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May 4, 2020

Steinberg’s MMQB: The next Canadian hope

Ohio University

There’s a fascination with the idea of a Canadian quarterback in this league. That fascination is totally understandable, too. In the CFL, a league that carries the name of this country, we haven’t seen a player born in Canada start regularly at the highest profile position in decades. I don’t know if Nathan Rourke will be the guy to end that drought. I do know BC’s 2020 second round pick is one of the best Canadian quarterback prospects we’ve seen in a long time.

Thursday’s CFL Draft saw Rourke selected 15th overall, which is tied for the highest quarterback selected in recent memory (Jesse Palmer in 2001) That carries with it a certain amount of clout, spotlight, pressure, responsibility, or whatever other term you want to use. It’s a lot to digest, but Rourke seems as ready for the challenge as anyone.

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“That’s something that I would embrace…pressure or whatever you want to call it,” Rourke told me leading up to this year’s draft. “That is something I would embrace in the CFL and, you know, I’d just be very lucky and fortunate to be able to have a chance to play football and continue to play at this position and this game that I love.”

The Oakville, Ontario product has taken a long, winding road to becoming a BC Lion. Rourke spent his senior year in high school at Alabama’s Edgewood Academy before a season of junior college at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. That was followed by three seasons as a starter at Ohio University, which included three bowl victories and a 25-14 record overall.

I’m not sure how familiar Rourke is with Russ Jackson. Jackson, of course, was the last full-time Canadian starting pivot in this league, going back to when he finished his career with Ottawa in 1969. One thing Rourke does know, however, is what it means to be Canadian. And what it means to be a Canadian quarterback.

“I definitely feel pride,” Rourke said. “I don’t know if I was as proud as I was when I went down to Alabama for the first time and, you know, I was recognizably a Canadian. They would make the jokes about me and whatnot, and when I realized that I was a little bit different and I was representing Canada on a daily basis, I became very prideful of where I came from. That is something that I realized that I represent and I do my best to represent it to the best of my ability.”

I think Rourke is in a really good spot after being taken by the Lions with their second pick of Thursday’s draft. Mike Reilly is BC’s quarterback right now and is a great guy to mentor under for the next few years. That’ll afford Rourke some time to adjust and continue to refine his game, something he’s been noticeably doing the last three years.

When you look at Rourke’s numbers at Ohio, one thing jumps off the page more than anything else. He increased his passing yards, attempts, and completion percentage in each of his three years with the Bobcats. Simultaneously, Rourke remained an extremely dangerous threat on the ground, with at least 860 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns each season. But his reliance on his ability to run decreased, all while becoming a more complete passer.

 

“When coming to Ohio, I just kind of relied on that,” Rourke said. “The quarterback position…it’s a very cerebral position and you have to think and you’re not going to be able to just rely on those things. I’m not the most athletic guy, I never will be, but there are things that I can do to outsmart opponents and understand what they’re doing defensively.

“That’s…what you have to do at the next level. That’s what separates, you know, one guy from the next. I had to expand, I had to do those things, I think it’s tough to work on those things. Lucky for me I love the game, I love learning, and so that stuff was enjoyable to me. To sit down and watch film and get with my coaches and just try to learn about the game and try to improve. Those are the things that I enjoyed and those are things that I will continue to enjoy, hopefully, at the next level.”

Rourke is at the next level now, and I think he has a chance to play for a long time in this league. Already one of the most accomplished Canadian quarterbacks to ever come out of the NCAA, Rourke seems to have the chops, approach, and attitude to do something we haven’t seen in five decades.

The Money List

We’ll keep today’s article focused on quarterbacks as we dive back into the 2020 Money List after taking a one week hiatus to focus solely on the CFL Draft. The list is simple: it’s one player from every area on the field I’d select if building a championship team right now. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

Position Player
Defensive End Willie Jefferson, Winninpge Blue Bombers
Defensive Tackle Dylan Wynn, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Quarterback – Bo Levi Mitchell, Calgary Stampeders

Bo has received this nod every year we’ve started done this, and even coming off a season plagued by injuries, he’s the clear choice again. There isn’t a quarterback in this league that has combined consistency on the field with team success like Mitchell has since taking over as Calgary’s starter.

Since earning the job for the 2014 season, Mitchell’s winning resume is untouched by his peers. He has taken the Stampeders to the Grey Cup in four of his six seasons, including victories in 2014 and 2018. The team’s worst regular season record in that stretch is 12-6, which came last year when Mitchell missed seven games due to injury (they were 8-3 in game he started).

Individually, Mitchell has performed consistently at an elite level, too. He has two Most Outstanding Player trophies since 2014, a pair of seasons over 5,100 yards passing, and has thrown 157 touchdown passes against just 65 interceptions. Even without the team success, it’s tough to argue what Mitchell has accomplished.

Every time I’ve gone with Mitchell on this list, I get the obligatory “Calgary bias” responses, which is fine. But with what he’s done in six seasons, I can’t imagine many others leaning in another direction, regardless of where you live. If you want to have a winning season right now, your best bet is with Mitchell at quarterback, and that’s what this list is all about.