2020 is a year of hurdles, road blocks 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 is 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 ‘dark horse’ 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. That’s 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: East Carolina LB Jordan Williams
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: Ohio QB Nathan Rourke
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.
Dark horse: UBC DL Charles Nwoye
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: Laval DL Mathieu Betts
We already know what he can do, it was on full display after returning from the Chicago Bears last year He’ll only continue if we get to play in 2020.
Possible: Buffalo OL Tomas Jack-Kurdyla
Edmonton has an evolving offensive line that continues to get younger with each quality draft pick. Can the Buffalo product prove he belongs quickly?
Dark horse: Ottawa DL Alain Pae
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: UCONN REC Hergy Mayala
He’s already made a massive impact and is the easiest pick of the 27 in this article.
Possible: UBC DB Malcolm Lee
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 ASAP.
Dark horse: UBC REC Trivel Pinto
His talent is undeniable, but will there be room in that young receiving corps 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: Saskatchewan OL Mattland Riley
A homegrown monster that will pound the rock for Jason Maas’ backs, this pick is a home run.
Possible: Guelph REC Kian Schaffer-Baker
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.
Dark horse: Western RB Jonathan Femi-Cole
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: North Dakota RB Brady Oliviera
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: McMaster DB Noah Hallett
A pure playmaker that can immediately make an impact on specials and earn a free safety rep or two quickly.
Dark horse: Western K Marc Liegghio
Justin Medlock is obviously the roadblock here. Until Medlock doesn’t stay, Liegghio can’t go.
Lock: North Dakota DL Mason Bennett
The Ticats’ one perceived hole on defence was a 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: Waterloo OL Jesse Gibbon
Depending on Mike Filer’s future and where the organization wants Brandon Revenberg long-term, we could see the Hamilton native as a starter quicker than many expect.
Dark horse: Acadia LB Bailey Feltmate
He’ll earn a role of kick coverage quickly, but with Simoni Lawrence and Larry Dean holding down the linebacker positions, reps away from the scout team will be few and far between to prove his play from scrimmage worth.
Lock: Virginia REC Dejon Brissett
Speed, hands and a special pride about playing in Toronto, Brissett was the perfect pick for Toronto. If he can quickly connect with Matt Nichols or McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the Argos will be better off.
Possible: Regina OL Theren Churchill
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 will be right there in the mix.
Dark horse: Carleton LB Jack Cassar
A tackling dynamo that would have earned respect in a longer camp and preseason setting, he’s up against it. I have faith the scouting and management of Toronto know how good he is, but will the coaches?
Lock: Laval LB Adam Auclair
It was a perfect fit for the complexities of the defence expected out of new defensive coordinator Mike Benevides. Antoine Pruneau isn’t done yet, but he’ll be pushed by Auclair immediately.
Possible: Laval LB Dan Basambombo
A unique combo of length and power at the point of attack, Basambombo is a solid all-around linebacker with a Day 1 ready build at a variety of special teams assignments.
Dark horse: Laval OL Ketel Asse
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: Alberta OL Carter O’Donnell
Absolute stud that could plug and play right now in a line full of elite prospects such as Trey Rutherford and Tyler Johnstone. Many eyes up north will be on him as the Indianapolis Colts’ camp progresses.
Possible: Montreal DB Marc Antoine-Dequoy
Long, fast and surprisingly physical based on his deceptive frame, this Carabins draft pick will turn heads from day one.
Dark horse: Saskatchewan RB Colton Klassen
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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