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April 27, 2020

Steinberg’s MMQB: 3 to watch in the first round of the CFL Draft

ECU Athletics Media Relations

We’re just days away from Thursday’s 2020 CFL Draft and we’re starting to get a better picture of what the first round board is going to look like.

The CFL Scouting Bureau’s top two prospects were both selected in this past weekend’s NFL Draft. Top ranked Neville Gallimore (DT, Oklahoma) went 82nd overall to the Dallas Cowboys, while number two prospect Chase Claypool (WR, Notre Dame) was the 49th overall pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It wasn’t a surprise to see Claypool and Gallimore selected in the first three rounds, and as Marshall Ferguson laid out here Sunday, both players will take understandable tumbles down the CFL Draft board as a result.

Additionally, other highly ranked players like Carter O’Donnell (OL, Alberta) and Michael Hoecht (DL, Brown) were among a number of Canadians to sign priority free agent deals immediately following the NFL Draft. Those players will also fall come Thursday in comparison to their Scouting Bureau rankings, albeit likely not as far as Claypool and Gallimore.

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With most of the NFL wheeling, dealing, and shuffling done, we now have a much better idea of what the first round is going to look like. I’ve got three prospects I’m fascinated to watch on Thursday night when it’s time for the CFL Draft to get going.

Jordan Williams, LB, East Carolina

The easy comparison for Williams is former sixth overall pick and current Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton. Much like Singleton, Williams found out about his eligibility for the CFL Draft by chance and decided to explore the opportunities that exist by being a national player.

Williams is an athletic freak and immediately popped onto the radar as soon as his national status was confirmed. Williams last played a meaningful game in 2017 as a senior at East Carolina before exploring his pro options on both sides of the border in 2018. He had to sit out 2019 to earn Canadian status and was finally able to put his ability on full display at last month’s Ontario Regional Combine.

“I was very fortunate to go and perform in front of GM’s and all nine CFL teams,” Williams told me last week. “That’s the only one that was there, so if I had missed that…they don’t know if I’m overweight and things of that nature. But to show my athletic potential and to show my poise and me adapting to the CFL game was, I can’t even describe words for that situation.”

The good fortune for Williams comes from the fact the Ontario Combine was the only one able to be held prior to pandemic restrictions being put in place. After two seasons away from game action, his chances of going in the first round would have taken a hit had he not been able to perform in person. Instead, he was the standout of 2020’s only CFL meet.

“I can’t deny I knew I did pretty decent,” Williams said. “The thing is, I always had those numbers and I always tested with those numbers. It wasn’t like a surprise to myself, it was more so a surprise to the coaches.”

The comparisons to Singleton don’t end at their status off the field. Both are extremely athletic, rangy, tackle-eating inside linebackers with very similar physical builds. Oh, and the Calgary Stampeders, Singleton’s only CFL team, just happen to hold the number overall pick on Thursday night with open slots at the position. It won’t be a shock if Williams is the first name we hear called in a few days.

Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio

Who will select QB Nathan Rourke in the CFL Draft on Thursday? (Ohio University)

The concept of an everyday starting quarterback from Canada is one of the most frequent football conversations this side of the border. It has been a long time since Russ Jackson held that distinction, but Ohio’s Rourke has a real chance to do something that hasn’t been done in decades.

As of this publishing, Rourke hasn’t signed a priority free agent deal in the NFL. While that could change between now and Thursday, he looks locked in as a high first rounder if he’s not signed south of the border. Regardless, Rourke knows he’ll be on a pro football roster somewhere next season.

“I know that there’s going to be football in my future,” Rourke said when I chatted with him last week. “That’s just a really comforting thing to know. I love football and to be able to have the chance to play in two different leagues is really cool. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of days in the NFL and then obviously what will happen in the CFL as well. I’m happy that I get a shot in both of them, because that’s all I could ask for.”

After a year of junior college at Fort Scott in Kansas, Rourke was a three-year starter at Ohio and posted some of the most impressive numbers we’ve ever seen from a Canadian pivot. Rourke’s senior season saw him pass for 2,820 yards and 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions; he ran for 867 more and another 13 majors.

It’s extremely rare to see a quarterback go high in the CFL Draft, but Rourke looks like the exception to the rule. His dual threat ability makes him a great fit north of the border and his college numbers are as impressive as we’ve seen in years.

Dejon Brissett, WR, Virginia

Where will Brissett go in the draft on Thursday? (University of Virginia)

With Claypool drafted by the Steelers, Brissett will almost certainly be the first receiver picked Thursday night. The Mississauga product was the fifth ranked prospect in the CFL Scouting Bureau’s final rankings and has a great chance to be a first rounder thanks to his smooth routes and impressive quickness.

Don’t be fooled by Brissett’s 2019 numbers at Virginia. Last year was an adjustment year for Brissett; it was his first year with the Cavaliers after four years at the University of Richmond. Brissett’s final season at Richmond was cut short by a significant injury, one that he was still fighting the first half of his only campaign at Virginia.

Prior to the injury, though, Brissett was starting to make a name for himself. After paying his dues as a freshman and a sophomore, Brissett exploded for Richmond in 2017 as a junior for 896 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games. That performance got him named a Colonial Athletic Conference First Team All-Star and put him on the map.

The interesting team to watch for Brissett come Thursday is Toronto. With two picks in the first round, you don’t have to squint to see them going with an offensive skill position with one of those selections. Furthermore, it would be a great story for the Argos. Brissett is a GTA product and his younger brother Oshae is a rookie with the Toronto Raptors.

“I haven’t lived under the same roof as my brother for a very long time,” Brissett revealed last week. “We both went to high school in the States and on opposite sides of the country. That would be amazing if we were able to play in the same city and live together again, that would be pretty cool.”

If Toronto were to go down that road, it would be a nice story. But it would make a ton of football sense, too.