In a few weeks, as we approach Draft Day (May 3rd), I'll be posting both my positional rankings and finally my draft board. When you see the final board, one of the things that you'll notice is that players will be listed in a different order than they had been in the rankings just days earlier. By the same token, you can be assured that the eight CFL teams won't make many of their selections based solely on whom they think is the best available prospect. In today's Draftology 101 lecture, I'll explain why.
There are certain areas of assessment that are universal to pre-draft player evaluations in all professional team sports. They include:
- Ability: the set of skills that a prospect possesses and how effectively he performs those skills
- Measurables: testing scores that that provide an indication of overall athletic ability and fitness
- Production: an assessment, often statistical, of the prospect's level of success at his previous level(s) of competition
- Health/Injury History: a record of any past or current medical conditions that might either limit the player's future performance, leave him at risk of re-injury, or delay his physical readiness
- Potential: the projected upper limit of how effective a player will ultimately be as a professional
- Intangibles: qualities, such as character, leadership, work ethic, toughness, intelligence, coachability, and instincts, which are valued but can't be measured numerically
In addition, there are certain considerations that teams make after their player evaluations that are inherent to any draft. The most prominent are:
- Supply and Demand: If, within a draft class, the demand for a certain type of player or a particular skill set is greater than the supply, then the value of that commodity goes up. If there's an abundance of similar prospects, then their value goes down.
- Positional Needs: A player's draft value to a given team depends in part on how urgently that team needs to add depth at that prospect's position.
What separates the Canadian Football League Draft from those held by other pro sports leagues is the number of additional considerations, unique to the CFL, that influence a team's selections. Some of those "draft factors" are tied to the player and have little to do with which team is evaluating him, while the impact of other factors depends primarily on the team. Understanding these dynamics should help demystify the differences between certain prospects' rankings and their actual draft stock.
Factor #1: NFL Interest
Impact on Draft Stock: A player's CFL stock is inversely proportional to his likelihood of playing in the NFL.
Explanation: There's a clear trend involving Canadian players signing with NFL teams. The longer a player's stay down south, the less likely it becomes that he will ever play in the CFL. As a result, it's critical for CFL scouts to have an understanding of how NFL personnel people regard Canadian prospects. In general, a player chosen within the first few rounds of the NFL Draft is unlikely to ever play in the CFL. A player selected in the back half of the NFL Draft will likely spend at least a year or two either playing down there or chasing the American Dream before he comes north. Where it becomes tricky is when Canadians sign after the NFL Draft as Priority Free Agents, as CFL scouts must then scramble to assess each prospect's odds of sticking with his chosen team. This year, there's an added challenge with the CFL Draft moving up from Sunday to Thursday, thus giving scouting staffs less than five full days after the NFL Draft to pull that information together.
Examples: Leading up to the 2010 Draft, Shawn Gore was a lock to go in the first round. Despite having been invited to a Green Bay Packers rookie camp right after the NFL Draft, he was still slated to go in the Top Four and be the first receiver off the board. Then, less than 24 hours before the CFL Draft, word got out that the Packers intended to offer Gore a contract at the conclusion of their rookie camp. Instead of being a high first rounder, he slipped to #10 overall with two other receivers chosen ahead of him. In the same draft class, Waterloo OT Joel Reinders was considered a first round talent. When he signed with Cleveland as a PFA, those in CFL circles were unanimously convinced that he'd be with the Browns for at least two or three years. As a result, he dropped all the way to the fourth round.
Players Impacted in 2012: Boise State DE Tyrone Crawford is far and away the best player in the Class of 2012…and will therefore see the biggest discrepancy between where he's ranked and where he's drafted. He could easily be taken within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft and, assuming that happens, he'll drop until at least Round Four of the CFL Draft. As many as seven other prospects, led by Christo Bilukidi (DT, Georgia State) and Austin Pasztor (OG, Virginia), could attract varying degrees of NFL interest. However, how much their stock is impacted won't become clear until the later rounds of the NFL Draft and the hours immediately afterwards when most PFA signings occur.
