2020 is a year of hurdles, roadblocks, and unforeseen challenges.
For young Canadian CFLers, these barriers are multiplied due to the stark reality that if — and hopefully when — we return to practice fields, the training camps will be shorter than ever and coaches will be most likely to trust those players who have a previously understood professional football resume.
In short, the pandemic has caused even more of an uphill climb for rookie and sophomore CFL players who were already up against it to make and play for a team quickly.
With all that said, there’s no doubting the CFL draft has produced a plethora of top-end talent over the past two springs, which led me to wonder, who is most likely to crack a roster with little to no time to prove themselves.
For each team I chose a ‘lock’ being the player I view most likely to make an impact sooner rather than later, a ‘possible’ who has a chance to make it on game day and a ‘darkhorse’ pick that would surprise many should they put on a game-day uniform for a shortened season with minimal training camp reps.
Of course, all of this assumes all draft picks get signed and are enthusiastic about joining training camp, an answer I don’t have in a process thrown completely off by the pandemic’s hands meddling with usual league dates and timelines.
Lock: Jordan Williams, LB
Fast, physical, and prioritized by the organization in the draft, there is no doubt Williams will come to play from the first snap of camp.
Possible: Nathan Rourke, QB
It seems crazy because Mike Reilly is there, but we saw how many backup quarterbacks took meaningful snaps last year. From Jennings to O’Brien, Evans to Kilgore and beyond.
Darkhorse: Charles Nwoye, DL
The body type is a fit, but will this West Coast product be able to show enough in a short camp and no preseason to earn a special-teams role in year one?
Edmonton Football Team
Lock: Mathieu Betts, DL
We already know what he can do, it was on full display after returning from Chicago last year and will only continue if we get to play in 2020.
Possible: Tomas Jack-Kurdyla, OL
Edmonton has an evolving offensive line that continues to younger with each quality draft pick, can the Buffalo product prove he belongs quickly?
Darkhorse: Alain Pae, DL
A freaky natural and underdeveloped talent, Pae is more project than play now, but his ability to read and react with ease could earn a spot on the game-day roster quickly.
Lock: Hergy Mayala, REC
He’s already made a massive impact within the Calgary offence. Mayala is the easiest pick of the 27 in this article.
Possible: Malcolm Lee, DB
You could read this pick from a few farmer’s fields away, Malcolm Lee has served his time from a U SPORTS-related suspension and will be hungry to earn playing time as soon as possible.
Darkhorse: Trivel Pinto, REC
His talent is undeniable, but will there be room in that young receiving room for targets and catches? My gut says it’s more likely in year two with a full camp. But give Pinto an inch and he’ll take a yard, or 20.
Lock: Mattland Riley, OL
A homegrown monster who will pound the rock for Jason Maas’ backs. He’s a home-run pick.
Possible: Kian Schaffer-Baker, REC
In 2019, the Riders invested their top two picks in Justin McInnis and Brayden Lenius, both of whom have top-end talent. Schaffer-Baker will be up against it, but his U SPORTS pedigree suggests he’ll be ready.
Darkhorse: Jonathan Femi-Cole, RB
It will take some nicks and bumps to earn a shot, but this talented Mustangs alum could bring a punch to the Riders similar to that of Manitoba Bisons alum Jamel Lyles in BC.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Lock: Brady Oliveira, RB
His rookie season was unfair and ended in a devastating ankle injury, but the talent and Canadian running back lineage in Winnipeg is undeniable.
Possible: Noah Hallett, DB
A pure playmaker who can immediately make an impact on specials and earn a free safety rep or two quickly.
Darkhorse: Marc Liegghio, K
Justin Medlock is still firmly the man in Winnipeg when it comes to kicking and punting duties. Until Medlock doesn’t stay, Liegghio can’t go.
Lock: Mason Bennett, DL
The Ticats one perceived hole on defence was lack of depth at defensive end. Not only did they upgrade that with the Bennett pick a few months ago, they did it while adding ratio flexibility.
Possible: Jesse Gibbon, OL
Darkhorse: Bailey Feltmate, LB
He’ll earn a role of kick coverage quickly, but with Simoni Lawrence and Larry Dean holding down the linebacker positions, reps not on the scout team will be few and far between to prove his play from scrimmage worth.
Lock: Dejon Brissett, REC
Speed, hands and a special pride about playing in Toronto. Brissett was the perfect pick for Toronto, and if he can quickly connect with Matt Nichols or McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the Argos will be better off.
Possible: Theren Churchill, OL
Sean McEwen can’t be replaced, but he can create an opening allowing for a variety of young talented offensive lineman in Double Blue to develop, Churchill right there in the mix.
Darkhorse: Jack Cassar, LB
A tackling dynamo who would have earned respect in a longer camp and preseason setting, he’s up against it. I have faith that the scouting and management of Toronto know how good he is, but will the coaches?
Lock: Adam Auclair, DB
It was a perfect fit for the multiple defence expected out of new Defensive Coordinator Mike Benevides. Antoine Pruneau isn’t done yet, but he’ll be pushed by Auclair immediately.
Possible: Dan Bosambombo, LB
A unique combo of length and power at the point of attack, he’s a solid all-around linebacker with a day-one-ready build at a variety of special teams assignments.
Darkhorse: Ketel Asse, OL
He dropped endlessly in the draft. Is he the steal of 2020 or just a mistake? If the answer is the former Asse could come from off the radar to make an impact.
Lock: Carter O’Donnell, OL
An absolute stud who can plug and play right now in a line full of elite prospects such as Trey Rutherford and Tyler Johnstone.
Possible: Marc Antoine-Dequoy, DB
Long, fast and surprisingly physical for his deceptive frame, this Carabins draft pick will turn heads from day one.
Darkhorse: Colton Klassen, RB
A running back turned slotback with skills to play either, Klassen will benefit from James Wilder Jr. and Ryder Stone’s retirements and would earn a large following in a usual camp setting.
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