TORONTO — When it comes to the CFL Draft, long-term reward matters most for general managers and team personnel.
Patience is a virtue for talent evaluators, especially in a league where the top prospects may not have any impact until years down the road: ‘Futures’ try their shot south of the border and never cross over while developmental prospects simply need more time.
Others, however, can step in and make an immediate impact.
Last season, the first seven picks of the draft all started multiple games for their teams while registering double-digit appearances. And while Philippe Gagnon started all 18 games, Alex Singleton and third-round pick Taylor Loffler emerged as defensive stars for the Stamps and Bombers respectively.
2016 FIRST ROUND PICK GAMES PLAYED
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*Tevaun Smith had an NFL contract in 2016 with the Indianapolis Colts.
This year’s CFL Draft could yet again provide immediate aid.
“The draft can and should provide help right away at depth positions for both the offensive line and defensive line,” said CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson, “while a couple of receivers could play themselves into starting roles quickly.”
So while GMs keep long-term payout in mind, which prospects have a chance to become day one starters? There could be a handful.
“Geoff Gray is a specimen and appears to have the mentality to play right away, as do a pair of receivers in Nate Behar and Danny Vandervoort,” said Ferguson. “On the defensive line, Kwaku Boateng is most likely to become a known commodity the quickest — but if Eli Ankou and Faith Ekakitie come north soon, they too could quickly become starters before long.”
Gray is an early favourite to go first overall to the Bombers after Mason Woods struggled at the CFL Combine last month in Regina. The offensive lineman from the University of Manitoba jumped from fifth to third in the latest CFL Scouting Bureau rankings and drew rave reviews at his pro day.
The risk with Gray is whether he arrives on this side of the border right away.
Behar and Vandervoort are also slated as potential first round picks who could pay immediate dividends. Vandervoort could contribute on special teams regardless, Ferguson says, while Behar could fit in at wide receiver when ready.
On the D-line, Boateng could be seen as a situational edge rusher off the jump while Ankou and Ekakitie have the ability to make an instant impact — if they find themselves in Canada.
Last year, seven out of eight first round picks were on the offensive side of the ball. No defensive backs went in the first round. Ferguson says that could change this year and there as there are a few DBs who could step in quickly.
“The defensive back group has a four-pack of talented ball hawks in Nate Hamlin, Robert Woodson, Jordan Hoover and Dondre Wright,” said Ferguson, “all of whom I believe should see significant playing time on special teams and find work in a role with their respective defences quickly.”
Who can help right away is always a mystery and difficult to forecast. Looking back, the pick of the draft last year, so far, appears to be Loffler. The Bombers’ safety was named a CFL All-Star after being selected in the third round, 19th overall.
Llevi Noel, who contributed heavily on special teams and later started at wideout for the Argos, fell to the fourth round.
When teams arrive at the draft table on May 7, there’s a complicated balance to be struck: Who has the highest ceiling vs. who is most likely to stay in the CFL and play.
‘Futures’ aside, when it comes time for GMs to make the selection, Ferguson says the approach should favour patience.
“Take the best player available and watch them grow under your supervision,” he said. “If you trust their ability to continue developing, do not be concerned with when it happens.”
And if things go really well, you could end up with the next Alex Singleton, Philippe Gagnon or Taylor Loffler — all every day contributors in their rookie season.