TORONTO — Most of the time, the CFL Draft is considered a long game.
Canadians that are selected by teams around the league sometimes need a year or two to get to their full potential. But sometimes those prospects are ready for the pros and can provide help for a team immediately.
Look no further than receiver Hergy Mayala, who the Stampeders drafted eighth overall in last year’s draft. John Hufnagel and the rest of his front office staff took the six-foot-one, 212-pound pass-catcher in hopes that he would be able to make an impact right away.
Mayala played in 16 regular season games, including starting six times, in 2019 and hauled in 562 yards (including two 100+ yard performances) and five touchdowns. By season’s end, the 24-year-old became one of Bo Levi Mitchell‘s favourite targets.
Hamilton’s Maleek Irons (22nd overall) also saw time in the backfield in a rotation roll last season. Injuries shortened his rookie campaign, but when he did hit the field, he was an important part of the Ticats’ offensive attack. With the Tabbies likely going Canadian at tailback again with Sean Thomas Erlington as the incumbent starter, Irons could see the same role in 2020.
First-overall pick Shane Richards made one start on the Argonauts’ offensive line last season and defensive lineman Mathieu Betts (third overall) also made a start in Edmonton. OL Drew Desjarlais (fourth overall) made 10 starts for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Riders receiver Justin McInnis started three games in Saskathewan.
So while the draft requires a patient approach, with an eye on long-term development, which of this year’s prospects could be ready to make an impact as soon as the 2020 season?
A few prospects that have drawn up a lot of attention ahead of Thursday’s draft are offensive lineman Carter O’Donnell and defensive lineman Michael Hoecht. Both were highly ranked CFL prospects, CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson had O’Donnell going first overall in his first mock draft, and each have signed recently deals in the NFL.
Both of those prospects appear to be ready for the pros, but it’s not just offensive and defensive players that Ferguson thinks can make an impact right away. He says there’s one special teams player that could step onto the field when the 2020 season gets underway.
“Alberta offensive lineman Carter O’Donnell and Brown defensive lineman Michael Hoecht certainly scream pro-ready based on their frame and movement skills,” said Ferguson, CFL.ca’s resident draft guru. “But in terms of a specific role to fill immediately, I believe Western kicker Marc Liegghio could step in and be a day one starter for a team in need because his skill applies regardless of the level of competition.”
Kerfalla Exume had a stellar rookie campaign suiting up on special teams for the Blue Bombers this year after he was taken in the eighth round (70th overall). He finished the year tied for second in special teams tackles (25) with his teammate, Mike Miller. Two prospects, Liam O’Brien and defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy, are both expected to hit the field thanks to their ability to contribute on coverage units.
“I also believe a player like Liam O’Brien from Saint Mary’s or Marc Antoine-Dequoy could begin work immediately on special teams with an impact felt every third down or kickoff snap thanks to their naturally applicable size and skill sets,” said Ferguson.
Canadian offensive lineman are highly-touted during any draft, and as Ferguson explains, this year is no different. Two big men in the trenches to keep an eye on are Ketel Asse and Mattland Riley. Asse towers at six-foot-seven and 300 pounds while is listed at six-foot-three and 300 pounds. Both have the size to find themselves on an offensive line sooner than you may think.
“Last,” continued Ferguson. “I believe there is size along the lines that suggests many offensive lineman such as Laval’s Ketel Asse and Saskatchewan’s Mattland Riley will look every bit the part the second they put on a CFL uniform.”
The 2020 CFL Draft will take place on April 30 at 8 p.m. ET. The first two rounds can be viewed on TSN and the rest of the draft will be live streamed on CFL.ca. Click here for more tune-in info.