Factor #2: Remaining U.S. College Eligibility
Relationship to Draft Stock: Prospects who intend to return to U.S. colleges to complete their eligibility after the draft are very rarely chosen before the end of the first round. The overall impact varies depending on what other factors are at play but, in general, look for redshirt juniors to be chosen about a round later than you might expect based on their ranking alone.
Explanation: With their first round picks, teams are generally looking for players who can make their rosters immediately, not players whom they won't even see for at least another year.
Example: The Class of '08 was deep in quality offensive line prospects, many of them redshirt juniors. However, being in immediate need of O-Line help, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers couldn't afford to use the #6 overall pick on one of the futures. They bypassed highly regarded NCAA products Andrew Woodruff, Greg Wojt, and Jonathan St. Pierre to take University of Regina's Brendon LaBatte. It turned out very well for the Bombers, as LaBatte became an instant starter and quickly developed into one of the league's best O-Linemen but, at the time, it was a choice made out of necessity. Woodruff, Wojt, and St. Pierre all went in the second round.
Players Impacted in 2012: Courtney Stephen (DB, Northern Illinois) and Hervé Tonye-Tonye (LB, Northern Colorado) are among the top prospects at their respective positions but teams who have pressing needs at those spots will have to bypass these players in favour of lower ranked prospects in order to obtain immediate help. Others who may be affected to a lesser extent include Michael Atkinson (DT, Boise State), Billy Peach (OL, Jacksonville), and Hasan Hazime (DL, Akron). Look for a total of 10-12 redshirt juniors to be drafted this year.
Factor #3: Academic and Career Opportunities Outside of Football
Relationship to Draft Stock: In most cases, it's a matter of a player declaring his intention to pursue other options, thus making himself "undraftable" but occasionally a player's stock drops slightly simply because teams are concerned that he might choose another career path.
Explanation: No one retires on the money made during a CFL career. There are plenty of university graduates who have more lucrative, not to mention safer, job opportunities available to them. It stands to reason that some prospects, no matter how passionate they are about playing football, will pursue other options.
Examples: Well-regarded prospects who have opted out of football in recent years include former Laval WR Samuel Champagne (Class of '07, medical school), former Harvard WR Matt Lagace ('08, finance industry), and former Montreal DE Mathieu Brossard ('09, family business). One example of a prospect whose stock dropped was Harvard running back Clifton Dawson, who didn't get chosen until the sixth round despite being one of the most talented players in the Class of 2006. Other factors were at play as well, as he was a redshirt junior with potential NFL interest, but the fear that a Harvard grad wouldn't play football for $50 000 a year was also a factor in his drop. Interestingly, Dawson spent three seasons as a fringe player in the NFL, where the minimum salary at the time was $285 000 a year, but chose to retire rather than join the Toronto Argonauts when his NFL opportunities dried up.
Players Impacted in 2012: Montreal LB Jonathan Beaulieu-Richard has already established that he will return to school this fall to complete his pharmacy degree. He wants to pursue a career in football after that but teams may be wary that his mindset may change if a lucrative job opportunity arises upon graduation. Luke Willson (TE, Rice) may be the most unique prospect in the draft, as he is a redshirt junior, who will garner NFL interest next spring…and he also has an opportunity to play professional baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
Factor #4: Choice of Representation
Relationship to Draft Stock: The desire to avoid dealing with certain agents might cause teams to downgrade prospects, or even eliminate them completely from their draft boards.
Explanation: This is a factor that has arisen over the last couple of years with an increase in the number of new agents, particularly Americans, representing young Canadian players. Teams are very comfortable dealing with well-established Canadian agents but recent events have made clubs wary of dealing with certain new agents.
Example: This is a relatively new phenomenon so 2012 represents the first year that we might witness an effect.
