Ferguson: Scouting Bureau sets up an intriguing CFL Draft

The final edition of the CFL’s Scouting Bureau has officially dropped, which can mean only one thing: We are dangerously close to hearing Commissioner Randy Ambrosie calling names from the TSN stage on draft night.

When the camera’s red light shines on May 2, Ambrosie will have a plethora of names possible to be taken with the — currently — Ottawa REDBLACKS’ first overall pick. The depth and variety of options available to general manager Shawn Burke are clear when peeling through this top-20 list of distinguished athletes.

It’s worth noting of course that the Scouting Bureau should not be read as a mock draft, a power ranking or a footprint which draft night will closely follow. This list instead is the ranking of CFL executives’ 20 BEST draft eligible players.

With all that being said, read between the lines and you’ll see some defining characteristics that could, and in my opinion should, tell the story in a few short weeks.

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On draft night, teams will have to weigh whether they want someone in camp that same month, or if they’re willing to wait on a prospect with NFL options, like Eastern Michigan’s Sidy Sow (Eastern Michigan Athletics)

First, it’s the number of top-end talent hailing from NCAA schools. While standing in Edmonton with my draft-loving partner in crime Duane Forde — who you can enjoy watching break down the picks on TSN on May 2 like nobody has or will anytime soon — we discussed the crop of combine-present talent.

As CFL staff wandered past to chat the consensus was — largely — that teams wish this positional group was a little deeper, or that certain players showed a little bit better. Of course that would make you think that the 2023 CFL Draft class might be below par if you were playing 2D checkers.

The CFL Draft isn’t just 3D chess; it sometimes feels like an eight-sided Rubik’s cube. There is so much elite NCAA talent that decided to pursue pro days over the CFL Combine that the group of competing participants in front of us in Edmonton really wasn’t emblematic of the talent level available on draft day.

Every single member of the Scouting Bureau’s top-10 comes from an NCAA school, with only Southern Utah defensive lineman Francis Bemiy attending the CFL Combine to participate in on-field drills. Meanwhile, every member of the back half of this list competed on field in Edmonton, with Northern Illinois receiver Cole Tucker making the trip after his pro day just to be on-site and interview in-person with teams.

So, what does this tangibly mean for draft night? It means this list is going to be graded, viewed and dissected in all kinds of different ways by each and every team. Their decisions will be based on their views, positional needs and goals of having a player in training camp this May or playing the long game and waiting on an NFL-bound player such as Illinois defensive back Sydney Brown or Eastern Michigan offensive lineman Sidy Sow to come northward in a few years time.

Montreal Carabin Michael Brodrique’s strong Combine showing boosted his ranking in the final edition of the Scouting Bureau (Christian Bender/CFL.ca)

Speaking of offensive lineman, you know the CFL Draft of the past has long been a showcase for the big men up front, but that trend is evolving. Partially due to an increasing number of viable NFL prospects getting prioritized and drafted differently than the past, perhaps due to a power shift towards Canadian players making an impact at each and every position on the field.

The reality is it creates a top-20 draft eligible players list here in the final Scouting Bureau which sees just five offensive lineman featured. Just two are from U SPORTS. The three that are NCAA prospects (Syracuse OL Matthew Bergeron, Eastern Michigan’s Sow and Fresno State OL Dontae Bull) are all likely to get significant NFL looks.

This is accentuated due to the ripple effect of COVID-induced eligibility changes which saw many players defer their draft year from 2023 to 2024, taking advantage of an extra season playing college ball to sharpen their skills.

The end result? The Scouting Bureau has revealed a diverse group of positional players, somewhat against the grain of previous draft classes. It’s a list of players with serious upside in a CFL uniform which must be weighed carefully with NFL expectations.

So many questions, so many possibilities, and it all plays out live for you in one of the CFL’s best reality TV moments in just a couple weeks.

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