday on TSN. After the second round is completed by 8 p.m., the results from the final six rounds will be live-streamed on cfl.ca as they are announced.
The major difference for the Eskimos this year will be team personnel self-isolating in their home cities instead of huddling together in a room at Commonwealth Stadium. General Manager & Vice President of Football Operations Brock Sunderland, Head Coach Scott Milanovich in Tampa, Fla., and Assistant Director of Football Operations/Player Personnel Assistant Nick Pelletier will be communicating via conference call.
Having the Western Regional Combine and CFL Combine cancelled in March due to the pandemic were a lot more impactful. In essence, the Eskimos scouting staff has had to take a blind approach to preparing for the draft because they didn’t have the opportunity to watch prospects perform the valuable one-on-one drills against other top prospects nor gather results of the various physical and skill tests during the respective Combines.
While the Eskimos could still interview players via conference calls in recent weeks, it’s not considered as effective when it comes to figuring out a player’s motives or mindset as when you’re talking to them in person and can read their body language.
The Esks could also rely upon various contacts to help fill in some of the blanks about certain players.
Of course, watching extra game film became a priority, as well, and talking to different university coaches could offset the loss of information usually obtained at the Combines.
Some players made up for the lost opportunity of posting good numbers at the Combines by creating their own videos showing off their speed in the 40-yard sprint, agility in the three-cone or shuttle drills, and strength in the bench press (of 225 pounds) or vertical leap and broad jump. Some even stepped on a weigh scale or stood against a tape on the wall to confirm their weight and height for teams wanting to know their exact measurements.
There would also be game film available from the U Sports’ annual East-West game featuring Canada’s top prospects in May 2019 at Ottawa and from any Pro Days held before those events were shut down last month.
In addition, the CFL’s Scouting Bureau provided a Top-20 list of prospects three times since last fall, including a listing in December after the Canadian university season had concluded and the final one earlier this month without any input from the cancelled Combines.
Oklahoma defensive tackle Neville Gallimore and Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool were ranked 1-2 by the Scouting Bureau, but neither is likely to be the first name off the board – or even selected in the first few rounds – after being chosen in the NFL Draft last week. Claypool was drafted 49th overall in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers while Gallimore went 82nd overall in the third round to the Dallas Cowboys.
Gallimore (six-foot-two, 304 pounds) started 38 of his 52 games with the Sooners, compiling 148 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, nine quarterback sacks and five forced fumbles. The Ottawa native, who could get picked by the RedBlacks as a territorial player after the second round, joined Claypool and UCLA kicker JJ Molson at the NFL Combine in March. He reportedly posted the third-fastest 40-yard dash (4.79 seconds) by a 300-pound participant at any position in the past 21 years.
Meanwhile, the six-foot-four, 238-pound Claypool exploded for 1,037 yards and 13 TDs on 66 catches in his senior year. The Abbottsford, B.C., native also tied a Notre Dame record with four receiving touchdowns against Navy in November and was named the MVP of the Camping World Bowl after making seven catches for 146 yards and a major. He ran the 40-yard sprint in 4.42 seconds – the seventh-fastest time among the 55 wide receivers at the NFL Combine – after being told by some teams he should switch to tight end because of his size. The only other wide receiver who was at least six-four and 235 pounds to run the 40 in less than 4.5 seconds in Combine history was former Detroit Lions star Calvin (Megatron) Johnson in 2007.
Neither Claypool nor Gallimore is likely to be seen in the CFL for a long time, which might push University of Alberta offensive lineman Carter O’Donnell into the No. 1 pick … except he signed as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts after the NFL Draft.
O’Donnell, a six-foot-six, 300-pound native of Calgary who played his high school football in Red Deer, was ranked No. 3 by the Scouting Bureau. An aggressive blocker and first-team All-Canadian last year, he helped the Golden Bears average 399 yards of total offence and 5.2 yards per rushing attempt last season. O’Donnell was also one of two U Sports players selected to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl, an annual college football all-star game of elite graduating seniors in the United States.
There are a lot of interesting storylines among the players listed by the Scouting Bureau. The rest of the Top 10 includes, in order, Buffalo offensive lineman Tomas Jack-Kuryla at No. 4; Virginia receiver Dejon Brissett; Brown University defensive lineman Michael Hoecht, Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke, East Carolina linebacker Jordan Williams, Montreal defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy and North Dakota defensive end Mason Bennett at No. 10.
- Brissett grew up dreaming about playing basketball for the Toronto Raptors – his brother, Oshea, is a rookie with the NBA team – but ended up being really good in football. The six-foot-one, 195-pound receiver has had injury issues since he was the Richmond Spiders’ top receiver with 63 catches for 896 yards and seven touchdowns during his junior college season.
- Williams was almost signed to the RedBlacks’ practice roster as an American last year until they realized he was eligible for national status because his mother was born in Toronto. He was ranked eighth by the Scouting Bureau despite having not played since 2017. A three-year starter at East Carolina, only his lack of size – five-foot-11 and 219 pounds – is supposedly keeping the athletically gifted defender out of the NFL.
- Defensive back Dequoy, 25, didn’t play football during four of his first five seasons after he finished high school (he quit football for a year, returned the next season only to get injured in his fifth game, another injury cost him the third season, then a league rule on age restriction forced him to sit out again and he didn’t play as a freshman at the U of Montreal). The six-foot-three, 198-pound All-Canadian, who may be able to play strong-side linebacker, field (wide side) cornerback or safety in the CFL, is ranked No. 9 by the Scouting Bureau. He broke his right forearm in last year’s Vanier Cup, which cost him an opportunity to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl with U of A O-lineman Carter O’Donnell. Dequoy has signed a free-agent deal with the Green Bay Packers.
