May 22, 2021

The Wait Continues: Could ‘Futures’ picks one day pay off?

Oklahoma State Athletics

TORONTO — It’ll be more than eight years from the moment Stefan Charles was drafted to the time he takes his first snap in the Canadian Football League.

The point is we should never say never, especially when it comes to ‘Futures’ picks in the CFL Draft.

While the Stamps hope to one day hand the ball off to Chuba Hubbard, they know that won’t happen soon as the Oklahoma State University star was picked in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.

And sometimes highly-touted prospects never do make it north of the border, for example Nick Kaczur (2005), Danny Watkins (2010), Austin Pasztor (2012), or Andy Mulumba (2013). Additionally, 2017 draft pick Justin Senior has already retired due to a knee injury, along with former REDBLACKS 2016 pick Mehdi Abdesmad.

Watching a player like offensive lineman Brett Boyko return to the CFL, however, is a reminder that some things just can’t be predicted.

Let’s look at some current ‘Futures’, what they’re up to these days and whether there’s any chance they’ll ever play in the CFL.

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The Argos are still waiting on Ryan Hunter, after taking the hulking o-lineman in the first round of the 2018 CFL Draft (Photo: Bowling Green Athletics)

Ryan Hunter, OL

Toronto Argonauts (2018)

CFL teams understood there was plenty of risk surrounding top-ranked prospect and offensive lineman Ryan Hunter entering the 2018 draft, despite going undrafted in the NFL days prior. Hunter was chosen ninth overall by the Argos but quickly signed with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, spending the 2018 season on their practice squad and winning a Super Bowl with the club in 2019.

Hunter was released by the Chiefs in 2020 before signing with the Los Angeles Chargers, where he remains today after signing a reserve/future contract with the club back in January. If things don’t work out in LA, Hunter’s next stop could be Toronto, where he’d complete a quartet of first round draft picks up front along with Peter Nicastro (2021), Theren Churchill (2020), and Shane Richards (2019).

Eli Ankou, DL

Ottawa REDBLACKS (2017)

The second-ranked prospect behind Justin Senior in 2017, Eli Ankou fell to Ottawa in the bottom of the third round despite going undrafted in the NFL. Ankou has never been able to stay in one place south of the border, going from Houston to Jacksonville to Cleveland and then back to Houston before being traded to Dallas in 2020. After seven games as a backup with the Cowboys — he recorded five tackles and one quarterback pressure — Ankou was not re-signed.

While the 6-foot-3, 325-pound defensive tackle may still have options in the U.S., a return to his birthplace of Ottawa could be on the horizon. Surely the REDBLACKS would be thrilled to have the 26-year-old nose tackle in their lineup, especially after signing another Canadian interior lineman in Stefan Charles in the off-season.

Antony Auclair was a tantalizing prospect out of Laval, but CFL teams knew they’d have to play the waiting game with him. The Saskatchewan Roughriders continue to do that  (Mathieu Belanger/Laval University)

Antony Auclair, TE

Saskatchewan Roughriders (2017)

One of the most unique and intriguing prospects entering the 2017 CFL Draft, an undrafted contract with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers dropped Antony Auclair’s draft stock on this side of the border. Auclair fell to Saskatchewan in the fourth round but not because of any concern over his ability; he became the only undrafted rookie to make the Bucs’ roster that spring and has been in the NFL ever since.

The second Super Bowl champion to grace this list, Auclair offered a rare blend of size and athleticism coming out of Laval, which had CFL teams dreaming of how they might utilize him on offence. With the Ticats drafting Jake Burt and Nikola Kalinic in back to back seasons, it’s evident the tight end or H-back role is re-emerging in the three-down game. The question is whether the league will ever see Auclair in action.

David Onyemata, DL

Saskatchewan Roughriders (2016)

By the time he held his own pro day at the University of Manitoba in 2016, it had become obvious that David Onyemata may never play a CFL game. That’s why, despite being the top-ranked prospect in the CFL Scouting Bureau ranking, Onyemata dropped all the way to the 35th overall pick.

A fourth round pick with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, Onyemata is set to enter his sixth NFL season and continues to have success. Last year he set career highs in both tackles (42) and sacks (6.5) along with his first career interception. At this point, the Riders have probably given up hope the 28-year-old will find his way north.

Christian Covington, DL

BC Lions (2015)

Following three seasons with the Houston Texans, Christian Covington joins his fourth team in three years after signing with the Los Angeles Chargers. The 27-year-old was the top-ranked prospect entering the 2015 CFL Draft, but fell to the BC Lions in the fifth round after becoming a sixth round NFL draft pick with Houston.

Covington has managed to make an impact in all of his NFL stops and is coming off a career-high 39 tackles in 16 games with Cincinnati in 2020. There’s a chance he could come to the CFL later in his career — others have done so before — but the Lions shouldn’t expect Covington to become available soon.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OL

Calgary Stampeders (2014)

This one’s more of a fun, ‘what if’ scenario, as the former 19th overall draft pick — who ranked No. 1 in all three installments of the CFL Scouting Bureau in 2014 — had entrenched himself as a regular starter for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs before his absence in 2020, when the McGill graduate opted out of playing in order to assist on the front lines against Covid-19.

Last year’s co-winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy for his heroism off the field, Duvernay-Tardif became the fourth NFL player to have graduated from medical school, according to wbur. He would be welcome anywhere in the CFL should he ever decide to close the pro football chapter of his life closer to home.

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