Players Impacted in 2012: After seeing Jonathan Hardaway, against the odds, get NFL contracts for Cory Greenwood in 2010 and Matt O'Donnell last year, the general perception is his only interest in Canadian prospects is getting them down south. In fairness, he did negotiate #1 overall pick Henoc Muamba's contract with Winnipeg last year but rumours of difficult negotiations on that deal have done nothing to help his reputation in league management circles. This year, Hardaway's list of draft eligible clients includes Kirby Fabien (OL, Calgary) and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon (DE, Laval), both of whom ruffled some feathers when they arrived injured and unable to perform certain tests at E-Camp. Fairly or not, this prompted one veteran CFL executive to declare that he would "have to think long and hard about drafting one of (Hardaway's) clients."
Factor #5: Non-Traditional Canadian Starting Positions
Relationship to Draft Stock: If a team uses a non-import starter at a position traditionally reserved for imports then that team will place a greater value on high end prospects at that position.
Explanation: The reason why some positions are typically reserved for Americans is that there's a relatively limited supply of Canadians to play those spots at a high level. In order to maintain their ratio and not have to juggle the lineup if a Canadian starter goes down, high quality depth is required at those specific positions. When a strong prospect comes along at these non-traditional positions, teams can't afford to miss out on them.
Example: In 2006, BC's Brent Johnson was a rarity as a Canadian starting at defensive end. The Lions made sure that they secured non-import depth behind him by taking Ricky Foley with the fourth overall selection.
Players Impacted in 2012: The stock of a highly rated running back like Nathan Riva (Western) could be higher to teams like Calgary, B.C., and possibly Edmonton, who are likely to start Canadians at RB, than it would be to other teams who would strictly use a non-import RB as a special teamer.
Factor #6: Organizational Non-Import Depth
Relationship to Draft Stock: This can moderate or even negate the negative impact any other draft factor can have on a player's stock.
Explanation: This actually trumps all other draft factors in that the more non-import depth that a team possesses, the more they can afford to gamble on players with NFL aspirations or other career opportunities, and wait for players with remaining eligibility.
Example: The Montreal Alouettes, under general manager Jim Popp, have historically been among the deepest teams in the CFL in terms of Canadian talent. As a result, they've been able to draft and wait for redshirts and NFL-bound prospects like Josh Bourke, Jeff Perrett, Andrew Woodruff, Kerry Carter, and Eric Deslauriers, to name a few. Last year, Montreal's picks included current San Diego Charger Vaughn Martin, and projected NFLers Philip Blake and Brody McKnight.
Players Impacted in 2012: Any player with a draft factor working strongly against him is more likely to be drafted by a team that either has good non-import depth or an abundance of picks in this draft.
Factor #7: Connections
Relationship to Draft Stock: A given team may place greater value on a prospect with ties to their market than the other seven teams place on that same prospect.
Explanation: For a variety of reasons, a player can have greater value in a market to which he has a connection. There can be a public relations effect as the CFL is a league where fans like to be able to identify with the players and, when a player comes from the market in which he plays, that connection is generally stronger. In addition, a young player can be more likely to excel when he's in a familiar environment. Finally, once established, a player will be less likely to depart via free agency if he's already playing in his hometown or has some other significant connection to the organization.
Example: The Supplemental Draft works a lot like an auction and in 2010, the Calgary Stampeders were willing to bid a third round pick - more than any other team - to land Washington State receiver Johnny Forzani. It was a move that returned the player to his hometown and allowed fans to once again see one of the most famous surnames in franchise history on the back of a Stamps jersey.
Players Impacted in 2012: Ben Heenan (OG, Saskatchewan) would be a completely legitimate first overall pick, which is a good thing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who currently own that selection. Several other teams would also gladly take the Huskies star first overall but where this factor comes into play in Heenan's case is that his background as a top prospect, who also happens to be Saskatchewan born, bred, and trained, will make it very difficult for the Roughriders to really even consider taking anyone else first overall.