- Free Agency
Canadian rookies usually require some time to develop and mature towards being ready for the Canadian Football League.
But each year there are a group of homegrown products that make an impact for their respective teams instantly.
Through 15 weeks of the schedule a handful of first-year players have put forth strong efforts in 2014. Therefore, it’s time to take a look at the top Canadian rookie performers so far this season.
1) Antoine Pruneau, DB, Ottawa REDBLACKS
Acquired: 1st round pick, 4th overall in the 2014 CFL Draft.
On draft day teams were lighting up the phones trying to move up and select the Montreal native. Pruneau’s 4.48 40-yard time at the combine proved to scouts he had the speed to compete at the CFL level.
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And so far he’s been able to stay healthy, a question scouts had about him coming into the league.
Pruneau is tied for third on the REDBLACKS with 42 tackles, and he’s notched one quarterback sack. He’s also added nine special teams takedowns. Pruneau has proven the hype about him was real.
2) Nolan McMillan, OL, Ottawa REDBLACKS
Acquired: 1st round pick, 9th overall in the 2013 CFL Draft.
Ottawa snapped up the local product with the franchise’s first ever draft selection. He finished up his playing eligibility at the University of Iowa a year ago and came back north of the border for the team’s inaugural campaign.
McMillan has been a mainstay on the offensive line this year. The six-foot-six, 294-pound lineman has shown he possesses the capabilities to be a long-term starter for the REDBLACKS up front.
3) Lirim Hajrullahu, K/P, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Acquired: Undrafted in 2013. Signed by the Blue Bombers as a free agent on January 17, 2014.
Hajrullahu has been a kicking revelation for the Bombers. Winnipeg’s rookie leads the CFL in field goal accuracy percentage, making good on over 90 per cent of his attempts so far this season (28-31). He’s also done a solid job punting the football, averaging 43.5 yards per punt with a long of 83 yards.
After seeing Hajrullahu’s production over his first 14 career games, it makes you wonder how he possibly went undrafted back in the 2013 CFL Draft.
The Bombers 24-year-old kicker has a strong leg – 51 yards is his longest field goal – and, perhaps more importantly, an ability to focus and deliver under pressure.
4) Andrew Lue, DB, Montreal Alouettes
Acquired: 2nd round pick, 10th overall, in the 2014 CFL Draft.
Montreal likely felt fortunate to land Lue at the top of the second round on draft day.
No. 44 for the Alouettes is an intelligent football player and always understands what’s going on around him.
Some wondered if Lue was tough enough to compete at every snap and he’s gone out and proven any doubters wrong. Lue has turned into a special teams demon, leading Montreal and tied for fifth in the entire league with 17 special teams tackles.
And for his efforts he’s seen some reps on defence as well.
5) Dylan Ainsworth, DL, Saskatchewan Roughriders
Acquired: 2nd round pick, 11th overall, in the 2014 CFL Draft
Regardless of position, Ainsworth was one of the most athletically talented players available in the 2014 Draft.
His pure athleticism has made him a matchup nightmare on special teams. So it’s no surprise Ainsworth is tied for second on the Riders and is just eight behind the league lead with 15 special teams tackles.