Future stars are the lifeblood of any league. So it somehow seems appropriate that the 2021 CFL Draft is being held on May the Fourth (Star Wars day). As we will see teams run their war rooms to find the future stars of the league.
The Draft is a little different this year too. That is because the Draft order was randomly assigned in the first round. Followed by a “snake” format. That means that after teams pick in the first round, with the order determined by random draw, they will then pick in reverse order in the second round, and that pattern will continue. More detail on it all can be found here.
The chances are If you have been brought up on American Football in the UK you are used to following the rhythms of the NFL annual cycle. Far less people on this side of the pond though are aware of the CFL Draft however. It follows the NFL draft. Meaning some of the selections made by NFL teams to have an impact on how the CFL teams approach their picks.
A little History
The first formal Canadian draft took place in 1953 with selections only coming from 5 Canadian university teams. Montreal made the first selection; Doug McNicol a defensive lineman from Western Ontario. (As an aside McNichol won East All-Star honours in 1953, 1954, 1955, 1958 and 1959 meaning the first ever draft pick was a pretty good one).
In 1956 the Canadian Football Council was established and a national draft followed. This time the Ottawa Rough Riders selected Lou Bruce, a Defensive End from Queens University. Various modifications were made over the years to this draft process. In 1963, for example, the list of draft candidates was expanded to include all degree-granting schools in Canada rather than the limited number previously involved. In 1973, it was agreed to extend the draft to include Canadians attending schools outside of Canada. A move particularly aimed at including Canadian players playing at American colleges.
Up to and including the 1984 season teams had certain territorial exemptions granted as part of the drafting process. These were abolished in 1985, and this is considered the beginning of the ‘modern era’ of CFL drafting. However last year the CFL announced the two teams with the highest waiver priority would each get to make one Territorial Draft Pick (to be used to select a player born within their territorial limits at the end of the second round).
The CFL Draft in Action
Most fans of this side of the pond wouldn’t be able to tell you much about the 2020 CFL Draft. If you are not a fan of the CFL then I very much doubt you know that the BC Lions traded with the Calgary Stampeders for the first overall pick. Ultimatley selecting Linebacker Jordan Williams from East Carolina.
The CFL Draft is a balancing act
We know from years of seeing ‘experts’ predict the NFL draft that it can be highly unpredictable. The CFL draft however has added layers of intrigue which means it can be even more fascinating to try to call.
As noted above, the NFL Draft has an impact here. For example, in the annual scouting bureau rankings for the CFL Draft has Josh Palmer ranked number 1 overall. But the LA Chargers picked him up. That means a team will have to decide whether to use a pick on the prospect of him being a future star in the CFL. Rather than signing him straight off.
CFL teams are making constant risk-benefit analysis calls like this on many of the prospects. They can tag a player who is highly touted only to see him go the NFL and never return thus wasting their pick. Alternatively they could tag a player who is highly touted, see him try out for but not make the NFL. Then get him when he comes back to the CFL thus making their pick that much more worthwhile.
The Draft Equation: future star v immediate needs
Because of this, what happens in the NFL draft and ensuing free agency has an impact on the CFL Draft equations teams are making.
Fifteen of the CFL scouting bureau’s top 16 players were either drafted or signed by NFL teams or are NCAA players heading back to college. So we won’t be seeing them in a CFL camp this year. Teams will therefore be gambling on getting these players one year or in some cases two years later on.
A consequence of that may be to make teams take a chance on some of the bigger names earlier than normal in this Draft. Or, alternatively those teams with needs to fill now, may look to deal with that rather than gambling on a rosy future. This is a chance for CFL GM’s to really make some tough decisions with genuine consequences.
Future Stars and virtual combines
Covid-19 has affected so many things, and sport is just one of them. Potential future stars have had to give their combine performances virtually. How will that affect how teams view what they were not there to see first hand?
Will a good combine still make a potential future star selection jump up the board? Or, will teams be looking more to how plyaers did on the field? We have yet to see.
One thing is for sure. It should be a lot of fun watching it all unfold. We can confidently say we won’t see punters dominate the first round as we did in the very enjoyable Global Draft! Some players will be unkonwn in the UK, having made their name in USports in Canada. But, you shoud note, 2020 marked the sixth consecutive year that the first overall pick had come from an NCAA college team.
If you know your college ball, or have been wrapped up in college prospects for the NFL Draft, then you may well recognise some of these names.
The best thing about all this? The CFL showing some signs of normality after a lost 2020 season. A December Grey Cup was announced. And now we get to enjoy teams looking for a future star. Buckle up and enjoy watching it all unfold!
Banner Image: Saskatchewan Huskie DB Nelson Lokombo. Image from huskies.usask.ca