April 17, 2023

O’Leary: How will pro days impact the CFL Draft?

University of Mississippi

With the CFL Combine presented by New Era now almost a month behind us, talent evaluators from across the league have been scouring data and film on the prospects’ performances. That’s one part in their pre-draft process. The other part comes from deciphering what to do with the numbers posted far from the Edmonton combine site, at the NFL Combine and U.S. pro days.

CFL teams will be heavily invested in the results posted by CFL Draft-eligible players coming out of NCAA programs, perhaps more than ever this year. The top-nine players in the winter edition of the CFL Scouting Bureau are all products of NCAA schools and all opted to let their pro days do their talking to scouts, whichever side of the border they fall on.

CFL teams will have some clarity on the top-end prospects’ short-term futures after the NFL Draft, which runs from April 27-29. That, coupled with un-drafted players signing contracts, should help inform their decisions ahead of the May 2 CFL Draft.

» Mock Draft 1.0: What will Ottawa do with the first overall pick?
» Watch: Recapping the CFL Combine presented by New Era
» View: The 2023 CFL Draft order
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Let’s start with Chase and Sydney Brown, the twin brothers out of Illinois (via London, Ont.). While Chase has held down the No. 1 spot in the Scouting Bureau rankings thus far, his defensive back brother Sydney could hear his name called first in the NFL Draft. The Athletic has the safety pegged as a fourth round pick in its NFL mock draft, while CBS Sports sees him as a late third round selection.

Sydney had 59 total tackles, six interceptions, seven pass breakups and 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack in 2022, earning him USA Today All-American second team honours, PFF All-American third team, All-Big Ten first team (coaches) and All-Big Ten second team (media) recognition.

Chase, meanwhile, was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award as the top running back in U.S. college football, was a second-team selection on each of the five official All-American teams and won the 2022 Jon Cornish Trophy as the top Canadian player in the NCAA.

The Athletic has him as a fifth-round pick and CBS Sports has him projected to go in the sixth round.

If you’ve followed the CFL Draft over the years, you’ll know that prospects like the Brown brothers present a challenge to teams. Their talent is as obvious as it is to NFL scouts, which in terms of trying to build a CFL roster can be a problem. If the Brown brothers do indeed go as high as expected in the NFL Draft, CFL clubs will likely let their names slip way down their draft boards, knowing that it could be years before they’re in a place to join the CFL, if ever.

Most recently we’ve seen it unfold with Jesse Luketa in 2022, Chuba Hubbard in 2021 and Neville Gallimore (2020). Hubbard went in the fifth round of the 2021 Draft to Calgary and Gallimore was the third-last pick in the 2020 Draft, taken by Saskatchewan. Luketa was something of an exception in last year’s draft, going in the second round (20th overall) to Ottawa, who used its territorial pick on him.

This year, with so many NCAA talents dominating the top of the Scouting Bureau, teams could face similar complications with a greater number of players.

Guelph, Ont.’s Tavius Robinson had a strong showing at the NFL Combine in March and followed that up with another good display at Ole Miss’ pro day a few weeks back. Pair that with his performance at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and the Guelph Gryphons’ transfer could be in position to make the leap from U SPORTS to Div I NCAA football to the NFL.

The fourth- and fifth-ranked players on the Winter Scouting Bureau, Eastern Michigan’s Sidy Sow and Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron, also showed well at the NFL Combine.

We won’t know until May 2 just how much NFL opportunities will impact how CFL teams go about their draft selections, but teams will have a choice to make on the NCAA players they want, vs. the players that performed in front of them in Edmonton last month. It won’t be so much on trusting what they actually saw — remember that many CFL teams have scouted these American showcases too — but more about how much of a priority getting a player into their system this year will be.

In Marshall Ferguson’s mock draft for CFL.ca, he has five of his first round selections hailing from NCAA schools that didn’t attend the CFL Combine, with spots 1-4 all going to NCAA players. He has Sow, NFL potential dripping off of him, going seventh overall to the Montreal Alouettes.

Over at 3DownNation, John Hodge took his first shot at a mock draft in March, shortly after the NFL Combine. He prefaces in his piece that he assumes the Brown brothers, Bergeron, Robinson and Sow would all go in later rounds of the CFL Draft due to their NFL Combine performances. Hodge still has five NCAA players going in his first round. Hodge predicts Sow to go 25th overall to the Ottawa REDBLACKS, noting that it’s a little high for a team to enter into the NFL waiting game, but that GM Shawn Burke’s team could afford to make the play.

The NFL Draft is must-watch TV for any die hard football fan. For Canadians watching next week, there will be an extra layer of implications on the homegrown talent that might hear their names called or that will sign contracts in the days after the draft.

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