- Despite being a dual-threat QB who passed for 60 touchdowns and ran for another 49 TDs in only 39 games with the Ohio Bobcats, the odds are stacked against Rourke – ranked No. 7 by the Scouting Bureau. He has had his sights set on the NFL for a long time, but the only born-and-raised Canadian QB to play in the NFL is Ottawa’s Jesse Palmer (eight games, three starts, with the New York Giants in 2002-03). Meanwhile, only four Canadian QBs have been drafted in the CFL since 2011 and one of them – Brad Sinopoli (2011) – ended up becoming a premier receiver in the league.
- Jack-Kurdyla started 45 of his 47 games on a good offensive line at Buffalo. The six-foot-four, 300-pound right guard contributed to the Bulls’ first 10-win season in 2018, first bowl victory in the 2019 Bahamas Bowl and two school records – the team allowed only eight quarterback sacks and rushed for 3,256 yards last year.
- At six-foot-four, 295 pounds, Hoecht is considered the complete package with size, skills, athleticism and smarts (he taught calculus to fellow students at his Ivy League school). A two-year captain and four-year starter, he posted crazy good numbers for a player his size in his virtual workout video and was signed by the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent after the NFL Draft.
- Bennett (six-four, 258 pounds) became the first player in his North Dakota school’s Division I history to be named an All-American (third team) in 2019. He finished one quarterback sack shy of the school record of 10 in a single season in 2018 and holds the Fighting Hawks’ record for career sacks at the Division I level with 20.
Rounding out the rest of the Scouting Bureau’s Top 20 players in order of ranking are:
- Offensive lineman Kétel Assé, a two-time All-Canadian who started every game for Laval during the past three seasons. The six-foot-seven, 308-pound Assé is ranked No. 11.
- Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund, a Maritime product who played at Southeastern Louisiana, has a great pass-rushing ability. The six-two, 243-pound defensive end had 16 sacks (including three on Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Joe Burrow in a 31-0 loss) and 135 tackles, 27 tackles for a loss, 10 pass breakups, six forced fumbles and a fumble recovery during his last two seasons.
- Nevada receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange, six-foot-four, 210 pounds, is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. Doyle Orange played with the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the late 1970s, once rushing 37 times for 175 yards.
- Queen’s defensive tackle Cameron Lawson dropped to 280 pounds to increase his mobility as a run-stopper and pass rusher during the 2019 season.
- Laval’s Adam Auclair played 32 consecutive games with the Rouge et Or. The versatile defensive back is the younger brother of NFL tight end Antony Auclair of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Dylan Giffen is six-foot-eight, 324 pounds, but after playing left tackle for Western, he’s likely to be shifted to guard in the CFL.
- Tyler Ternowski was a speedy receiver with the Waterloo Warriors, catching 169 passes for 3,068 yards and 26 TDs.
- Rysen John is a six-foot-seven, 237-pound receiver who led Simon Fraser’s conference with 53 catches for 861 yards and 10 touchdowns. His biggest single-game performance was 11 receptions for 171 yards and a TD. He has signed a free agent contract with the New York Giants.
- Middle linebacker Jack Cassar (six-four, 235 pounds) fractured his ankle in Carleton’s spring camp last year and tore the meniscus in his knee in the last game of the 2019 season, so he took the spring semester off to train for six weeks in Tampa, Fla., only to learn that the CFL Combine was going to be cancelled two days before he returned to Canada.
- Closing out the top 20 list is kicker J.J. Molson, who made only eight of 14 field goal attempts last year, including a season-long 49-yard kick, but converted his last 90 extra-point attempts with the Bruins. Molson’s grandfather was once the owner of the Montreal Canadiens while he is an eighth generation descendant of John Molson, founder of North American’s oldest Brewery in 1786.
- Two more players to watch include former UBC Thunderbirds defensive back Stavros Katsantonis and ex-UBC receiver Trivel Pinto. Katsantonis had his draft year deferred from 2019 due to a doping violation for taking an over-the counter product to improve supplement absorption (the blend also contained a growth factor) while Pinto was suspended for two years by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports after testing positive for cocaine.
Offensive linemen often have been the first player off the board in recent CFL Drafts (four times in the last six years) and they have also dominated the first round with 35 selections compared to 32 players from all of the other positions combined during the past eight years – 13 defensive linemen, 11 receivers, five linebackers, two running backs and a defensive back.
While the No. 1 pick in 2018 was a wide receiver, seven of the first nine players selected were O-lineman, including a total of 20 overall in the entire draft. The most offensive lineman taken in a single draft was 26 in 1987.
The Eskimos didn’t have a first-round pick in 2018 and only selected one offensive lineman in the fifth round.
Last year, the CFL Draft set a record for the most defensive lineman (20) chosen. There were also 14 offensive lineman selected (four in the first round), 14 receivers and the first quarterback – Toronto’s six-foot-four, 230-pound Michael O’Connor – in four years. Only four QBs – Brad Sinopoli (2011) plus Brandon Bridge and Andrew Buckley in 2015 – were previously drafted during the past decade.
The 2019 Draft also had the most NCAA prospects selected during the last 10 years, including Oklahoma State offensive lineman Shane Richards, Tennessee defensive end Jonathan Kongbo, Arkansas State receiver Justin McInnis, Kansas O-lineman Alex Fontana and Connecticut receiver Hergy Mayala in the first round.